Agency Growth Tips 4/21: Fire Arseholes.

Published 06.03.2019

I promised a spicy one yesterday. And here it is. #agencygrowthtips 4/21 ‘Fire arseholes’.

This is part of my FREE daily series of ideas, insights, thoughts, experiences, lessons, successes and failures of my own, colleagues and agencies I have consulted with. It goes on for 21 days.

You may not believe it, but this phrase was in my agency handbook from the day I started my first agency, to the day I sold up. It was in my book ‘The little book of big ideas’ that I produced with my colleagues. And I believe it as much today as I ever did.

I think it’s important when you’re offering out wisdom like this, to bring balance. And importantly honesty. Here’s some of mine.

I have been fired a few times.

I’ve been fired as an employee. We’ve been fired as an agency. I’ve been fired by a mentor. And don’t even get me started on my personal life.

Why was I fired? Pretty much, because I was being an arsehole. Or at least, that’s how it would have felt the other side of the table.

Being fired hurts. But, in every situation, something to learn. There’s always an upside. And every ending ushers in a new beginning. And beginnings are great. It’s all a matter of perspective.

We now have said balance. Let’s get to business.

Aside: Usual dyslexia warning. I am zen about spellers. I hope you are too. Good luck with guessing what I actually meant. Even I don’t know sometimes. 

Fire arseholes.

My definition of an arsehole: Someone that no matter how lovely, how important, how talented, how bright or how commercially valuable, consistently drains you or your teams energy or your businesses resources (relationships, time, cash, morale, motivation, quality) or gets in the way of progress.

An aside: Let’s pause for an important message, before I get going: 

Particularly as employers… you don’t employ robots. You employ humans. That make mistakes. Some are fighting battles you have no idea about.=

So don’t walk around with a metaphorical gun, shooting everyone that is acting like an arsehole today. Because we all have that in us. Yes. You too. It happens. It’s ok. And if you think you don’t… please read this paragraph again. And stop being an arsehole.

What I am talking about is repeated negative destructive behaviour. Behaviour that isn’t a response to a temporary situation someone may be experiencing. Be careful not to act too fast or make assumptions – or you may find out that the bigger arsehole may be a little closer to home. 

As employers e owe it to those that employ to throw our arms around vulnerable people when they need it. That’s part of the deal. The same way we expect people to go above and beyond, work weekend when needed when it’s needed. If someone is in difficulty – and you can see it, don’t ignore it. 

When an employee or colleague needs help, here’s my take. Don’t just tell them your expectations of them. Do that, of course. But offer help. Not just an ear. Real help. Because people – no matter how strong – break. Ask them what they need. Or offer what you think they need. But help. Once. If they don’t take your help. Be firm. Be kind. Be direct. And make the tough decisions that we’re paid to make. ]

Right, back to it. Arseholes. Arrogant. Ignorant. Unwilling. Lying. Gossipy. Sly. Political. Manipulative. Cliquey. This lot. People that care about themselves. That pay lip service to company values. That favour certain people over the group. That bad mouth everyone. That don’t talk straight. That don’t use their talents for good.

You know who I mean.

Get rid of them. They’re in the way. I promise you the other side of that decision is a whole load of relief.

I’d rather have a highly motivated team of above average happy people, that work together, pull together and run into battles together than a band of talented arseholes that make life hell for everyone else.

You can spot them a million miles away. The unwilling I call them. Often super capable. Super talented and totally able to do what needs to be done to highest of standards. But arguments, unrest, negativity difficulties and circle around them like seagulls over a child carrying a portion of chips.

They don’t really help beyond serving their own needs. They profiter on their clients and think short term. They’re expert in saying the word no. And the screwed up face. The huff. The puff. Urgh. Some of them are the opposite, at face value. Yes’s. Happy faces. Brown nosing. Thinking about themselves first. Just as urgh. Just as destructive.

It takes a village. A team. To build a great agency. When one arsehole is wagging the whole business or whole department – trust me, beyond that fear of how will we cope, what will we do, and we need them – is your breathing out and saying thank fuck they’re gone.

Seriously. Bloody get rid of them. They’re holding you and your team back. And you may just do them a favour. They may learn something from the experience. But that’s up to them.

The sad bit is most of the time, we cope with arseholes for far too long. I’ve done it. Some got away with it full stop. And that was my weakness.

Or, we knew they’d be like this. Your gut feel is so important… don’t stop listening to it.

As an aside: An ex client of mine, a brilliant guy, and someone I learnt a lot from called Mark Allen from a specialist recruitment company Allen & York once gave me a piece of advice around hiring. I was always interested to get the advice of business owners and entrepreneurs that were years ahead of my in terms of running their own business. And Mark was. He told me, not word for word, that if something annoys you about someone in an interview, multiply it by a hundred – that’s what they’ll be like. He also said, you have to employ people you like, people you want to see succeed – you have to look forward to seeing them on a Monday morning. Brilliant advice. And I’ll never forget it, or many of the super chats we had.

This advice is most certainly not limited to colleagues. I include suppliers and clients tool. Sometime you just have to walk away from people, contacts and opportunities. No matter how great they COULD be… how great ARE they?

I’ve only ever had four clients that were really in this category. Good brands. But just simply not nice people. Three I didn’t tolerate. I fired them. And life at the agency got better.

One, I didn’t. I compromised my values. And compromised the trust of those around me too. And I deeply regret it. It was a big brand. And the work was important for our agency. It was an amazing client win. And producing that work helped us win other clients.

But, on reflection – I should have walked away from that client. But I was too scared. It cost far too much – squeezing our margins, running the team into the ground, no thanks for anything we did – and what we did was great.

I’m sorry to the team actually for that period of time. But it was a time when I learnt a lot too. About clients. And it certainly cost me and co-founder the most at the time. Professionally. And personally. But it was an opportunity that felt to big to walk away from.

It wasn’t. I should have walked. I turned the volume down on my gut. The team was brilliant. We would have achieved the same without said client. In the end, we did.

What is certain is no one client is too important not to walk away from. No one person too important in an agency. I certainly never got into business or began their career to be miserable or to work with people that are in the way.

Arseholes take up too much energy. The cost of working with arseholes as colleagues, suppliers or clients is simply too high. Because life is too short.

Arseholes are an opportunity cost.

And, trust me, the cost is always too high.