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.
Adrian Gostick is the author of several bestselling books on corporate culture, including The New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller The Carrot Principle, co-authored with Chester Elton. Gostick also wrote the bestsellers The Integrity Advantage (co-authored with Dana Telford) and The 24-Carrot Manager (co-authored with Elton). His latest book, also co-authored with Elton, is The New York Times bestseller The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization. His research on employee engagement has been called a “must read for modern-day managers” by Larry King of CNN, “fascinating,” by Fortune magazine and “admirable and startling” by the Wall Street Journal.
Gostick’s books have been translated into 20 languages and are sold in more than 50 countries around the world. As a leadership expert, he has appeared on numerous national television programs including NBC’s Today Show and has been quoted in dozens of business publications and magazines. He is vice president of the training and publishing arm of the O.C. Tanner Recognition Company. Gostick earned a master’s degree in strategic communication and leadership from Seton Hall University, where he is a guest lecturer on organizational culture.
Morris: Before discussing any of your books, a few general questions. First, whatever we call the current economic period (e.g. recession, depression, disruption, reset), the fact remains that most people are struggling to survive financially. That said, do you think that the importance of monetary rewards is more than, less than, or about the same as it was (let’s say) five years ago?
Gostick: Just so we are clear: In this economy, as in any really, you pay people absolutely as much as you can afford. The trouble is, we only have so much money to go around. So, with the absence of huge amounts of cash to hand out to our people, what do we do? That’s where we must get creative in engaging our people, helping them feel part of something important, giving them opportunities to grow, letting them know we care about them as individuals.
Morris: Is there an incentive that is even more important to workers than a monetary award? If so, why? And what is the significance of that?
Gostick: What the research shows is that monetary awards are not as motivating as tangible awards. I know that’s counterintuitive, but here’s what the research says. People use small amounts of cash—in fact anything less than $1,000—on paying their bills. Nothing very memorable about paying the gas bill. But it’s amazing how hard people will work to get a new set of golf clubs, jewelry, a trip, or some other tangible award. Psychologists will tell you that people will always say “give me the money. I don’t care if it’s 5 bucks, I want the cash.” But in reality we are not motivated by small amounts. We are motivated by seeing ourselves playing with that new set of clubs, wearing that jewelry or taking the trip.
Morris: Recent research conducted by highly reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson (formerly Towers Perrin) indicates that workers rank “feeling appreciated” among the two or three attributes most important to them. Moreover, a high percentage of highly valued employees indicate, during exit interviews, one of the major reasons to accepting a position elsewhere is that they do not feel appreciated. Here’s my question. Why do so many workers feel under-valued, if valued at all?
Gostick: Why? Because we as managers are so bad at appreciating great work. We are. First, we get so wrapped up in our own work, meeting customer requests, doing what our bosses want, that we forget our primary role is to motivate and engage our team. The ten people we manage can get a lot more done than we can if we only would appreciate more. Second, we think we are pretty good at recognition already. Our research found that 67% of managers believe they are above average at appreciating great work, but only 23% of employees agreed that their boss’s were good at this. That’s a huge gap in perception!
Morris: To what extent (if any) do the most prestigious business schools at major universities (such as Harvard, Northwestern, Michigan, Dartmouth, MIT, and Pennsylvania) prepare executives to provide the recognition and appreciation that all workers crave and few receive?
Gostick: We’ve been asked to speak at several large business schools lately because more educators are realizing this is a gap in their curriculum. However, with that said, few business schools really teach the new generation of MBAs how to serve their people, how to be compassionate, how to communicate effectively. I hear more and more that these newly minted MBAs come out very smart, able to balance a ledger, but with little idea how to motivate a team.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to The Carrot Principle. What promoted you and Chet Elton to write it?
Gostick: We’d been working with some of the world’s best organizations for almost twenty years, putting in place employee engagement and recognition programs. We knew anecdotally that recognition done well could impact a company’s bottom line, but we didn’t have the statistical proof. We conducted a 200,000-person study for that book, and what we found was that once we had the stats, leaders were much more willing to listen to our ideas.
