Are you transforming, merging, acquiring, or moving into new markets? The fluid organisation coupled with a more transitory workforce can wreak havoc with the ‘genetic code’ of the organisation. The challenges of growth and evolution meanwhile require strengthening of this code. In this short article, we take a brief look at this fascinating metaphor for an organisation and look at how we might ‘edit’ its genetic code and strengthen the organisation.
Genomics and the race to enhance our chances to thrive
Since the discovery of the structure of DNA in the 1950’s, the science of Genomics has made and continues to make blistering progress. By 1990, the first trial of gene therapy in humans took place. Whilst the original Human Genome Project took 13 years and cost $3Bn, today the same process takes 3 days and costs less than $1,000. By 2017, CRISPR was used in research to edit and remove a genetic predisposition to heart disease in a human embryo. Just as genomics has given us new insights into what is happening when things go wrong in our body and allowed us to either edit the DNA, or introduce new ‘patches’ to DNA, it can also be used as a powerful organisational metaphor.
Organisations and the race to adapt and thrive
Firms are striving to grow, to compete and achieve, or sustain a competitive edge. They work hard to ‘genetically’ enhance their firms’ abilities to innovate, to leverage digital technology, or to induct agile ways of working. As a result, transformational change has become ubiquitous. In Europe for example, in the first half of 2019 there were 1,169 M&A deals worth over $64billion. But, this was dwarfed in 2018 when, in nine months, global deals worth over $3trillion were concluded. Firms routinely embarked upon ambitious strategic initiatives to avoid relative decline. Within the consequent organisational turmoil, there is often unseen damage to the firm’s DNA. Knowledge is lost, processes become sclerotic, insights are forgotten or overwritten. New incompatible genetic code is introduced and the effects can be a slowing of growth, missing of targets and deadlines, accompanied by a downturn in engagement and morale.
What is DNA transfer in an organisational setting?
The concept of DNA transfer in an organisational setting is the use of individuals with deep knowledge and a high competence in an area where the organisation either lacks specific knowledge and competencies, or else desires to raise them to a new level.
In a number of cases recently, it was suspected that the DNA of the organisation had been weakened and even strands broken. The diagnosis was confirmed through an organisational health-check – a CAT scan of the ability to execute strategy. By ‘parachuting’ individuals into the firm with the right DNA, it was possible to transfer this positive DNA and rapidly impact the firm’s project team, function, or whole business.
How does it work in practice?
An Individual, or team, is brought into the organisation with a need. They are not consultants, advising in the traditional sense, but additional resources which fit into the host corporate body. They will have a primary role, which could be taking on discrete projects or initiatives. At the same time, they have a specific role to transfer their DNA. This is accomplished in a variety of ways:-
Transfer of knowledge through setting an example, codification of best practices and enhancing processes dynamically on the job. It can involve coaching and mentoring co-workers, organising and conducting Pre-mortems and After-Action Reviews. In addition, setting up Special Interest Groups (SIG’s) and inputting to corporate communications can also assist in DNA transfer. This is precision targeted direct action to achieve a business objective, coupled with an ‘improve and depart’, versus a ‘land and expand’ approach. The approach is temporary and only for the period of time necessary to achieve DNA transfer. In so doing, the host organisation can benefit from the added capacity, additional expertise from heads, heart, hands and feet and a positive editing of its own DNA.
The author, Paul Heugh, is the CEO of Skarbek Associates, a boutique professional services firm working with some of the world’s leading organisations, including top Pharma and Life-Sciences organisations. Paul spent 22 years in the Pharma and Consumer Healthcare sector, including seven years on the global leadership team of GSK’s consumer division. His passion is strategy execution and building capability in organisations.