Want Change? Lose the Consultants, Ask QBQs

After 28 years of calling on senior executives, I want to scream …


I just returned from speaking on “Personal Accountability and the QBQ!” in Europe. In my travels, I met several people who told me their employer currently has “change management” consultants* (Old joke: A consultant is someone who borrows my watch and tells me what time it is!) roaming their hallways, holding small employee meetings, and leading executives to and through mountaintop retreats.

And my guess is, the consultants are working from a definition of “organizational culture” that sounds something like this:

Culture is the values, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits of people, resulting in the pattern of collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling. Organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders.


Here’s my definition, provided to you at no charge:

“Culture” is the questions people ask when stuff happens.

Like this stuff …

  • Change occurs
  • Confusion reigns
  • Mistakes are made
  • Results suffer
  • Resources tighten

When we look at “culture” through the lens of Incorrect Questions (IQs) and QBQs, we’re able to discern the state of an organization. In other words, in any culture, people can choose to take the low roads of victim thinking, blame, and procrastination by asking IQs or the high road of PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY by asking The Question Behind the Question (QBQs).

Allow me to provide a quick QBQ! content tutorial here … and also this refresher:

“Why”-based Incorrect Questions (IQs) represent victim/entitlement thinking

 “Who”-based IQs cause us to seek culprits, point fingers, and blame

“When”-based IQs lead to procrastination 

Said another way:

IQs = Bad culture

QBQs = Good culture

So, think about your organization as we apply this material in each “stuff happens” scenario:

Change occurs:

IQs: “Why do we have to go through all this change?” “When will management stop doing this to us?” and “Why don’t people just get it?”

QBQs: “How can I adapt to the changing world?” “What can I do to better understand the ‘why’ behind the change?” and “How can I coach my staff through change more effectively?”

Confusion reigns:

IQs: “When is someone going to train me?” “Who made that dumb decision?” and “When are they going to tell us what’s going on?”

QBQs: “What can I do to develop myself?” “How can I better understand?” and “What can I do to connect with others right now?”

Mistakes are made:

IQs: “Why can’t that department do its job right?” “Who dropped the ball?” and “When will someone fix this?”

QBQs: “How can I help solve the problem?” and “What can I do to excel in my job today?”

Results suffer:

IQs: “Why don’t others work as hard as I do?” “When will they care more?” and “Why can’t we find good people?”

QBQs: “How can I contribute right now?” “What can I do to make a difference?” and “How can I develop the team I have?”

Resources are tight:

IQs: “Why don’t we get more tools to do our jobs?” “When will we get better systems?” and “Who cut our budgets?”

QBQs: “How can I succeed with the resources I have?” and “What can I do to go above and beyond?”


Okay, so, how do you rate your organization’s culture right now? The content above is worth sharing with colleagues and having open, honest conversation. And, remember, you don’t need a consultant to do that!

*Disclaimer: I’m sure there are some consultants worth engaging. 🙂

For Discussion and Application:

How healthy is your organization’s culture? Are people asking IQs or QBQs? How about … you? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

In this week’s give-away, two winners* (selected randomly by RaffleCopter) will win an autographed copy of QBQ! The Question Behind the Question.

*Winners must live in the United States or Canada.

If you are not a subscriber to our QBQ! QuickNote emails, sign up here.

27 Responses

  1. Upper management says “we don’t blame” but the questions that flow down when something goes wrong are all IQs. I’m really working on asking QBQs myself, and not IQs.

  2. Currently reading QBQ! for a Program Management course in grad school. Thought it was awesome that QBQ! was part of the syllabus.

  3. Sometimes when working on an issue, I will privately jot down some IQ’s to better develop and refine my personal QBQ.

  4. I’m currently using the mantra “let’s fix the problem, not the blame”.
    If I spend my effort on fixing the problem, I don’t have time to fix the blame!

