Roger Connors and Tom Smith are the founders and Co-CEO’s/Co-Presidents of Partners In Leadership, Inc., the internationally recognized premier provider of Accountability Training® Services around the world. They have thousands of clients, and have trained hundreds of thousands of people, in over 50 countries. Their clients include 25% of the “most admired companies in the world” and all 13 of the most admired Pharmaceutical Companies, almost half of the Dow Jones Industrial Average Companies and nearly half of the Fortune 50 largest companies in the United States, along with many other well-known and highly regarded organizations. They have produced the most comprehensive collection of books on workplace accountability ever written. All of their books, The Oz Principle, How Did That Happen? and their most recent book, Change the Culture Change the Game, have ranked as the No. 1 leadership book on The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon.com bestselling lists.
Morris: Before discussing any of your books, a few general questions. First, when and why did you begin to realize the relevance of L. Frank Baum’s classic book, The Wizard of Oz, to the business world?
Connors: We use the metaphor of the Wizard of Oz in our first book, The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability, as a literary device to create even greater interest in our message on accountability. While it is a light touch, it is a meaningful connection that we have found useful all over the world. In fact, our publisher tells us that The Oz Principle has continued to be in the top-5 bestselling business books in the leadership and performance category since it was first published in 1994, year after year.
To us, the well-known story of the Wizard of Oz is not just a classic children’s novel, but it is a story about the journey each of us must make to discover the powerful advantage we gain when we take personal accountability for achieving results. Honestly, our children think we have gone a little overboard in drawing the parallels, but they are there. Consider the four main characters of the story and each of their challenging circumstances. Dorothy was taken by a tornado, an act of God, away from home to the land of Oz. There she meets the scarecrow who was not given a brain, the tin man who was not given a heart and the Lion who had no courage. Each of them felt a victim of their circumstances; circumstances that were entirely outside of their control. At the beginning of the story, they commiserate together about their plight, but soon agree that the wizard in the Emerald City could solve all of their problems for them, or so they hoped.
They begin their journey down the yellow-brick road to the Emerald City in search of the wizard, only to find that — after doing what he had required (i.e. obtain the broomstick from the wicked witch of the west) — that he was only an old man, hiding behind a curtain pulling levers and blowing smoke, but unable to do anything for them.
During their quest, each of them discovered the power within themselves, with a little outside coaching and encouragement along the way, to overcome the obstacles they faced and achieve the results they wanted. The lion showed great courage, the tin man great heart and the scarecrow great wisdom. Dorothy discovered that she always had the power to click her heels and return home.
Smith: As you can see, the Wizard of Oz is a great metaphor for the journey to greater accountability. While our book, The Oz Principle, makes a light treatment of the analogy, we think we make a compelling case that taking greater personal accountability is an effective way to empower yourself to overcome the obstacles you face and achieve the results you want. In the book, you will learn how to avoid the victim cycle and the blame game and take the Steps To Accountability and operate Above The Line to See It, Own It, Solve It and Do It. Greater personal accountability truly does bring greater results.
Morris: In your various books and articles, you seem to be especially interested in sharing what lessons can be learned from ordinary people whose achievements are extraordinary. Is that fair assessment?
Smith: To a great degree, I think that is right. We love to tell the story of the busser who was cleaning tables in a restaurant chain we work with. They were beginning their national launch, but were struggling in hitting their numbers. We asked the senior team, what their top result was that they needed to achieve. They said it was “Profit margin.” We asked, “What’s the number?” The team gave responses of 3, 5 and 7 percent. We then asked the CEO what the number was and she rightly responded that “It is somewhere between 3 and 7 percent.” She explained that 3 percent was the number they told corporate they would hit, 5 percent was the number they thought they would hit, their own internal goal, and 7 percent was their stretch goal. While it is not uncommon to have three sets of numbers, it is also common that confusion about results accompanies that lack of clarity. They decided upon 5 percent as the number they would communicate throughout their entire organization.