Morris: Since its publication, has the percentage of leaders worldwide who practice recognition with their employees increased, decreased, or remained about the same? Why
Gostick: The book has sold more than half a million copies worldwide and has been adopted by some very large organizations as a Bible of how to treat their people, so I certainly hope we’ve helped. Every year we host a “Carrot Summit” during which business leaders share their success stories of using these ideas, and it’s wonderful to hear how real businesses have shaped their programs from the words we wrote.
Morris: In the Introduction to the second edition (published in 2009), you identify four types of executives: Positives, Fearful, Controllers, and Negatives. Here’s a two-part question: What are the dominant characteristics of each, and, what was each category’s percentage of the total number of people who participated.
Gostick: Here’s what we found from the managers in the survey. Only 26% of leaders are Positive on recognition. They practice this with their employees whether or not they’ve been giving permission and tools from their HR group. The next set of managers (22%) are Fearful of recognition. They want to recognize, but haven’t been given permission from senior leadership to spend any money or do anything out of the norm so they are paralyzed by fear. The next group (20%) are what we call Controllers. They are worried about the human elements of recognition—the jealousies that might occur if they recognize Bob and not Sue, so they do nothing. The last group (a whopping 32% of managers) are Negative on recognition. They add such pearls of wisdom to the leadership lexicon such as “they get recognition every two weeks in their paychecks, don’t they?” This group of managers was by far the least productive.
Morris: What is an “accelerator” and why is one needed?
Gostick: We found that recognition couldn’t make these lousy managers better. They were simply distrusted. However, we found that good managers could use recognition to make everything they were doing better. Recognition in the research was shown to increase the perception of open communication, trust, goal-setting, accountability, teamwork, etc. Appreciating great work accelerated performance. It just makes sense, and now we have the research to statistically prove it.
Morris: Three-part question. First, what are the “Basic Four” foundational building blocks of effective leadership and management? Which seems to be the most difficult to develop? Why?
Gostick: When we did correlation studies on great teams, we found managers received high marks for recognition, but also for four other leadership characteristics: goal-setting, communication, trust and accountability. We came to call them the Basic Four of Leadership because they are so foundational to success. Each is hard to master in its own way: It’s easy to set goals, but hard to provide clarity around goals. It’s easy to communicate, but hard to be open and honest and consistent. Trust is hard to build and maintain, but it is essential in every business relationship. Accountability is also difficult, because we typically see it as a negative.
One employee put it this way: when I make a mistake I’m recognized 100 percent of the time, but when I do something great I’m not recognized 99 percent of the time. In the great teams we studied, managers turned that 1 percent recognition into 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 or higher.
Morris: As you know, Henry Chesbrough has much of value to share in two books, Open Innovation and Open Business Models, about organizational values such as clarity, accessibility, transparency, receptiveness, and trustworthiness. Are these not among the same principles that effective leaders and managers also follow?
Gostick: Absolutely! In fact they are captured in our research findings we call the Basic Four. You must provide clarity of goals. You must be accessible, transparent and receptive to new ideas if you want to build a strong communication culture. And you must be trustworthy.
Morris: Please explain the terms “Altruist” and “Expector.”
Gostick: This is kind of funny. We found a large group of managers who provided recognition to their employees with the “expectation” of something in return, typically harder work. Employees saw through this motivation. However, we found a group of managers who “altruistically” recognized their people for great work because it was the right thing to do. This group of managers saw much better results and had much higher employee engagement scores. So, it does pay to recognize, but you must have good motives.
Morris: To what does the acronym “SAIL” refer? Significance?
Gostick: We found great managers told stories when they recognized. They talked about the Situation they faced, or the problem. They mentioned the Action the employee took to resolve the situation. They talked about the Impact the employee made by taking ownership, being innovative, resolving the customer issue, etc. And finally, they Linked it to the core values of the organization. It’s a great way to make recognition meaningful.
