Your antonym will find you out

by .

Corporate grandstanding often results in the wrong things being measured by leadership teams. It is far better to focus on the organisation’s critical issues, assessing action and accountability on the way.



The Jericho Action and Accountability Model.

I used to play the ‘opposites’ game with my kids when they were a bit younger. I say a word, they have to say a plausible antonym. The game became more complicated as they got older. When they were very young it would involve words like: high (low), big (small), wet (dry), etc. gradually evolving through things like flat (bumpy), fresh (stale), different (normal) and then again to words that require a more thorough understanding of ideas and language: buoyant (unhappy?! sinkable) condense (extend, vaporise) or alight (get off? douse). Yep, I really know how to have fun with the kids. When the game was played in reverse, my four-year-old would start off like the above, but quickly begin to test the limits of the game by inviting me to come up with an opposite of something like Monday, because, or bike.

I use a variation of the opposites game when I hear corporate claims, mission statements, and ‘big’ announcements. Here, however, the very existence an antonym to such stuff is revealing and means – almost universally – that the original claim is simply chaff in the wind. Take “we want to be customer-centric”, or “we want to be trusted more”, “we want to improve our reputation” etc. No-one sets out (or makes it a Boardroom objective) to alienate their customers, destroy trust in their brand or weaken their reputation. If the antonym is nonsense, then the original is meaningless.

Many of these corporate aims and claims – more trust, better reputation, customer-centricity are, to paraphrase my colleague Robert Phillips, outcomes not messages. Yet used as a message they are self-serving, purposeless distractions. It is the equivalent of chasing far-off rainbows, whilst ignoring the goldmine (or nuclear waste dump) on your doorstep.

Unfortunately, these rainbows are often set as Boardroom KPIs.

Far better is to have KPIs that assess how your actions are delivering on your goals. After all, if you have a plan, and you believe in that plan, shouldn’t you be interested in how that plan is shaping up and progressing? Better still would be to have KPIs about the underlying business problem that you face in today’s world – and that isn’t reputation, trust or customer centricity. For a progressive transport company, it is more likely to be ‘transport as a public good’, incorporating smart mobility, air quality and universality; for an advisory firm it could be ‘the future of advisory’ incorporating audit and influencing regulation design. For a tech company – inclusive neutrality; for a retailer – sustainable consumption. Get these right, and  positive shifts in reputation, trust, and other such generalities occur naturally, but that is a by-product, not a goal or message.

Finally, shouldn’t those KPIs be relevant to those who are directly impacted by your activities? Your employees, customers, suppliers, civil society, peers and where appropriate – shareholders. In this way an organisation can truly measure its accountability, not its hubris.

Building on our work with a range of organisations The Jericho Accountability and Action Model has been developed to allow organisations to do just that. It seeks to understand the biggest questions, to address the resultant business issue (the “how”) and assesses progress and accountability to those who really matter along the way.

I appreciate that this turns much of the reputation and trust measurement of the last two decades on its head: it is built through transparent co-production using the tools of collaboration and wise-crowds, it is not a black box; it focusses on a business issue, not an “intangible asset” and it focuses on planning action, not scorecard bingo.

Whilst the JAAM is imperfect, being nearly right is always better than being precisely wrong. We believe that whether you score a 7.3 or an 8.3 is hardly worthy of Boardroom consideration, when what truly matters is knowing how to approach your biggest problems, and how effective your actions are as seen by those who matter most.

Focus on action over hubris, accountability over reputation and beware the antonym that will find you out.


For more information on the Jericho Action and Accountability Model, get in touch

Sign up to be kept up to date