In my last post, I shared my belief that teaching clients to execute change on their own is an important part of practicing our craft. I referred to the process of transferring deep capability to clients as implanting DNA. This includes methodology and mindset as well as the three elements of addressing problems or opportunities: content, process, and attitude. Here is a checklist practitioners can use to implant DNA in clients.
Deep transfer of the knowledge and skills associated with being a sponsor or agent of dramatic change is something that must be explicitly discussed with the client. It should be a formal part of any outcome/deliverable agreement. As change facilitators, we may wish that some of our clients would absorb more than light or moderate transfer, but we should only invest the time and energy to take sponsors or agents to this level of proficiency if there is a specific agreement to do so.
The DNA codes that carry guidance about implementing major change, including the time and energy it takes to create and instill them, constitute one of the most valuable assets we have as practitioners. As such, they should be nurtured and protected—not squandered on clients unwilling or unable to embrace them.
With the time and deliverable pressures we encounter on a daily basis, it can often seem easier to solve problems or exploit opportunities ourselves than coach our clients toward the desired outcome. This approach might result in some short-term relief of the immediate situation, but it would be inconsistent with the longer-term DNA agenda.
Highly visible problems and opportunities provide great learning laboratories, but whenever possible, we should look for seemingly small, unimportant situations that can serve as DNA “Petri dishes.” It is easy to think about implanting the correct code during or right after a major crisis takes place, but it is equally important to capitalize on the lower-risk situations where there is less at stake because defenses may be lower, and receptivity higher. These relatively inexpensive learning situations can produce powerful payoffs if practitioners and their clients take advantage of them.
Instilling long-term DNA and resolving current challenges are not necessarily synonymous. Moreover, the way change practitioners approach the latter can sometimes prevent the former from ever occurring. Solving problems or exploiting opportunities without an intentional effort to leave behind DNA code, or assuming people will “get” the larger implications by osmosis virtually guarantees the intended learning will not be sufficiently embedded.
DNA placement is not a peripheral activity change facilitators can pursue while engaged in the “real” work of addressing day-to-day implementation challenges. In fact, during the process of transforming an organization to a new desired state, DNA work is one of the most important strategic contributions we can make. There may even be times when the actual resolution of a particular situation is slowed or possibly halted for a while so the people involved can understand and thoroughly absorb the longer-range DNA implications. Ideally, resolving a tactical issue and instilling the proper DNA related to the underlying dynamic occur simultaneously. If a choice has to be made, however, we should consider the possibility that sometimes DNA placement might have greater strategic value to our clients than addressing a specific tactical task or issue.
There is an inherent paradox in DNA placement. On one hand, the objective is for our clients to feel that following DNA guidance is the natural and preferred thing to do. On the other hand, adherence to the code’s guidance must be seen as imperative if realization is to be achieved. Some strands have wide interpretations (e.g., how to properly cascade the intent of an initiative given the unique circumstances being faced), while others are more narrowly applied (e.g., without committed sponsorship, successful change is impossible). Regardless of the degrees of latitude, clients need to understand that departure from DNA guidance increases the risk that certain change goals won’t be realized.
Just as parents must be vigilant about watching for unplanned events when their children need guidance or support, change facilitators must keep a close watch on their clients because it’s not always possible to predict when opportunities to transfer DNA will arise. These are occasions when circumstances and people converge to form a high likelihood for learning. These windows open and close very quickly, for parents as well as change practitioners; we must seize the moment or it will be lost. Addressing the situation later does have some value, but to ensure optimal impact, there is usually only one time zone—now.
To take advantage of a DNA window that has presented itself, practitioners often have to put down whatever they are doing and come back to it later. If this sounds nearly impossible to do on a consistent basis, that’s because it is! For this reason, knowing how to successfully implant change-related DNA represents an incredibly powerful competitive advantage for us as practitioners. Few professional change advisors possess the courage to focus on long-term DNA placement along with short-term deliverables, and fewer still will demonstrate the discipline to consistently stay the course.
There is an axiom for the practitioner already facing a busy schedule who suddenly realizes a DNA placement opportunity has opened up that only he or she can address: No time-outs/no substitutions. If the next strand of code containing critical information for our clients’ future is to be properly placed, the time is now and we are the vehicle.
Through DNA, our species transfers its biological knowledge from one generation to the next. Likewise, the change-related DNA codes that we instill in clients will ensure that strategy execution capability stays with them. The codes that we leave behind are crucial to helping clients replicate the pathways to change success. The content, process, and attitude we embed offer future generations of sponsors and agents the opportunity to reach full realization.
Next Series: Reshaping Mindsets (Reframing)
How to Work Yourself Out of a Job
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.
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:
Carrying the DNA metaphor further yields some additional insights into what is required to create deep, sustainable change execution capability.
- 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.
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