Categories: Implanting DNA
“A true voyage of discovery does not consist of seeking new landscapes but rather of seeing with new eyes.” —Marcel Proust
As change professionals, we often say that we want to leave clients free from the need for additional services from us. Unfortunately, our track record doesn’t support that claim. This is less true for pure training interventions; however, consultants (both internal and external) engage in more “doing” than in “transferring capability.”
I realize not all change facilitators share this view, but my personal bias is that teaching clients to execute change on their own is a crucial part of practicing our craft. Some internal practitioners lack the charter to do anything but solve problems. (“Just help us get this project implemented. We’ll worry about learning how to do it ourselves later.”) Some external practitioners operate within a business model that doesn’t include teaching clients how to stand on their own without the consultant’s help. This series, however, is for a third category of practitioners that have the desire and the latitude to transfer as much of their knowledge, tools, and skills as the client is prepared to take on.
Three Levels of Self-Sufficiency
Professional facilitators of organizational change who are intent on demystifying our craft can impart three levels of self-sufficiency to clients: light, moderate, and deep.
- Light transfer provides enough understanding and skill for clients to apply the perspectives, concepts, tools, techniques, etc. they’ve been exposed to on the change projects at hand, as well as some modest carryover to future transitions. This kind of transfer leaves the client highly dependent on the practitioner for about 80% of the change facilitation that will be needed on subsequent initiatives.
- Moderate transfer leaves the client with a sound base of understanding and skill that will likely result in significant application to future change endeavors. It creates less dependence (about 30%) on practitioners.
- Deep transfer occurs when the client incorporates a degree of expertise that rivals the practitioner’s. The client is left completely self-sufficient and has no dependent ties to the practitioner. The client may benefit from periodic check-ins with the practitioner or occasionally seek new concepts or techniques he or she wasn’t previously exposed to. However, a client with this kind of expertise is comfortable operating unaided by the practitioner in areas they have been coached in.
I would like to share with you what I’ve learned about working with clients who want this kind of deep transfer. I invite you to share your experience as well.
Sometimes the deep expertise I am asked to develop is around performing the sponsor role; sometimes it is about change agent duties. The common denominator, however, is always a person or group seeking a high degree of expertise that they can apply to multiple future change projects with minimal dependence on me after the designated advisory period.
I refer to this level of transfer as Implanting DNA.
The DNA Metaphor
We all share similar characteristics with our relatives. Maybe it’s the way you and your father both furrow your brow when you’re thinking, or how your daughter laughs like your grandmother did. Maybe it’s the “stubborn streak” that seems to apply to everyone in the family. These traits are all made possible because of shared DNA, the road map that dictates how you and your relatives function in life. Long after you are gone, these traits will continue because the DNA code is passed down to new generations.
We can borrow from this view of DNA’s role in maintaining continuity as we look at transferring deep change-related expertise to our clients. To successfully execute initiatives after we’re gone, clients must use a framework consistent with the principles we established during our work with them. This means it is up to us to implant certain DNA messages into the nucleus of the person or group we work with.
When deep transfer is part of the stated agenda, it’s our obligation to leave behind a code the person(s) we trained can use for inspiration, interpretation, and guidance as they navigate future change initiatives. To do that, sometimes we’ll find ourselves grafting DNA strands from our previous experience with other clients; at other times, we may invent code to address completely unfamiliar territory. Wherever it comes from, as change facilitators we must be forever mindful of the need to forge and leave behind the proper set of principles. This “genetic information” will allow the people we advise to replicate the success patterns for realization that are relevant to their roles as sponsors or agents regardless of the circumstances they face. Moreover, we must also instill in those we work with the need to transfer what they learn to others.
Specifically, clients who have acquired DNA-level expertise demonstrate three things:
- They know what should be done to effectively implement key initiatives.
- They understand why what is being done is correct and important.
- They are prepared to pass these whats and whys on to others in a way that can be consistently replicated—the how of standardization.
Carrying the DNA metaphor further yields some additional insights into what is required to create deep, sustainable change execution capability.
- Chains of information: Human DNA comprises two chains of information twisted into a double helix. In a similar fashion, the code that practitioners must implant in order to generate a high degree of client self-sufficiency includes both “hard” and “soft” guidance. “Hard DNA” is reflected in the methodology practitioners pass on (concepts, definitions, criteria for success, tools, etc.). “Soft DNA” is expressed through the mindset embedded by us (frames of reference, biases, values, etc.) that is used when applying the methodology. Together, these two chains combine to form the instruction needed so the client can come as close as possible to delivering the same value the practitioner would provide.
- Implementation-related DNA codes: Once in place, DNA guides clients toward responding to implementation-related problems and opportunities in the same way the practitioner would. These DNA “codes” have three elements.
- Content: the point being made about a specific situation (such as an explanation of how to go about solving a particular kind of problem or exploiting a certain type of opportunity)
- Process: the concepts or tools used to address these problems and opportunities (established sequences, approaches, frameworks, forms, or actions that should be applied)
- Attitude: the emotional stance and demeanor that should be displayed by those involved in such situations (taking responsibility for one’s actions, being non-defensive, cultivating trust, being solution-oriented, etc.)
DNA implants cannot take root unless the proper content, process, and attitude issues are attended to and are solidly anchored. When all three elements are suitably in place, a predisposition is established that fosters natural replication of the sought-after deep expertise.
- The natural way: Human DNA is innate, which means that following its direction is instinctive. Likewise, the DNA that change facilitators implant with clients is not guidance people comply with only when the practitioner is around to reinforce it. The goal is to create DNA codes that lead to patterns of behavior so well-established that people will follow them in an unforced, matter-of-course fashion. Once the proper codes are in place, people will view DNA conformity as their preferred way of operating. They’ll think that this is the most logical, effective, and efficient way to execute important change initiatives. This does not mean the codes are always followed blindly or flawlessly; it means people will gravitate to them naturally. Moreover, when change DNA codes are not adhered to, people will usually recognize the breach themselves and will not be overly defensive or evasive if someone calls it to their attention.
As professional change facilitators, we play a critical part in embedding hard and soft DNA codes related to how clients can execute strategic initiatives. In my next post, I’ll provide a list of key characteristics associated with properly implanting DNA codes.
Next: 7 Ways to Make a Client Self-Sufficient