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Book Reviews



By Rob Lebow
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Pub; 1st edition (August 15, 2002) ISBN: 157675183X 

New Book Challenges Current "Leader-as-Villain" Stereotype by Casting Leaders as Heroes Who Can "Save" the Workplace

July 1, 2003 (Bellevue, Washington) -- A man meets a mysterious strange on a train. The man and the stranger talk. The conversation changes the man forever.

The topic of their conversation? Workforce accountability.

Using a clear, entertaining narrative approach recalling the style of such best selling business parables as Who Moved My Cheese? and Fish!, the new book Accountability: Freedom and Responsibility Without Control (Berett-Koehler) addresses a universal dilemma facing today's organizations and leaders: how to encourage employees to be more accountable -- and therefore more valuable -- to an organization's operations, without relying upon such manipulative measures as incentive plans or employee recognition programs.

In the literary tradition of the "journey" genre, the story follows five businesspeople as they travel The California Zephyr train from Denver to Los Angeles during a snowstorm. The hero of the story is Pete Williams, the "everyman" and the conduit through which the reader can absorb the book's major teachings and theories, which have been researched and tested by authors Rob Lebow and Randy Spitzer.

As a dynamic and optimistic CEO for a fiber optics company, Pete faces typical senior management pressures: he must build shareholder value, initiate change, motivate employees, manage risk, and increase competitiveness--all while maintaining his credibility and job security. When Pete shares his concerns and challenges with his cabin-mate, Stan Kiplinger ("Kip"), his real journey towards executive enlightenment begins.

Kip, the older, wiser, more experienced businessman and retired CEO, shares with Pete a key lesson that Kip learned the hard way: the more you try to control people, the less responsible and accountable they become. He outlines the traits of an ineffective "control-based" organization (hierarchy, quotas, internal competition, incentives) and the hallmarks of a "freedom-based" company (trust, innovation, accountability), posing that lasting change and long-term success can be achieved only when employees are trusted to think and choose for themselves.

Just as every hero must face villains and overcome obstacles in his or her journey, Pete (and the reader) are challenged to reassess several organizational sacred cows in order to realize the full benefits of a freedom-based organization. Accountability identifies the following 10 control-based ideas--many considered mainstays in today's corporations--that destroy accountability and hinder organizational effectiveness:

  1. Incentive programs and pay-for-performance plans
  2. Internal competition
  3. Performance reviews
  4. Forced ranking systems
  5. Personal improvement plans
  6. Managing people
  7. Restrictive policies and procedures
  8. Employee recognition programs
  9. Missions, Visions, and Values Statements
  10. Traditional job descriptions

This engaging tale also explores:

  • What really motivate people
  • How to create the optimal conditions for freedom-based accountability
  • 3 freedom-based ideas of a Visionary Leader
  • 4 responsibilities of a Visionary Leader
  • 4 ways to encourage employees to "own" their jobs
  • How to encourage employees to "own" a freedom-based system
  • 3 attributes of a "freedom-based" leader

The authors introduce additional characters--including a management consultant and incentives specialist--who serve to represent the objections and arguments that readers may encounter when transitioning to a freedom-based organization. Ultimately, the case for the freedom-based approach prevails, as the authors, through Kip's character, draw upon economics, psychology, sociology, and management theory from such visionaries as W. Edwards Deming, Peter Drucker, and others, to offer practical guidelines for transforming control-based operations into freedom-based work environments that can finally deliver on the promise and potential of a creative, talented workforce.

About the Authors:

Rob Lebow is chairman of the Lebow Company and co-chairman of Tomorrow's Workplace, Inc. He is an internationally known keynote speaker and the author of two previous books including A Journey into the Heroic Environment which sold over 200,000 copies, Rob has held numerous executive-level positions at various Fortune 500 companies including Microsoft where he was Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications.

Randy Spitzer is Executive Vice President of Tomorrow's Workplace and a corporate training specialist. His clients include Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi-Cola Bottlers, and AT&T-TCI.