As many of you know, I am an avid reader. While my primary reading is fiction to unwind and escape, I will also read nonfiction books that strike my fancy. One such book that I came across recently was The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability by Craig Hickman, Tom Smith, and Roger Connors. This book is an interesting lesson on corporate and personal accountability.
“Since it was originally published in 1994, The Oz Principle has sold nearly 600,000 copies and become the worldwide bible on accountability. Through its practical and invaluable advice, thousands of companies have learned just how vital personal and organizational accountability is for a company to achieve and maintain its best results.
At the core of the authors’ message is the idea that when people take personal ownership of their organization’s goals and accept responsibility for their own performance, they become more invested and work at a higher level to ensure not only their own success, but everyone’s. Now more than ever, The Oz Principle is vital to anyone charged with obtaining results. It is a must have, must read, and must apply classic business book.”
So, full confession, I picked this book up after interviewing for a sales enablement position for a local SAAS company. The interviewer mentioned that the executive suite was really big on The Oz Principle and creating a team based on accountability. They even had one of the authors come out and teach the whole team a seminar on the principles. It sounded like a great place to prep for my second interview.
I really struggled with the first half of this book. It seems like principles that are so obvious and which I was raised to practice in my life. I have always looked at every situation, whether personal or business and asked myself three key questions.
1. What went well?
2. What didn’t go well?
3. What can I do to make things go better next time?
I guess it was something my mother taught me as a self-reflection tool for building strong communication and accountability. But honestly, I cannot recall being “taught” this. Perhaps I just learned it through observing her? Hard to say.
Around 1/3 of the way into the book, with a bit of reflecting, I realized I do know people for whom being accountable is not the norm. I had dealt with people who were always blaming others for what went wrong. It had not occurred to me that this behavior was the norm or that it could get built into company culture.
Now, on the other side of reading and reflecting on The Oz Principle, I actually see it ALL. THE. TIME. Especially with the crisis hitting just as I was finishing reading it. Companies complaining because they couldn’t afford to be closed. Laying off employees because they would rather take a wait and see approach. Many people who were furloughed fell into the same wait and see pattern. I watched people take to the streets protesting and blaming the government for not being able to work.
I also watched people take on the Oz Principle quite quickly and adapt to this crisis. Change their business model to meet the public’s needs during lockdown. Individuals starting new businesses online, focusing on their side hustle and treating it like a real job rather than just waiting for their steady check to come back. The difference in the outlooks of each group is quite striking.
So what is the Oz Principle? In a nutshell, it is 4 basic principles done in a specific order.
Step 1- See It
The book lists a ton of examples of companies who did not acknowledge that there was a problem until they were already flying off a cliff. I watched a bunch of companies who had no contingency plan for when COVID-19 struck and were not prepared. They didn’t know what to do except close their doors. But there were a lot of companies who were prepared. For example, my husband works for a global corporation. They saw how this was spreading through their non-US communities. They knew that when it hit the Americas where the bulk of their businesses were, they needed to be prepared. A week before New York went into lockdown, corporate sent out a notice to all offices to encourage staff to work from home.
They have always allowed 1 day a week that staff could work from home. The network was originally only designed to support 20% of the team. After IT did some major rework, they estimated it could maintain 80-100% of the workload but were not sure. Without wanting to panic the teams, they encouraged a greater number of people to work from home specifically so that they could test the system. When New York was required to go to lockdown, my husband’s company was ready and confident they could handle the whole corporation’s workload. They saw the potential problem and they followed the steps recommended by their teams to keep their employees operating.
Step 2- Own It
So often we see problems in the world, in an organization, in our relationships. We know the problem is there, but we blame others for the problem. By blaming others, we (according to the book) allow ourselves to be the victims. As victims, we have no responsibility. But we also have no power to change anything either.
This section was really hard for me because I am an over-owner. To the point that I feel guilt and responsibility for things for which I have little ability to control or change the outcomes. It leads to me offering advice unsolicited, developing programs to try and help others, and spending entirely too much of my time trying to solve major problems alone. I then get angry when others feel no responsibility to try to solve them. For example, for over 4 years I have listened to friends and loved ones complain about the political divide in this country and how the other side blames all the ills on them…. and then watch them do the same thing.
Over and over and over.
I point out when people are doing it, suggest non-biased articles to “fact-check” opinion bias, and try to get either side to see the other’s point. In return, I am called a Libtard by one side and an Alt-right “snowflake” by the other.
I can’t fix how people choose to communicate, however, I can choose how to invest my time. If my previous approach one-on-one is not working, I can choose to take a different approach. In my case, rather than telling people why they are wrong, I refer them to Fighting Disinformation. I suggest that they take a look at some of the tools and recommendations to aid in fighting disinformation.
