Learning the Oz Principle

Today was the day my department was scheduled to receive training in the Oz Principle. It was the kind of thing that was the subject of a lot of speculation for those of us who hadn’t yet been trained. I suppose a little explanation is in order.

QuadTech is a pretty impressive company, and we’re always very open to methods of improvement. Recently the Oz Principle accountability training made its appearance, starting with upper management. After the top level folks it started to filter downward here and there as various groups of people got their training. Those of us who weren’t in the initial sessions got to hear about being “above the line” and “focused feedback” quite frequently, with little explanation from those folks who were tossing these expressions around. One thing we did hear that seemed clear was the word “accountability”. This is not usually a happy word, nor it is a word that makes most folks feel warm and fuzzy, except possibly when reading a bank statement. All of this led to a lot of curiosity.

Anyway, the gist of the Oz Principle is that in order to avoid wallowing in a victim mentality, where you are helpless, you have to be accountable for your situation, accept responsibility to change it, and take ownership of it. This includes giving and requesting focused feedback to those around you. By doing these things you can both improve your own situation and the company as a whole.

The training was really quite good. The book they passed out before hand was, in a word, well, two words, a shim. As in, “here, use this book to shim up the leg of that coffee table”. Like so many business books it’s really about 60 pages of stuff fluffed up with extra examples and repetitious explanations to fill many more pages of fairly small type. Skim the book…it’s a lousy book but what it contains is pretty useful. The training was much more useful, was much shorter, and still had a fairly leisurely pace filling a full day.

So what’s the bottom line? I really think that calling it “accountability training” does it a disservice. The word accountability is just seated too strongly in its traditional definition, and I truly believe this program suffers because of that. I can only assume no better word could be found. But I digress.

The main thrust of the Principle seems to be to break people out of the ruts they get themselves into. To remind them and prod them not just to communicate, but to return to an openness of communication that tends to get rubbed away by the occasional negative experience. I think that at a very low turnover company like ours this has a lot of value because folks have a way of accumulating baggage. At a small startup where walls are less easily constructed, I think the value’s going to be more limited.

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