Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The No Asshole Rule - A (Mini) Review


Stanford Professor Robert Sutton is getting some attention with his latest book, "The No Asshole Rule." According to the introduction, the genesis for the book was an essay in the Harvard Business Review. It may have made a good essay.

But it is hardly worthy of book length treatment; and let's face it, the idea is not terribly unique. See for example, Jerks in the Workplace - Disturbing, But Sound Advice. And frankly, the book is little more than a series of anecdotes and references to "academic studies," not that you would conclude there were anything scholarly about it.

There are some good Steve Jobs' stories, a report on Scott Rudin, an apparently difficult producer who has gone through between 119 and 250 personal assistants (that's good for several mentions throughout the book), and an obligatory mention of "Chainsaw" Dunlap. For some reason, he doesn't mention Leona Helmsley, I guess thorough research just isn't what it used to be.

He does give us a mention of the other side — "lots of warm and caring individuals people who are also successful business leaders" like A.G. Lafley of Proctor & Gamble, John Chambers of Cisco, Richard Branson of Virgin and Ann Mulcahy of Xerox. Although some eyebrows might get raised over his inclusion of Oprah Winfrey in that group, instead of the former one.

Sutton also throws in some advice about dealing with assholes in the workplace, which is frankly pretty lame. He also adds some "checklists" which are not quite Parade magazine (the Sunday newspaper supplement) worthy.

I probably wouldn't have read the book at all but for the presentation I am giving at the SHRM National Convention, Bullying in the Workplace: The Newest Litigation Threat? Can't say that I got a lot of material for the presentation, but the fact that it is has been written and is doing well does hint that the whole issue is becoming a more important one.

One good thing in the book are several examples from, Gig, a collection of interviews about people's work lives that is fascinating reading. (It's a follow on to Studs Terkel's oral history, Working, also excellent.) I don't know that the conclusions Sutton draws from the stories in Gig make a lot of sense, but I heartily recommend the original source. I won't do the same for Sutton's effort.

Maybe a more interesting question is the fact that professors from two well respected institutions — Stanford and Princeton* — have chosen titles, and in Sutton's case adamantly so according to his introduction, that at least in some not too distant past, would not have passed muster out of a sense of propriety if nothing else.

But it's when I have thoughts like that — that I begin to think my age is showing.

*On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt

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