Connors: That busser we were talking about. You could walk into any of their restaurants and stop the busser and ask them, “What’s your job?” Typically, you would expect to hear something like, “Clean tables.” Not here. This busser would respond, “My job is to make a 5 percent profit margin. The faster I clean tables, the more people we seat per hour. The more people we seat, the greater the profit margin. That’s what I do!” This company enjoyed a 200% increase in profit margin over the next 18 months. We think this story illustrates the power of personal accountability. When you get everyone in the organization at every level engaged in achieving results, fully invested with their hearts and minds, extraordinary things happen.
Morris: My own opinion is that crisis does not develop character. Rather, it reveals it. What do you think?
Connors: Interestingly enough, our clients usually tell us that they work best when they are in “crisis” mode. Everyone suspends their beliefs that prevail in the workplace culture during a crisis. All their inhibitions about working cross-functionally, sharing information, making decisions, etc… go away and people get aligned around the belief that they need to do what it takes to get the result. However, when the crisis is over, they revert back to the existing cultural beliefs and norms that clutter the organizational process, stand as barriers to organizational success and make it more difficult to achieve organizational results. Helping leaders learn how to help people and teams throughout the organization suspend beliefs that don’t work and adopt new beliefs that do work is what our book, Change the Culture, Change the Game, is all about.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Note: Culture of Accountability, Accountability Conversation, Steps to Accountability, Above The Line, Below The Line, See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It, The Oz Principle, How Did That Happen? and Change the Culture, Change the Game are trademarks (™) of Partners In Leadership.
Roger Connors and Tom Smith cordially invite you to check out the complimentary resources they offer at their website.
A comprehensive, cohesive, and cost-effective methodology to achieve breakthrough results
In Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests that much (most?) of the resistance to change initiatives is the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Roger Connors and Tom Smith fully agree. In a previous collaboration, The Oz Principle, they explain how to get desired results through individual and organizational accountability. They introduce Steps to Accountability, a sequence of actions: See It (i.e. recognize what must be done), Own It (i.e. make an investment in as well as a commitment to getting it done), Solve It (i.e. recognize and eliminate barriers with whatever resources may be needed), and Do It (i.e. producing the right results in the right way, as promised). Connors and Smith also suggest that people tend to live and work (most of the time) either above or below “The Line” that divides accountable behavior from behavior that is not.
As they note, “We use the term ‘result,’ rather than ‘goal’ because result implies that either you will achieve something or that you have already achieved it. In contrast, ‘goal’ suggests that you would like to have something happen, but might not accomplish it. A goal tends to be hopeful and directional, but not absolute.” In this context, I reminded of what Thomas Edison observed long ago: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Apparently the Yoda agrees: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Connors and Smith devote Part One (Chapters 1-5) to explaining how to create a Culture of Accountability, define the results to be achieved, take effective action to produce them, identify core believes that guide and direct behavior, provide experiences that support efforts, and reinforce results to sustain their beneficial impact. In Part Two (Chapters 6-10), they explain how to align cultural values with change initiatives, apply effective three Culture Management Tools they recommend (i.e. focused feedback, focused storytelling, celebration of incremental progress), and three skills needed to move the culture from where it has been to where it should be (i.e. Lead the Change, Respond to the Feedback, and Be Facilitative). Obviously, it would be a fool’s errand to adopt and then attempt to apply all of Connors and Smith’s recommendations. It remains for each reader to select what is most relevant and responsive to her or his needs and those of her or his organization.
With regard to buy-in of the plan, once formulated, Connors and Smith suggest and then discuss Five Principles of Full Enrollment (Pages 196-213):
1. Start with accountability
2. Get people ready for the change.
3. Begin with the top and intact teams.
4. Establish a process control and keep it honest.
5. Design for maximum involvement.
Those who need additional assistance with achieving full (or at least maximum) enrollment, I highly recommend John Kotter’s A Sense of Urgency and his more recent book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, co-authored with Lorne A. Whitehead. For supplementary readings, I also highly recommend Dean Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success and Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.
Note: I recently re-read this book while formulating questions fir an interview of its co-authors and found it even more relevant now than I did when first reading it. The material provides a “yellow brick road” to follow, one that leads to individual as well as organizational accountability of the highest order and greatest impact.
