Those of us who are what used to be called white collar workers can be excused now and then for thinking technology has trumped humanity in the workplace.
But hold the phone, or the VOIP terminal or whatever the hell it's technically called these days, because at least one author thinks excellence doesn't have to be forsaken for the dry, computerized me-tooism that drains the spirit out of far too many American businesses.
Management consultant and author Morrie Shechtman argues that insisting on real accountability — and the risk-taking and confrontation that may entail- can prevent a business from wallowing under the comforting cover of mediocrity.
In his new book, “Fifth Wave Leadership: The Internal Frontier” (Facts on Demand Press), Shechtman reasons that when most managers insist on “accountability,” they're just expecting their to-do lists to get done. Nothing less but nothing more, either.
On the other hand, he contends that true accountability is not about who does what when, but all about establishing relationships in the workplace that are truly productive — by being truly human.
“In today's world, we make money through relationships, not through performing tasks,” Shechtman says. “The realities of the Information Age and the rapidly changing global economy mean there are millions of competitors who can perform any task you can perform. And that doesn't just mean entering data or making widgets. It means legal research and plastic surgery, too. It doesn't matter if you are a brilliant lawyer or a brilliant surgeon. If you're not good at relationships, you can and will fail.
“When you care enough about people to invest in a caring, honest, challenging relationship with them, you breed accountability,” Shechtman continues.
“An accountable culture is about high expectations and challenges, not complacency and coddling,” he elaborates. “Leaders in such companies have high expectations for themselves and their employees. Most people want to grow. They want to be challenged. They don't want to do the same things over and over again like a hive of mindless worker bees.
“If you set an artificial cap on people's abilities, you end up with a company full of drones,” he states. “They may be intelligent drones, but they're drones nonetheless. You end up with a culture of mediocrity.”
Shechtman warns that boredom sounds the death knell of many an organization. “We're moving into a day and age where people are learning or teaching all the time. If you don't have a work environment where people are learning, they leave.”
He emphasizes that “task environments” will not attract the best and the brightest. “Studies show it takes 18 months to master a task. If after that point, people aren't learning anything new, they'll be bored out of their skulls. Bored people are not productive people.”
The chief way Shechtman says his ‘new accountability’ concept can be put to work is via honest, real-time feedback.
“All business is personal,” he continues. “We all live blended lives. The personal issues your employees deal with — or don't deal with — affect their work in powerful ways. It's bad business to ignore them.”
Getting started on his road away from mediocrity begins with taking risks. “Give people honest, critical feedback about how they impact the relationships they're in,” says Shechtman. “Tell them what the new accountability means and why it's so critical to their future. The blunt truth is that if you don't create an accountable culture, your company may not be around in ten, or five, or even two years.