From Over Here: No D$%kheads Policy

April 5, 2017 Robin Whalen

We have a straight “no d$%kheads” policy. For real. 

You know you’ve found your place when you’re not the first person to utter the “no d$%kheads allowed” policy. This is a rare thing in the agency world. Read on.

Our business is creative. And frenetic. And energetic. And full of passion. Late nights. Early mornings. All of this often appeals to a certain kind of person.  And sometimes these people, over time, can get worn down. And when you get worn down…well…let’s just say that proper modems of business behaviour can get left to the wayside.

Which is unfortunate because in a business that makes its money based on the intellectual capital of its employees, you need to foster a culture that is fun, respectable and ambitious. When things get nasty, the work often follows.

So when I stumbled across a leadership article featuring the New Zealand Rugby Team – The All Blacks – reading about how the coach keeps the team motivated really struck a chord. Get this. They employ a Mental Skills Specialist to train the team. I’m not kidding.


“In the end, you need only three bones to be successful: a wish bone, a back bone, and a funny bone.”

He’s talking about sports and I’m talking about Advertising. Doesn’t matter. The point of this is that in order to succeed in a business like ours (and in Sports), you need an extraordinary team culture.  As I mentioned, The All Blacks employ a “Mental Skills Specialist” - Gilbert Enoka. He touts a few philosophies that I think relate perfectly to our business. 

I’ve worked in some organizations where we thrived (because of these tenants) and then some where the work was fantastic, but the team disconnected. Success was fleeting as a result.   So let’s break it down. What does it take to build an environment that people want to be a part of – and where the work flourishes as a result? It all comes down to culture.

Team over individual.

Our product is our ideas. You need Art Directors. You need Writers. You need Producers. You need the person in finance to send out your bill. You name it. Alienate the group and you don’t have much to work with. When your product is a result of a team, you better get behind the team. You know the saying: no man is an island. Advertising is the very embodiment of this.

Cultivate a sense of belonging.

We aren’t a 9 to 5 industry. So giving people something to look forward to is critical. After all, if you’re huddled over a boardroom table at 2am, you want to be at least knee-deep in Swiss Chalet, potato chips and a few bevvies. The people, the company, the laughter…..it inspires the work.  Makes the late nights worth it.

I used to work with a team of women that would drop everything to babysit one another’s kids if that’s what it took to get the job done. Our team was that important. We were a tribe. Amazing. That’s a sense of belonging that can grow a company’s bottom line.

Vulnerability isn’t a 4-letter word.

You can be powerful and confident and creative. And still be vulnerable. Showing that side to your team makes you authentic. And relatable. So go ahead, put it out there. As mentioned above, it should bring the team closer, create a bond and make the work better.

No D$%kheads allowed.

I’ve heard this a thousand times. “He/She is just so passionate. That’s why he/she acts the way he/she does.” Nonsense. Being passionate, or smart, or intensely creative is no excuse to be a d*&k at work.   There’s wisdom in “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. There are plenty of people that can deliver exceptional work, and still be gracious and kind and enjoyable to work with.  Being smart is not a license to be a d$%k.

You see, d$%kheads have a limited lifespan. Sure, they may sell some ideas. Sure they may leverage technology in a way that breaks boundaries and sells product. But eventually people tire of attitudes and tirades. And when that happens, no-one wants to please them anymore. And when THAT happens, the team breaks down. And we just talked about the importance of team.

So we at The Tite Group fundamentally believe that we hire people who have the talent, but also share the same values. Respect. Humour. Accountability. Passion. Energy.  No room for anything but this. And I don’t care if you’re Picasso. Make the days of the people around you better or move on.

A long, long time ago, a wise man named Leo Burnett coined the term, “Our most valuable asset goes up and down the elevator every day”. While our business has changed, the fundamental approach to managing people hasn’t. We all put our pants on one leg at a time and we all want to enjoy our days.

So do good work.

Don’t be a d$%k.

Make your clients happy and your mothers proud.

And last but not least, be a good human and enjoy yourself. It shouldn’t be that hard.


"Contrary to popular belief, I'm not always right. But in all seriousness, I've walked the walk in many different aspects and this is just how I see things from over here." 

With a dash of wit and a full serving of insight, Robin Whalen, president of The Tite Group, shares her insights on the things, topics, conversations and general goings-on that have earned her minutes. 

This is an inside look at how her thoughts power her actions. 


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