In this revised and updated edition of a book first published in 1994, the co-authors share with their reader what they have learned since their book was first published. Then and now, their objectives are the same: “…to help people become more accountable for their thoughts, feelings, actions, and results; and so that they can move their organizations to even greater heights. And, as they move along this always difficult and often frightening path, we hope that they, like Dorothy and her companions, discover that they really do possess the skills they need to do whatever their hearts desire.”
In this volume, Connors, Smith, and Hickman invoke once again a core concept of a “Line” below which many (most?) people live much (most?) of the time. Theirs is the attitude of victimization: They get stuck on a “yellow brick road” by blaming others for their circumstances; they wait for “wizards” to wave their magic wands; and they expect all of their problems to disappear through little (if any) effort of their own.
What to do? Connors, Smith, and Hickman explain (step-by-step) how to Live Above the Line by assuming much greater accountability for whatever results one may desire. This can be achieved through a four-step process:
See It: Recognize and acknowledge the full reality of a situation
Own It: Accept full responsibility for one’s current experiences and realities as well as others’
Solve It: Change those realities by finding and implementing solutions to problems (often solutions not previously considered) while avoiding the “trap” of dropping back Below the Line when obstacles present themselves
Do It: Summon the commitment and courage to follow through with the solutions identified, especially when there is great risk in doing so
How easy it is to summarize this four-step process…and how difficult it is to follow it to a satisfactory conclusion. (When composing brief commentaries such as this, I always fear trivializing important points.) Connors, Smith, and Hickman have absolutely no illusions about the barriers, threats, and challenges that await those who embark on this “journey” to accountability.
As they indicate in this new edition of their book, they have accumulated a wealth of information during the past decade which both illustrates and reconfirms the importance of making a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and assume the ownership of what is required to achieve desired results. This is precisely what Theodore Roosevelt had in mind when praising “the man in the arena” and what W.E. Henley asserts in the final stanza of “Invictus”:
“It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
Organizations are human communities within which everyone involved must somehow balance personal obligations to themselves with obligations to others. For me, the interdependence of these obligations best illustrates the importance of the Oz Principle: “Accountability for results at the very core of continuous improvement, innovation, customer satisfaction, team performance, talent development and corporate governance movements so popular today.” Connors, Smith, and Hickman go on to observe, “Interestingly, the essence of these programs boils down to getting people to rise above their circumstances and do whatever it takes (of course, within the bounds of ethical behavior) to get the results they want,” not only for themselves but also for everyone else involved in the given enterprise.
Connors, Smith, and Hickman cite Winston Churchill’s admonition, “First we shape our structures, and then our structures shape us.” Were the Steps to Accountability easy to take, if everyone lived and labored Above the Line, there would be no need for this book. There is much of value to be learned from L. Frank Baum’s account of the perilous journey which Dorothy and her companions share. What they finally realized — and so must we — is that, to paraphrase Pogo, “We have met the Wizard and he is us.”
1. The Myth of the Rational Market, Justin Fox
2. Fool’s Gold, Gillian Tett
3. Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford
4. How Did That Happen?, Tom Smith
5. Rapt, Winifred Gallagher
6. In Fed We Trust, David Wessel
7. Trust Agents, Chris Brogan
8. Animal Spirits, George A. Akerlof
9. SuperCorp, Rosabeth Moss Kanter
10. Ignore Everybody, Hugh MacLeod
My own “Top Ten” for 2009 are listed in alpha order (per title) and include only Trust Agents and SuperCorp. Here are the other eight:
American Entrepreneur, Larry Schweikart and Lynne Pierson Doti
Note: Ironically, this is both the first book listed and my personal choice as the best business book published in 2009.
The Design of Business, Roger Martin
Freedom, Inc., Brian M. Carney and Isaac Getz
How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer
Maestro, Roger Nierenberg
The Power of Collective Wisdom, Alan Briskin, Sheryl, John Ott, and Tom Callanan
Management Rewired, Charles S. Jacobs
Strategy for Sustainability, Adam Werbach
Note: I think Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check was the best business book published in 2008 and so voted as a member of selection committees for both Fortune and BusinessWeek magazines. My “Top Ten” that year also included Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated.