Current Management Theory
We hear it everyday, in the media, in our personal lives, and in our work environment. “It wasn’t my fault,” or “If they would have done it this way…” – people placing the blame on others and not taking responsibility for their own actions if something goes awry. People are afraid to hold themselves accountable in fear of getting into trouble, being fired, looked down upon, or letting others down. They feel that if they place the blame on someone or something else, everything will be ok and they won’t have to worry about the issue at hand anymore, when, in actuality, it prolongs solutions and brings others down in the process.
Above the line vs. below the line The Oz Principle, written by Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman, shows us how we can get results by holding ourselves accountable for our actions. “Accountability has become a core management value for thousands of organizations throughout the world” (Connors, Smith, and Hickman, inside cover). Not only for organizations, however, but also individuals who wish to hold themselves to higher standards and get better performance results. Corporate organizations are embracing accountability and taking steps to operate “above the line.”
According to The Oz Principle, operating “above the line” includes taking responsibility for ones’ actions and not blaming others for mistakes. The steps to accountability are: Do it, Solve it, Own it, and See it. “Below the line” actions include the following attitudes: Wait and see, Cover your tail, Confusion (tell me what to do), Finger pointing, Ignore or deny, and It’s not my job. Operating “below the line” is the victim cycle and blame game, making the individual feel hopeless and unmotivated to seek results. Operating “above the line” empowers employees (executive, supervisors, frontline staff, etc) to get the job done and can actually result in solutions, increased profits, and better productivity (Connors, Smith, and Hickman, 2004).
GE: The grass is not always greener on the other side The following is an example of one of Fortune magazines top ten companies, GE, of what they did to fall into the victim cycle trap. Even some of the most popular organizations that seem impeccable find themselves operating below the line. Several years ago the company felt pressure to increase the market share and profits of its appliance division…
It hired consultant Ira Magaziner…Magaziner suggested that GE either buy refrigerator compressors abroad or or figure out how to make better ones at home. GE decided on the latter and within a few months GE tested the new compressor before initiating production. Finding no faults, they decided to go forward with full scale production. A year later, the first compressor failure occurred, and shortly after, thousands more. Engineers found the problem: the use of powdered metal instead of hardened steel or cast iron in the manufacture of the compressors. Ironically, GE had tried powdered metal parts in its air conditioners a decade earlier and had found the material unacceptable. The new compressor was dropped and GE reported a loss of $450 million…
According to The Oz Principle, GE went through every stage of the victim cycle. They overlooked earlier problems and denied that the problems existed. GE employees began finger pointing – everyone from senior executives to manufacturers took part in the blame game. And then, they decided to “wait and see” if the problems would miraculously solve themselves, since, after all, GE was considered one of the top organizations on earth (Connors, Smith, and Hickman, 2004).
The Oz Principle states that “when you get stuck in the victim cycle, you can’t get unstuck until you first acknowledge that you’re functioning below the line and paying a high price for it” (p. 23). When you acknowledge your faults, you can then get a better understanding of what needs to be done to get back above the line. Act immediately to help yourself or others cross this line, or else results may be disastrous, like in the case of GE.
The definition of accountability The Oz Principle states that it is not surprising that dictionaries often present a negative view of the term “accountability.” Webster’s definition: “subject to having to report, explain, or justify; being answerable, responsible” (p. 44). The Oz Principle definition: “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results – to see it, own it, solve it, and do it” (p. 47). The latter definition has help define and revitalize business character for the better. Employees of all levels are holding themselves to higher standards to get the job done, and done right. This has helped result in better products and services, increased profits, decreased costs, and an overall sense of empowerment throughout organizations and has resulted in higher performance standards.
It takes courage to hold oneself accountable. It may feel that you are letting your guard down and vulnerable to failure. But just the opposite is true. Think about it this way: would you rather not take responsibility for your actions and be at fault for the company collapsing, or would you step up to the plate, acknowledge failures, and help turn the company around for the better? Let’s look at Citigroup’s CEO, Sandy Weill. Back in 2002, Citigroup was engaged in unfavorable activity involving Enron and WorldCom. They helped keep Enron’s debt off the balance sheet and marketed questionable WorldCom debt, according to The Oz Principle (p. 43). When Enron took a tumble, what was Citigroup to do? CEO Weill decided to step up to the plate, admitting his embarrassment and took responsibility for the mistakes made. Weill decided to make sure Citigroup acted more ethically and honestly. He decided to turn the company around for the positive.
Success through accountability The Oz Principle’s core concept is taking ownership through seeing it, doing it, and solving it, whatever “it” may be. As we hold ourselves accountable for our actions, we are actually helping get results faster instead of delaying them. At the first sign that something has gone wrong, we must be able to acknowledge it and figure out what actions to take to resolve it, and then actually do it, instead of playing the blame game or falling into the victim cycle. Being accountable helps one perform better, experience improved results, and helps one earn the trust and respect of others.