  5. John, ever since I heard you speak several years ago, I’ve been sold on QBQ! I’ve purchased at least two dozen QBQ books (in bulk!) and have given a copy to every employee. I’m the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization. With each new hire, I conduct an orientation that includes talking about the organizational culture, and I give the new employee a QBQ! book, explaining that I think it may help them both in the office and in their personal life. Part of the organizational culture that I describe includes open and honest 360 degree feedback and communication as well as no “triangulated communication” (complaining to person B about person A without talking to person A about the issue). I tell them that includes me — tell me when I’m doing something they don’t like, and tell me when I’m doing something they do like. I ask them to read the book and tell them that there is no requirement to report back to me about it. But, I do ask for feedback, if they wish to give it. I’ve heard positive comments from a few people and “not real helpful” from the employee who really needs it the most! We also have copies of your other books in our staff library. Our next challenge is helping staff to communicate more effectively — make your point, suggestion, etc. without sounding like you’re complaining and whining (which is what it frequently sounds like). I hope that I’m a good role model because I never ask IQs when things go wrong.

  6. Most people do the ‘blame game’ and shift it to someone else. I have been really trying hard to no longer be that person and to follow the QBQ way. It is SUCH a better system and puts the focus where it needs to be – back on me making a difference. I love reading your books, receiving your e-newsletters, and following your blogs. Thank you!!

  7. I feel fortunate to be working for a company where I hear more QBQ’s than IQ’s (most of the people here have read QBQ, so that has helped). Thanks for always having great advice!


  8. Makes me wonder if I can help to set the tone by a) responding to each IQ spoken aloud by restating it as a QBQ, and b) pairing each announcement to the team regarding “stuff” that is happening or will happen soon with a friendly QBQ to start them thinking…

  9. I worked for a Korean company working in the US – there is a total blame culture – someone has to take the fall.
    I have been reading QBQ and handing it out to many thru the years and work to only asking QBQs.
    I am now involved in an elementary school PTA which needs a BIG dose of QBQ, many like asking the IQs. One more place to provide some training.

  10. I work in public education and find it very blame, shame, cover your—, not my problem, duck your head and stay under the radar…. Totally iq not qbq. Sad because fearful staff are a terrible example for kids

  11. I’ve read QBQ and am currently reading it again. A small group of teachers will be meeting to discuss and become better teachers.

  12. The QBQ message is the beginning of the change reaction. If the company I work for is not good, just as simple as that, then my premise, my question is incorrect. I appreciate the message.

  13. I am fortunate to work in an environment that asks QBQs (at least most of the time)! It is not uncommon to hear IQs challenged when someone slips!

  14. I love the examples, they have really helped me to see the difference in the IQ and QBQ. I will be turning my questions around from now on. If I start with a Why, Who, What etc. I will STOP and then ask what can I do! Thank you for your continued assistance with my QBQ growth!

  15. We use a mixture of IQs and QBQs. Sometimes I stop and just plain ask a QBQ question to get into the habit of using more QBQ every day.

  16. As a teacher in a new school this year, I realize that it is my job to be the QBQ prophet again (I converted others in my previous 2 school districts). I share with colleagues and administrators whenever I get a chance. Change in an organization doesn’t always start at the top, it starts with me.

  17. OUr culture is pretty strong, but the IQ’s are prevalent. It drives others (me) crazy, except that I find that I tend to do the same thing. I am working on improving MY response, and appreciate that I can RECOGNIZE that I am asking those IQ’s instead of QBQ’s. Thanks John!

  18. Our company is moving more and more towards holding employees accountable for their actions. I’ve been through the QBQ training and I know the right questions I should be asking, but still many times catch myself asking IQ’s. It is a process and the good habits will form over time. Thank you for your periodic e-mails, which always helps to refocus me where I need to go.

  19. It always makes so much sense to hear it and yet is so difficult to immediately implement in the midst of the real world. Thank you for consistently reminding us that the change is in us.

  20. I fully support shifting from utilizing consultants to using internal thinking to change the culture! It’s not easy to think (and then act) the QBQ! way but it is definitely more productive. I find myself falling in the IQ trap now and then and I have the (figuratively speaking) give myself a slap in the face and tell myself to ask the QBQ. The Quick Notes are a great way to remind me to stay on the QBQ path. THANK YOU.

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