Accountability: The Coin of Change

When it comes to handling organizational change, there’s been little change.

While in college a decade ago, Kristin was a bank teller. One day she called home on her break and I asked, “How’s your shift going?”

She lamented: “We’re just buried in change here!”

Being the expert that I am—and her super wise dad—I responded, “That’s typical today; lots of change going on inside organizations.” The ensuing silence was deafening. The daughter then said slowly and clearly to the father, “No … a customer brought in $3,000 in coins and we’re counting it.”


Well, tellers might not have to count change these days, but change is still here, and it’s not nickel and dime stuff we’re talking about. Change is huge—and there’s more ahead. You can count on it.


So the question is—after years of extensive organizational change—how are we doing?

Well … 

When I first started QBQ, Inc. in the 1990s, I discerned a common and dangerous question was, “Why do we have to go through all this change?” In 2013—just last week, actually—I spoke in Albany, NY to a 150 managers, and when I shared that lousy question as one to avoid, I could feel its relevance … even after all these years.

When it comes to adapting to change, not much has changed.

Why aren’t we much better with this change thing? Two blunt thoughts:

  • Employees are prone to victim thinking. Sorry.
  • Managers are ineffective communicators. Sorry, again!

And, yes, I’m generalizing, but doing so makes the point.

Employees: I believe many engage in self-talk such as, Just let me do the job I was hired to do. Let’s not rock the boat.

Managers: In spite of all our “leadership enlightenment,” some leaders still think, I told my team we’re going to do this and they should just do it—because I told them.

We write this in Outstanding!: “People will do practically anything (as long as it’s legal and ethical) if they understand why they are doing it—and they’ll do it joyfully, with their full heart.”

Too many managers don’t understand this.

So, what would help both manager and team member most? Learning to take ownership and practicing personal accountability by asking The Question Behind the Question (QBQ), “How can I adapt to the changing world?”

For staff, it means embracing change—knowing we weren’t promised a static work world. On the day we were hired, nobody said we wouldn’t need to adapt.

For the manager, it means learning to sell change. Managers, work on those communication skills. You’re a salesperson now.

So there you have it, the two sides of the change coin. And the watchword of the day for all?


Discussion questions:

What changes are affecting your organization the most and how is this whole “adapting to change” thing going?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!


5 Responses

  1. I thankfully work at an organization that fosters change on a regular basis. We are constantly breaking down “the way of doing tasks” to see where we can be more effective or just make it easier on our selves. We support each other and help to keep everyone on the same page as the change is occuring. Change isn’t easy and it does take someone to be conscious on how they are presenting the change as well as aware of how they are accepting the change. I’ve learned to explain the why help gain buy in from my coworkers. Great article John – Thanks!!

  2. Just reading a fascinating new book on the reptilian brain and understanding its impact at work. There is a whole chapter around the subject of change. The reptilian brain being the first to react to anything usually change triggers the fight or flight mechanism.

    But if the organization manages to get buy in on change they still have to overcome supporting that change by continually showing the employee (and their reptile brain) that the new scenario is safer than where they were before. Otherwise fight or flight kicks in again, they leave or they become disruptive – how many times have we seen that in organizations going through change??!!

    Just my toonies worth

  3. John,

    I wrote a paper for a graduate class some years ago that addressed how change was managed within the organization I belonged to at the time. The bottom line was the only one who thought the change addressed in the paper was accepted by all, was in fact, the manager who initiated the change. From both the employees and managers perspective you are right on track. I have not read “Outstanding” yet, but am looking forward to reading it this weekend. As I now work for one of the government pieces I have felt increasingly negitive. Reading QBQ again has brought me back to more positive thinking. Now I just need to hold onto that thought. Thanks!

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