Morris: You seem to agree with Thomas Edison that “vision without execution is hallucination.” In Appendix A, you provide a “Recognition Effectiveness Model.” How does it help to measure the total impact of recognition initiatives? Can it also measure the impact of each individual “carrot”?
Gostick: I love that quote from Edison! What we found in our research is that most company strategies are eerily familiar. We like to think we’ve all invented the iPod and we are markedly different from our competitors, but in truth most customers can’t tell our products apart. What differentiates us is our employees. If they are engaged they will execute on your plan. Anyone can have a plan or vision, but only the great companies sustain high-impact execution.
Currently Stewart Friedman is a Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is founder and director of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project and he founded Wharton’s Leadership Programs for both the MBA and Undergraduate divisions. Friedman was director of academic affairs for Wharton’s undergraduate division and has won numerous teaching awards; The New York Times cited the “rock star adoration” he inspires in his students. From 1999 to 2001 he was a senior executive at Ford Motor Company, where he was responsible for the company’s global leadership development strategy and programs. He was an advisor to former Vice President Al Gore and former GE CEO Jack Welch on work/life issues and was chosen by Working Mother as one America’s 25 most influential men in having made things better for working parents.
Friedman earned a BA degree at the State University of New York at Binghamton and MA and PhD degrees at the University of Michigan. His most recent work is Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life, published by Harvard Business Press – an award-winning book that reached #3 on USA Today’s national bestseller list. He heads a group that brings Total Leadership to organizations and communities worldwide in order to improve performance in all parts of life – work, home, community, and self – by finding mutual value among them.
Stewart Friedman is a business thinker I hold in the very highest regard. Here is a link to my interview of this very special educator and to my review of Total Leadership:
Here’s a link to an article Friedman posted at the Harvard Business blog earlier today (April 1, 2010), The First Couple and a New Era of Workplace Flexibility:
Here’s a link to the Total Leadership homepage:
Collins is a student of enduring great companies — how they grow, how they attain superior performance, and how good companies can become great companies. Having invested more than a decade of research into the topic, Jim has co-authored four books — including the classic Built to Last, a fixture on the Business Week bestseller list for more than six years, and the New York Times bestseller, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, most recently, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. His work has been featured in Fortune, The Economist, Fast Company, USA Today, Industry Week, Business Week, Newsweek, Inc., and Harvard Business Review.
Driven by a relentless curiosity, Jim began his research and teaching career on the faculty of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award. After seven years at Stanford, Jim returned to his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, to found his management research laboratory. He is fond of saying, “I am a self-employed professor who endowed his own chair and granted himself tenure.” Collins set up his research lab in the same building where he attended grammar school. Still a place of learning, he uses the laboratory to conduct large-scale research projects to develop fundamental insights and then translate those findings into books, articles and lectures. He continues to conduct rigorous research while maintaining an active teaching schedule with leaders in the corporate and social sectors.
Note: This interview was conducted prior to the publication of How the Mighty Fall.
Morris: Jim, if writing Built to Last today, would you use the same criteria?
Collins: Yes, pretty much. The key criteria for an enduring great company are:
PERFORMANCE: The company must display superior financial performance relative to others’.
IMPACT: The company must have made a unique and significant impact on the world that it touches.
RESILIENCY: The company must be able to go through difficult times and emerge even stronger.
LONGEVITY: The company must demonstrate these variables for a long period of time — decades, not just years.
Morris: You and Jerry Porras identify 18 common myths about the most enduring companies. Which of them seem to be as well-intrenched today as in 1994 when Built to Last was first published?
Collins: Great question. I would say the myth that the only constant is change. In a truly great company, change is a constant, but not the only constant. There are timeless principles of building great companies that never change.
Morris: One of the chapter titles is “Try a Lot of Stuff and Keep What Works.” What is the relevance, indeed the great importance of constant innovation and experimentation to a visionary company?
