No Jerks Allowed!

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my living room with my 7-year-old blaring Aerosmith (his favorite band) on the radio while dancing with his little brother to “Taste of India”. Yet, something has been on my mind that I simply can’t get rid of and that is one of our company’s immutable laws. I realize that I should probably put my laptop away and spend the next couple of hours dancing with them or jamming along on the drums or guitar – but I just can’t get rid of this thought – so instead, I’ll put pen to paper and share with you one of our immutable laws.

But first – what the heck is an immutable law?  Immutable laws is something that I learnt from one of my favorite business authors, Mike Michalowicz.

Immutable Laws are the rules of our lives. They define you. They define your business.

Immutable Laws are a blend of ethics, core values and self-assigned laws, all wrapped up into one. They are the rules we have defined for ourselves, almost subconsciously, on what is right and what is wrong. What is acceptable and what is not. What makes you happy, and what doesn’t.  They are with you for life and they barely ever change.

When one of these laws get broken – they trigger an immediate negative emotion, or a bad “gut” feeling. The tricky part is to figure out what these are, document them and share them with your team.

Some examples of immutable laws and some that we have in our own organization are (and I totally stole these from Mike’s book):

Positivity Or Death – A positive or a negative can be taken from every situation. It is a conscious choice. While everything may not go our way all the time, and we won’t always be happy campers, we will consciously always choose to be positive. Our positivity guides us to opportunities.

Turn The Turtles – A struggling customer is like a turtle on its back. It is always our responsibility to put them back on their feet.

Give To Give – “Give to get” implies that you have a hidden agenda. We believe in giving for the joy of giving. Getting is irrelevant.

The concept of having immutable laws in our businesses is nothing new, but coming up with actual immutable laws that we practice and preach day in and day out is a whole different story.

One of our most important immutable laws here at Avenir IT is “No Jerks Allowed: Being a jerk is not allowed. We won’t accept jerks as clients, vendors or employees. We will never be jerks. No jerks allowed.” And trust me when I say, if you’re a client of ours, this immutable law ensures that you’ll always be a happy camper.

You see – in our early beginnings we just assumed that as a business, you would get some good clients and other not so great clients. Unfortunately, we also had a couple that would make us cringe whenever we saw their numbers pop up on the caller ID. We believed that we just needed to learn how to deal with them. We would bend over backwards to make them happy, spend a lot of unbillable time to ensure they would stick with us and throw away all of our proven processes, self-respect and positive emotions to have them like us – an impossible task.

But the reality is that these types of clients didn’t only take valuable resources, time and energy away from our great clients, but they killed our employees’ morale. This makes going to work a whole lot less fun. They drain you of all positive energy, and are absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to please.

Now, part of our process before signing on a new client is to sit down with them and just have a chat. Sometimes they’ll last 15 minutes, sometimes much longer – but this chat allows me to make sure that we are going to be a compatible fit with their organization. This one step also allows me to filter out the great clients from the ones that will drain the team. A recent example of a meeting gone wrong is when I showed up to a prospect’s house, and as I reached out my hand to greet her, she looked at me and said in a very angry voice “I don’t shake hands!”. A few minutes later, while we are sitting at her desk, her phone rings, she picks it up, and says “I’m not busy. I’m just sitting here with some IT company”.

Meeting over.

Another time, I connected really well with a business owner – and the potential deal was going to be extremely large. However, right near the end of our meeting, he called in one of his employees and verbally destroyed him in front of me.

Nope. Not interested.

Sometimes, however, my radar doesn’t pick up on these potentially bad clients. In fact, we had a client that literally brought Chantal (one of our most amazing technicians) to tears! That is not right. When I had a chance to listen in on the calls – it was very clear, that this client had on multiple occasions broken some of our immutable laws. After a couple warnings of needing to show respect to our technicians, I had no other choice but to let them go as a client.

Having a bad client doesn’t always mean that they are mean, rude or generally unhappy. Sometimes it’s simply that they don’t allow you to do what you do best. Maybe they never pay their bills on time (or take months and many follow ups to get paid). In our case we put a lot of value in a reliable IT infrastructure by using business grade equipment. When businesses ignore IT budgets or advice and expect us to drop everything and come to their rescue when their $100 computers with no warranty breaks down, then we need to consider the impact it has on the clients that DO make the right decisions and investments in the right equipment.

The problem is that when we have these types of customers – it affects the good customers or clients. The ones that rave and swear by you. The ones that send you great referrals, amazing testimonials and are happy with your services. The ones that when they call you with a concern, you know it is constructive, honest and not an attempt to get something in return. You want to avoid trying to please the customers that will pull their hair out and plant it in their sandwiches to get a free lunch.

You see – I believe that business relationships are not just transactional, but are built on the foundation of good communications and the ability to connect with the people that make up the team and heart of the organization. Allowing us to appreciate the value and benefits that we bring to each other.

Why would you want it any other way? Why should you put up with anything less?

I was sharing this with one of our clients last week – a small financial planning firm. One of these “bad” clients ended up being his sister – and after years of being treated poorly, he finally decided to pull the plug. He shared with me how instantly he felt better, and with the time and energy that he found after the firing, he was able to replace her business with 3 new, happy and appreciative clients nearly instantly. Funny how that works.

Well, thanks for reading and allowing me get this off my chest. Best I turn off my laptop for the weekend and go play Hot Wheels with my little guys…

-Mathieu