Step 3- Solve It
This is the natural progression of seeing the problem then owning the problem. If you own it then you empower yourself to take the next step, solving the problem. When I got to this section I realized that perhaps I had experienced this more than I thought. When everyone is implementing the Oz Principle, then everyone welcomes input on how to address problems. When you operate in a siloed management style where X department is responsible for Y then having someone not from your department pointing out a problem that exists and making recommendations to address said problem could feel like blaming or finger-pointing instead of that person taking ownership of helping to address a problem. No matter how much “we” language that person coaches the suggestion in. The same in your personal relationships. When someone asks for advice and you provide concrete steps for them, often they justify and shut down the advice you offered because for them your advice may feel like blame. What they really are looking for is someone to tell them it is not their fault.
Step 4- Do It
It is impossible to get to Do It if you cannot agree that there is a problem. Then take responsibility for solving the problem. You must also come up with a solution to the problem. Yet, once you establish those elements, it is not guaranteed that the “Do it” part of the equation will happen or continue to happen. It is easy to slip back into old habits or ways of doing things. Creating systems to help remind one another to continue operating with The Oz Principle is key to keep moving forward.
The suggested way to do so using The Oz Principle is to look at actions and behaviors that “separate success from failure”. “Above The Line” represents the area of “accountability and success”. “Below The Line” represents the area of “self-victimization and failure.”
Using those terms allows everyone to support and monitor themselves and the organization in the path to improvement and growth.
Those were the big takeaways from the book. The rest of the book is made up of hundreds of examples of companies and people. Many of whom the authors had coached or worked with. Discussing how they get stuck below the line and use the principles to bring themselves above the line to have massive success.
The Downside of The Oz Principle
And that is one of the problems I have with both the book, and the principles expressed in the book. The authors used Enron as an example repeatedly. And yet, I think their problem was not that they didn’t see the problem, own the problem, solve the problem, and do it. As a matter of fact, the biggest problem was that they did exactly that to an unethical degree.
The examples of people reaching success are always tied to people doing whatever it takes to achieve the goals and needs of the company. One example was of a company that was shipping a new product. They were so invested in success that there was a party as the trucker who was contracted to deliver the product was leaving. He was so swept up in their excitement at completing on time that he went above and beyond when his truck broke down and he ran into issues with the delivery. He did not want to be the reason that they did not achieve what they had hoped.
It is awesome that the trucker went above and beyond. I do fully agree that there are times when going above and beyond is needed. However, one must be cautious not to get so caught up in the optimizing process that setting unrealistic expectations becomes the norm. Going above and beyond every day is the norm. That is a quick path to burnout and turnover.
This is a concern that can be addressed using the “see it, own it, solve it, do it” approach. Yet, I know the press and exhilaration of doing more than just a job. Of getting caught up in the delight of “building something”. The pain of not realizing until I was already burned out that burnout had hit.
Is the Oz Principle Useful Personally
As I mentioned at the beginning, I struggled reading The Oz Principle because I have always been one to look at things and ask:
1. What went well?
2. What didn’t go well?
3. What can I do to make things go better next time?
I am very much in control of my life. I hate when I feel like I am not. Reading the Oz Principle made me realize that a lot of people do not have that empowerment. I cannot fathom how trapped that must make people feel.
If you often feel like you have no control over your life. If you find yourself caught in a pattern where everything that happens is somehow because of someone else. When you find yourself constantly just reacting to what life throws at you. You may very well find a deep benefit in adopting my questions or practicing the Oz Principle.
However, a small warning. Be careful that you do not over-practice these principles to the point that you constantly blame yourself. I have found myself caught in that trap. You can look at what went wrong, ask yourself what you could’ve done better, and then hold that for your future. But dwelling on it for too long turns into a form of self-masochism. Once you’ve done that analysis let it go.
As an example, I was part of a start-up a few years ago. Things fell apart. I beat myself up for too long about it failing. The reality is that there were 25 other people involved. It was not all on my shoulders to make it succeed. When I finally stopped beating myself up for it, I took from it expectations of what worked and what didn’t. When I was invited to be part of another start-up, I was able to look at what worked and what didn’t from the previous start-up. Then I could determine how invested I wanted to be with this start-up and plan an exit strategy that did not leave me so deep in the start-up that my own dreams went to the wayside. I set clear boundaries so that I wouldn’t become so invested that if it failed, I was a failure.
All that to say, while I appreciate the Oz Principle, as with anything there must be a balance in life. Find your balance and empower yourself, without making yourself accountable for everything that happens in the world. Set realistic expectations of yourself and others.
What are your thoughts on The Oz Principle?