The DNA of Change:
Eight Design Principles for Organizational Transformation

Ever wonder how some organizations adapt gracefully - or thrive -in a changing environment while most others crack and buckle under the same conditions? We did too! And since so many of our clients come to us in times of change, we decided the topic warranted XPLANEing.

We have combed through our client experience for successes and failures, synthesized the best research from change gurus, and found patterns among organizations that navigate change successfully. Here's the result: Change DNA - eight design principles for organizational transformation.

Organizations that thrive in changing circumstances behave more like organisms than machines They adapt and evolve rather than reprogram and retool. They share a common DNA that helps them bend without breaking. We found eight specific traits that support a healthy, robust approach to change: clarity, inspiration, visual alignment, action, co-creation, transparency, harmony, resilience.

We launched a series of discussions about these eight Change DNA traits and heard feedback on experiences, success stories, lessons learned. Our goal was to evolve this picture and collaboratively design a resource for organizations in transition all around the globe. Below you'll find tools to help you jump start transformation within your organization. Here is to being the change we want to see in the world!


Want more? Purchase our DNA of Change book here. 


Practice, Don't Preach.

We have developed a tool for each change principle to help actualize and jump start transformation.


Clarity: The Change Lever Worksheet

The ChangeLever is a simple way to map any organizational change. The Change Lever works like a real mechanical lever: there is a load that can be lifted if the right amount of force is applied to the lever. The amount of force depends on where the fulcrum is positioned. 



Inspiration: Inspiration Landscape Worksheet

Change is often sparked by an urgent need to fix a problem. Successful companies don't forget that buried in this problem is an opportunity to do more than patch it up, but to transform a weakness into a strength. How to open ourselves to this positive potential of the change process? Seek inspiration inside and outside. Success and failure leave clues all around us.


Visual Alignment: Roadmap Worksheet

Bring together a group of stakeholders and ask them to each draw the desired change. This exercise will uncover multiple perspectives and find common ground for a framework or model that expresses the change clearly. 


Visual Alignment: Line of Alignment Worksheet

Identify the component parts of a proposed change and label them as elements to the right. Draw a line from complete disagreement to agreement on each of these issues. Ask people to mark their position on the line. (Repeat and compare over time.)  


Visual Alignment: Empathy Map Worksheet

Empathy Mapping for organizational insight is a valuable tool to ensure change is designed in a people-centered way. Call it user-centered design or human-centered design, the principle is to start with the people who will directly experience change and design with their needs in mind. 


Co-Creation: Stakeholder Definition Worksheet

Stakeholder segmentation matrices like RAPID or RACI are great tools for clarifying how you intend to engage key audiences. A commitment to co-creation involves moving stakeholders from passive roles to active roles. High levels of inclusion in gathering input and exploring ideas can often make decisions easier by rapidly filtering and validating concepts.


Co-Creation: Co-Creation Planning Worksheet

People support what they help build. Fully engaging stakeholders in a co-creative process brings diverse perspectives, increases the quality of ideas and instills ownership. The effect is an army of evangelists ready to create change instead of a mob of victims fighting it. 


Action: Anthropology Study Worksheet

Actions speak louder than words. There is nothing so powerful as a leader substantively and symbolically embodying the future state they sponsor. Finding these opportunities is not so much about being clever as being authentic and understanding what carries power in your organization. The Anthropology Study is a great tool for uncovering ideas for symbolic action. 


Action: Listening Tour Plan Worksheet

Managers often tell employees they want feedback or their door is always open, and then what employees see is a boss too busy to talk. If getting input from your team is important, create a listening tour.  Develop open-ended questions that help you stay in touch with your business. Then make half-hour appointments with staff members and sit down to listen to them.


Transparency: The Trust Pyramid Worksheet

Ambiguity and uncertainty are natural byproducts of change. The antidote to ambiguity is not certainty, it is trust. Trust is the result of two-way communications, shared goals, and a history of promises kept. This Trust Pyramid is a helpful tool to reflect on the trust levels within your organization.


Transparency: Making Progress Visible Worksheet

Transparency doesn’t require perfection, but it does demand responsiveness. No matter whether your team experiences steps forward, backward, or sideways, a firm commitment to visible communication reduces anxiety and helps your organization focus on the next step.


Harmony: Eight  Dimensions Worksheet

Change does not happen in a vacuum. It has a ripple effect, and where it encounters friction it will slow and eventually stop. Consider the organization as a system in balance. When changing one part of the system, understand how other parts will need to shift to reinforce the change and maintain congruence and harmony in the system.  


Harmony: Force Field Analysis Worksheet

Identifying barriers before they are encountered informs planning and aligns teams around the challenges ahead. This framework allows teams to articulate these elements, and then rank, prioritize, and sequence them as needed.


Resilience: Anticipating Obstacles Worksheet

A core skill of resilient organizations is the ability to anticipate and design for obstacles. The idea is not to prevent obstacles from arising, but to focus more energy towards identifying safety nets that will successfully catch people when they stumble. 


Resilience: Feedback Hive Worksheet

The brain-center of your change initiative should be as close to the front lines as possible, diversely distributed among those who are experimenting with the new way. Like a hive of bees or a colony of ants, ensure your center of gravity is placed physically, organizationally, and psychologically at the nexus of their paths.