Collins: Try a lot of stuff, keep what works, and get rid of what doesn’t — this is the secret to the question of how to systematically “be lucky.” Luck is a variable in life. The question is, how do you ensure that you are more lucky than the next person? The answer lies in trying a lot of stuff and also having the discipline of persistence. Luck favors the persistent.
Morris: Can such initiatives alter the original vision?
Collins: You need to think of vision as having two components. On the one hand you have a Core Ideology, principally the core values of the company. The core values of a great company never change; they are like the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, the equivalent of “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” On the other hand, you have the Envisioned Future, principally the company’s BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). The big audacious goals of a company can change over time. For example, Starbucks evolved its goal to turning the Starbucks brand into the most respected and recognized consumer brand in the world after it had experimented with its store concepts and saw that such a goal was possible.
Currently Friedman is a Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Friedman is founder and director of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project and he founded Wharton’s Leadership Programs for both the MBA and Undergraduate divisions. Friedman was director of academic affairs for Wharton’s undergraduate division and has won numerous teaching awards; The New York Times cited the “rock star adoration” he inspires in his students. From 1999 to 2001 he was a senior executive at Ford Motor, where he was responsible for the company’s global leadership development strategy and programs. He was an advisor to Vice President Al Gore and Jack Welch on work/life issues and was chosen by Working Mother as one America’s 25 most influential men in having made things better for working parents. Friedman earned a BA degree at the State University of New York at Binghamton and MA and PhD degrees at the University of Michigan. His most recent work is Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life, published by Harvard Business Press – an award-winning book that reached #3 on USA Today’s national bestseller list. He heads a group that brings Total Leadership to organizations and communities worldwide in order to improve performance in all parts of life – work, home, community, and self – by finding mutual value among them.
Morris: In your opinion, what have been the most significant changes that have occurred in the U.S. workplace during the past decade?
Friedman: The world has changed dramatically since I began teaching at Wharton in 1984, and incredibly fast in the past decade, with profound impact on every aspect of business life. The changes demand a new approach to business. Perhaps the most significant shift has been the digital revolution and how this has altered every aspect of our lives, especially work. Ours is the first generation in history, for example, for whom the decision about when to work and when to rest is – at least for many of us – an internal one rather than a reaction to the relationship of the earth to the sun. Like all technological revolutions, the arrival of such tools precedes our capacities to use them intelligently. Right now we’re in the midst of a grand experiment on how best to harness the incredible power of the internet while we struggle to maintain useful boundaries among the different parts of our lives.
Morris: Given your response to the previous question, what impact have these changes had on workers’ efforts to balance career and personal obligations?
Friedman: Managing the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives – family, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit) – is now a much more daunting task. The good news is that there are ways to realize the promise of greater focus and presence on the moment for better performance and results, but it does take discipline and practice to get there.
Morris: Especially within the last few years, there has been a great deal attention devoted to employee engagement or the lack thereof. Recent Gallup research indicates that indicating that 29% of the U.S. workforce is engaged (i.e. loyal, enthusiastic, and productive) whereas 55% is passively disengaged. That is, they are going through the motions, doing only what they must, “mailing it in,” coasting, etc. What about the other 16%? Are they engaged? If true, how do you explain these statistics?
Friedman: Yes, there is a crying need to fix the problem of disengagement and distraction, though it’s difficult to assign accurate numbers to how many suffer this problem. The interesting question is the diagnostic one: What causes people to feel disconnected and unfocused? My research and practice indicates that people need to be doing work they love and to love the work they do. They need to feel that their efforts matter for the people and causes about which they really care. Further, they need to be doing work with people they respect and enjoy. Finally, they need to feel free to choose where, when and how it all gets done. It’s not easy to put these conditions in place, but it is certainly possible to do so, as I have seen and shown in my work in organizations and communities using the Total Leadership approach.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
You are invited to check out the resources at www.totalleadership.org.