There are no A-holes allowed at our agency. In fact, we baked the rule into our logo.

I’m not a huge fan of rules.  Creative people as a species are naturally averse to them. But if you want to develop a business with a strong culture you need some rules to guide you.

When I joined my first advertising agency executive team our first order of business was to create some simple rules to govern the organization. Because we believed that a great organization is made of great people who enjoy working together the first rule we unanimously agreed on was the ‘No Assholes’ rule. For those not familiar with the rule, or the obviousness of the phrase, it means that your organization will not tolerate people who act like A-holes.

Prevention

Preventing the A-holes from joining your team isn’t easy. Because they are on their best behavior in interviews. Sometimes we sniff them out (yeah, I said it). But often they sneak past our filters.  So as much as we try to prevent an A-hole from getting into our organizations in the first place, they get in. So now what?

The Problem

You just get rid of them, right?  After all, no one likes an A-hole. Unfortunately, it’s typically not that simple. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of talented A-holes. The drive, intelligence, confidence and will of a typical A-hole make things happen. It’s common for them to make a quick impact and create immediate wins.

But that upside comes with an equally significant downside. Because A-holes are uncomfortable to be around, they drain morale and sap energy. The unfortunate reality is that when you retain an A-hole, it sends a terrible message about your values to your most valued employees. You’ll watch them drop like flies.  Among the employees that you retain you’ll lose untold dollars in productivity as co-workers gather to talk about what an A-hole the A-hole is.

Of course, the worst problem of all occurs when the A-hole develops a close relationship with the client.  Because then the agency has to decide whether they want to lose the valuable contributions of the A-hole and irritate or lose a client.

Removal

I recommend a proven 2-step process to handle such problematic employees.  

  1. Ask a handful of cross-functional team members if they think the co-worker in question is an A-hole.  
  2. If the consensus is yes, put on your scrubs and perform an Assholectomy.

No Compromise

There simply is no room for the distraction, the division and the drama caused by A-holes. Accepting them tells the rest of the organization that it’s okay to be an A.  That can’t happen. Because eventually enough people will leave, or threaten to leave that you have no choice but to get rid of the jerk anyway.

After implementing the A-hole rule in the past, I’m proud to say we purged several very talented but very difficult people. And the culture, vibe, productivity and love for the organization improved as a result.

That’s why when I started The Weaponry I wanted it to be rule number one. I felt so strongly about it that we designed the rule right into our logo. We purposely removed the A-hole from the letter A in the word Weaponry. It is a constant reminder of our persona non grata.

Notice the A? Notice there is no A-hole?

Key Takeaway

Don’t be an A-hole. And don’t let A-holes on your team. They kill the culture and they ruin the fun. If an A-hole does sneak onto your team get rid of them quickly. It will send a message to the rest of your team that you care about them. And it shows that you care about creating an enjoyable work environment for your team. Which is worth more than all the A-holes combined.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

+For more of my foundational life and business philosophies check out my new book What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say? from Ripples Media.

We’ve returned to the office. And it feels great!

On Tuesday, March 10th I flew to Las Vegas for work. I went to CONEXPO, the word’s greatest gathering in the construction industry. The coronavirus was just beginning to make the world weird. But its intensity seemed to be growing by the hour. That evening when I met up with my clients and coworkers for dinner I told them that I expected that we would return to a very different world when we went home that Friday. But I couldn’t have predicted the full Bruce-to-Caitlyn transformation we were about to experience.

Hand, Elbow, Wave.

Over the next few days, I saw trade show attendees go from shaking hands to touching elbows, to no contact at all. By Thursday I did the unthinkable. I canceled our spring break trip to Florida which was just days away. Then my children’s schools said they would be teaching kids remotely for the next 2 months. We were becoming the Bizzaro Albrechts.

Lockdown, Go Ahead And Give It To Me.

My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, canceled all film and photo shoots scheduled for March and April. We postoponed client workshops. We decided to start working from home on Monday, March 16th. Other businesses were declaring that they would be working remotely for a defined time period. I felt the future was unknowable. So I simply told our team and our clients that we would be working from home until further notice.

One Month… Two Months…

Over 2 months passed before any further notice. But as Memorial Day weekend approached I felt it was time to re-evaluate. We have offices in both Milwaukee and Columbus. Wisconsin’s Safer At Home order expired on May 26th. Although in a surprising turn of events, a Wisconsin court order actually nullified the Safer At Home order more than a week early. Which was weird. But this has all been weird. Like that Yankovic boy.

The Announcement

On Friday, May 22nd, I called an afternoon agency-wide Zoom meeting. I told our team that starting on Monday I would be returning to the office and that both offices would be open for anyone wanting to return. However, the return to the office was not mandatory. I asked the team to consider their own timeline for a return.

All Rights Reserved
On May 26th we played the themesong to Welcome Back Kotter all day long. 

Tuesday, Woo-hoosday!

On the morning of Tuesday, May 26th I drove to the office for a regular day of work for the first time in 74 days. A coworker’s car was in the parking lot when I arrived. It was a great sight. What was even better was entering the office and seeing a coworker again without the aid of a teleconferencing platform. It was the closest I hope I ever get to knowing what it feels like to see your people again after being released from prison.

Back To The Future

We have now been back in the office for 2 full weeks. I am thrilled. I have also learned a thing or 2. Or maybe 7. Here are those 7 things:

7 Things I’ve Learned Since Returning To The Office

  1. I love my commute. My morning drive gives me time to collect my thoughts and transition to work mode. I like cranking hype music on my morning drive. My drive is my pre-game routine. My evening commute also offers a chance to unwind, crank some more music, drive 9 mph over the speed limit, and properly remove myself from work mode before I get home to my wife and 3 kids. It’s kind of like The Intcredible Hulk transitioning back to David Banner, and casually ditching his shredded clothes like nothing ever happened.
  2. I like office-mode. My home office is quiet and separated from the rest of my home. But it doesn’t allow me to separate my work life and home life distinctly. So I felt as if I was in work mode almost constantly for over 2 months. Which I was. But if you don’t want to fry your brain you’ve got to keep em separated.
  3. My office is like a creative studio. My office at The Weaponry offers a great place to think. It’s a place to be in a space of creativity. It’s a great space for in-person collaboration. I love that. It’s my thinkwell. Everyone should have a thinkwell, don’t you think?
  4. My office looks better on Zoom. The wall behind my desk is a solid red. It pops on video conferences, both as the cleanest and most distinct look. Plus the big windows in my office bring in plenty of light, which helps add to my Zoomtastic lighting package. I dig that.
  5. I like spending time with my co-workers.  It is much easier to meet and discover solutions face to face. It feels different. A workplace is a community, with a culture and an energy. It is most powerful in person. I am thankful to all of my coworkers who have come back to the office. It’s great to see you again.
  6. I feel safe. I am confident that my co-workers and I have been safe and careful in our approach to COVID-19 avoidance. We are not hugging. Or sharing our secret handshakes. Or practicing CPR techniques. We are being respectful of our distancing. I hope these are not my famous last words. I want my last words to be, “It was fun while it lasted.’
  7. We need leaders to get back to normal. Yes we need to be safe. But we also need to get back to normalcy.  I wanted to be get back to the office as soon as I could.  I hope that others who can return safely do. It’s a form of positive peer pressure. Or maybe we’re just canaries in the coal mine. But last Friday when I saw the jobless claims number drop by 2.5 million people I knew we were on our way back. And I am proud to be on the leading edge of the return.

Key Takeaway

Be safe. Be smart. But let’s get back to work and back to normal as rapidly as we can. We are better when we collaborate, work and grow together. It’s how we build culture and relationships. We are social creatures. And there is a lot for us to talk about. I hope to see you in the office real soon.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Making connections: 3 things I do to make total strangers laugh.

I wish the world was funnier. Funny is one of the most precious commodities. If they traded funny on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange I am certain it would make people forget all about wheat, hogs and butter. I know of nothing that draws two strangers together faster than funny. Except maybe blackholes.

I am a naturally happy person. But sometimes I wish I knew more funny people who entertained me and made me laugh. I’m willing to bet that your life would be even more enjoyable if you knew more people that made you laugh more often too.

The workplace is the perfect place to get a good laugh. It provides a never-ending mix of new, odd and surprising situations. In fact, I want my ad agency, The Weaponry, to be the world’s funniest place to work. Meetings should be funny. Lunchtime should be funny.  The holiday party should be funny. I want to make this a place where we can laugh at ourselves, at the things we don’t know, at our mistakes and at the predicaments we find ourselves in. Finding the humor in our shared experiences helps us bond. And it helps us through the challenges and setbacks that naturally come with hard work.

I’m considering a policy that says that if you can make me laugh you get hired. The rest we can train.  Heck, maybe we can train the funny too. I’ve tested a lot of funny things over the course of my career. Not all of it hit the mark. But I have never been deterred.  I keep what works and tweak what doesn’t.

To that end, here are a few things that I like to do or say that are proven to make even total strangers laugh.

The Unpleasantry: It is common (and polite) in our culture to end an interaction by saying, “Have a good day.’ or “Have a great weekend!’ or ‘Have a good night!’ The expected reply is to simply repeat what the other person says. Or to say ‘Thank you.’ Or ‘You too.’ I prefer to say, “Don’t tell me what to do!’ That always get’s a laugh.

The Fritz Astaire: You know that moment when two people are about to run into each other, then both try to step out of the way, but they actually step in the same direction, so they end up taking awkward steps and getting nowhere?  I love it when that happens! It gives me a chance to say, ‘Thanks for the dance.’  That always gets a laugh.  Or I get punched in the eye by my new dance partner’s significant other.

The Family Connection: You ever notice how people introduce themselves by inserting, ‘My name is (NAME) by the way.’?  This is one of my favorite things.  I love to respond to this introduction by asking, ‘Are you related to any other Bytheways?’ It usually takes a moment. But laughter eventually follows.  Of course, I don’t distingusih between people laughing at me and people laughing with me.

I encourage you to find your own ways to make the world a funnier place. And if you find yourself with some really good material, please try it out on me. If you have skills that apply to advertising, all the better. The Weaponry is always looking for talented and funny people to akwardly run into in the hallway. Have a great day, Bytheway!