You’re OK, Now Let’s Make Change

As a young couple in the 70’s, my parent’s library consisted of a closet bookshelf. I developed my love of reading by carefully studying the pages of the Manual of the Medical Department of the U.S. Navy, Jansen’s History of Art, Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet, and I’m OK, You’re OK, by Thomas A Harris MD. Although the Navy manual and the art history book may have been more rarefied, the latter two were ubiquitous in homes across the country at the time.

Transactional Analysis and the Parent/Child dynamic.

Transactional Analysis and the Parent-Child relationship.

I’m OK, You’re OK was really the first major so-called self-help book. I’m not sure why, but to this day, self-help books make me squirm a little. There can be a feeling in them of their being “truth revealed.” On the other hand, such books can often provide great thoughts in an easily digestible format. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just that I’m a little mistrustful of the genre.

Harris’s book was based on the thinking of a popular psychology book, Games People Play by Eric Berne. Berne had proposed an approach he called Transactional Analysis (often shortened to TA). A central premise of TA is that we all play three major roles: that of the parent; that of the adult; and that of the child. During the course of a day or even an hour, we may slip between these different roles in our interactions with others. Of course, others are also slipping between their roles. By understanding which roles are being used in interactions, we can begin to understand the dynamics at play, and hopefully, endeavor to escape their gravitational pull.

Making Organizational Change

Almost all of us grew up with at least one parent if not two. The patterns of behavior that were modeled to us in our formative years remain a major influence for life. One of the elemental aspects of being a child is that we’re cared-for (hopefully) by the parent. We’re given food, clothing, transportation, and if we’re lucky, a little pocket money. After all, a child seldom has the means to procure those essentials for themselves.

When a young person fresh out of high school or college obtains their first job, they often can’t help but to bring some of those patterns of dependency with them. Where do I sit? What work am I supposed to perform? Can I have a raise? There’s a lot of dependency on another person, often older, who calls the shots. This naturally invites the dynamic wherein employees become passive, and desire others to fix things for them.

All of us, at some point or another, see opportunities to make things better. We often see things and think, “Sheesh, how is it I’m the only one seeing this? This is stupid! Someone ought to change this.” If, though, you are operating in an environment where you have succumbed to the dynamic of child/parent, you’re not apt to try to make that change in any way other than complaining.

Inherent in even the word complain is a sense of helplessness. It comes from the idea of being in grief and lamenting. I’m in grief that someone has died – there is nothing to be done about it. Or I complain of an ailment, which is inside my body, and beyond my control.

Recognizing the Roles

If we recognize that this dynamic naturally exists, we can start to operate differently – we can begin the real work of helping to effect change. Making real change can be difficult, can be politically challenging. and usually consists of many steps like those outlined in Kotter’s Eight Step Change Model.

Kotter's Steps of Change

Kotter’s Steps of Change

I have heard about circumstances where well-meaning and smart individuals set out to make change in an organization and failed: perhaps leadership was weak and constantly changing, or perhaps the decision-makers’ interests were elsewhere – whatever the underlying reason, the change just wasn’t going to happen. But more often, what I see, is that individuals just don’t set out to make change, but accept what’s placed before them. At some point, they may get frustrated and move on, where things might be different, or not.

Making substantive change can be the most thrilling and gratifying work you do in your life. Anyone can make change in an organization, even an intern. The answer lies less in complaining than in what Kotter, in his first step of change, called “establishing a sense of urgency.”

I’d say there is a step before that: whether you’re that intern or the CEO, it’s to realize that the power to make change happen is not in someone else’s hands, but yours.


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6 comments on “You’re OK, Now Let’s Make Change


This is one of those realities that, once realized, you can immediately start to augment. I wonder how significantly this parent/child dynamic factors into company politics on a broader level.


    AbeUchitelle Thanks, Abe – it’s also interesting, once you’ve started to think in these terms, to be on the lookout for the positions people are taking, and to consider WHY they’re taking them. All of a sudden, being in an office environment is like being in a lab, where you get to see human behavior – your own and others – in action.


Ric, great post.  Being an ‘adult’ means taking responsibility for our reality – and for creating the future.  That said, as Kurt Lewin said, B = fx (P + E) — Behavior is a function of the Person + the Environment.  Having had the privilege and honor of our association for many years now, you are a rare gem in your ability as a leader to trust, set (reasonably) high expectations and encourage learning and growth – and to invest in these as priorities as a business owner.  Leaders who micro manage and create an environment of fear will always pull the ‘inner child’ forward in their employees and then often complain when they don’t see initiative, drive and innovation happen in their company.  Seeing what you’ve been able to accomplish in business over the last 18 years is a testament to what it takes to invite the best people have to offer and come to the table as their fullest ‘adult selves’.  Great post – will forward this on to several clients and use as a resource in the future.  – Shem


    shemcohen Shem – so appreciated! It’s funny – I kinow of Kurt Lewin’s work in a 2nd degree way – but have never picked up any of HIS writing. Reminds me I need to do so.
     Love your statement, “Being an ‘adult’ means taking responsibility for our reality – and for creating the future.”


Ric. Great analysis. I love the way you integrate relevant resources, regardless of whether they’re pop or academic and regardless of whether they’re old or new. Change management is such an interesting topic. One of the most enlightening pieces of research I’ve worked on was designed to identify the root cause of why people don’t treat a medical condition when they have access to very effective medications with very few side effects. The answer was fear of change. Or more specifically the fear of how vulnerable and frightened they would feel while maneuvering the process of change. For example, many people let their OAB (over active bladder) symptoms stop them from applying for a more demanding job or seeking out a romantic relationship. When they see an ad for an OAB medication they are forced to make a choice. “Should I continue coping with severe physical symptoms and lost opportunities? Or should I start coping with the absolute terror I’ll feel during an interview or on a date? I could fail! I could be rejected!” A shocking number of people choose to cope with their symptoms when a change management plan with some moral support could help them change their lives. There are many causes of inertia. If we can identify the root cause in our present situation, then I think we’re half way down the path toward a new and better place. Keep these great articles coming at us.