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The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability Hardcover – April 22, 2004
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Many reviewers have degrade this book as corporate nonsense to make the employees take the blame. I won't deny that probably is the case in several companies, however, there are great lessons in this book that helped me realize that blaming corporate gets me nowhere. My actions have the ability to improve my situation, but rarely does playing the blame game ever produce desired results.
Pros: The message that the book delivers is "take responsibility". This is a great message and I really wish more people would live by those words. If they did, so much more would get done in this world.
Cons: The book is 90% filler that repeats its basic points over and over and over and over again. So much so that if you actually manage to read the entire book without relegating it to the shelf of shame, that you grow to really dislike those points and actually want to rebel against the principals simply because you are tired of the book beating you over the head with them every time you turn the page.
Over all, this book might be able to open some people's eyes as most self-help books can, but in the end I don't think it is a game changer. And I don't think it is worth buying.
One of the first things you may notice in this book is that the authors have trademarked the commercial use of the two phrases "above the line®" and "below the line®". The horizontal "line" separates two types of behavior and attitudes, which represents the OZ principle. This might be some indication of their intentions.
Above the line thinking is about being accountable and below the line thinking is about "the blame game". In other words, the authors posit that we live in a culture of entitlement and pseudo-victimization where we are motivated to avoid accountability and blame others for failure. Consequently, this book (and its associated training courses) is often selected by management to obtain more "accountability" (and less excuses) from their employees.
Such a simplistic formula with a few twists and many anecdotal stories provide the necessary fuel for a highly successful book as well as a robust training and consulting practice. But, the expected results for your organization may not live up to the hype. This should be somewhat obvious on critical reflection, if you believe that people are not nearly as one-dimensional as this approach suggests.
I am all for accountability but have some concerns with this approach. First, its all-encompassing, individually-focused assessment of attitudinal performance is grossly over-simplistic, but interestingly appealing to organizations that are seeking simple solutions to their performance problems. It also appears to satisfy a number of individuals and managers who find solace in uncomplicated prescriptions to guide their staff behaviors. But, if you adopt this approach, be sure your managers don't use it to silence your employees and essentially reduce all problems to a single cause by attributing the accountability to one person.
According to the authors, when individuals are "confused", adopt a "wait and see" position, or try to "cover their tail", they are acting below the line, which comes across as a pejorative if not an accusatory label. This attribution is based on the notion that members do have the power to perform above the line should they so choose. So it is always deemed to be the employee's fault. What is missing here is the possibility that problems might lay elsewhere (such as in processes, coordination, resources, etc.) or result from multiple causes.
Above the line behavior is described as steps to accountability, which include "see it", "own it", "solve it", and "do it". While this is rather basic, it could be valuable training for some, to focus on basic execution rather than being paralyzed by inaction.
More important though is the primary flaw in this theory, which is its failure to deal with the realities of power and control in organizational settings. While there is a brief mention of empowerment (p. 203) the authors imply that this is the fault of employees. "...employees allow themselves to feel like victims of managers, management behaves accordingly, and results get held hostage by indecision and inaction" (p. 204).
In reality, information, connections, and resources are also important keys to empowerment, but somehow employees are accountable for gaining access to these without upsetting existing organizational structures or fearing any potential punishment for coloring outside the lines.
Some readers may be confused about the authors' concept of "accountability" which is the core theme of the book. Managers typically hold employees accountable which is clearly an expression of power. Yet, it is unlikely that employees could be seen as holding their boss accountable, at least with any punitive force.
Consequently, the authors sidestep this issue by redefining the word "accountability" to be "a personal choice to rise above one's circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results" (p. 47).
However, simply redefining the word for their own use and pretending that it will somehow allow individuals to acquire resources and become accountable seems highly dubious. It is more likely that those with powerful positions will retain its pejorative use. In other words accountability is still a one way street in the land of OZ.
At the same time, the authors have a plan to "hold" employees accountable (now reverting to the traditional meaning of the word) by using a three step process (p. 192) that offers praise to employees who achieve specific measurable goals. While the employees may be invited to share in the goal setting, the asymmetrical availability of power and the ability to mete out rewards and punishments still reside with only one party.
Another underlying premise of this book is that individuals (whatever their position) are in complete control of the outcomes of their work. This is a long-held traditional view of organizations based on reductionist logic which has been significantly challenged in the Complexity literature (see my other reviews). In reality, very few substantive problems are the result of single causality.
To the extent that long-term outcomes are reliant on some forces beyond individual control, it is not just unfair to implement the version of accountability described in this book, but also possibly counterproductive. A better approach might be to drop the accountability rhetoric altogether and focus more on encouraging personal mastery, adaptation, and cooperative knowledge sharing. In other words, it is doubtful if the Oz principle is particularly good for accountability, motivation, or outcomes.
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