The DNA of the Organization

Organizations are dynamic interdependent entities. They operate as a system with each of the component parts (or the DNA of the organization) reinforcing and either strengthening or weakening the other parts around it. When in good alignment, they make the organization more resilient and successful in an ever-changing business environment. When misaligned, the reverse is true.

To achieve your vision or strategy or to create a new culture, you need to adjust the misaligned components and allow the system to rebalance and sustain itself. Taking this wider perspective and continuously assessing the results of your actions on the whole system, or the impacts, is important. If you change any one element in isolation, it may not help and may even hurt the performance of the organization. Below are the various components that make up an organization’s DNA or culture.

DNA Diagram
Purpose Icon

Why the organization exists. What industry or market does it operate in? What products and services does it offer and to whom? Are they effective in achieving your goals? What is core to your identity as an organization? How well does this identity serve you in the environment in which you operate? What might you want to change?

Priorities Icon

What the organization values and makes decisions on. How are these factored into what you chose to focus on or assign resources to at any given point it time? How well known and understood are they? How often are they reviewed? What are your customers, your business partners, your employees and your financials telling you as to what is delivers the most value? The least value?  Are your resources distributed to the right places? Are they adequately equipped to meet the demand or challenge?

Process Icon

Ways of working to achieve a specific output, including inputs, dependencies, and interfaces. These can be manual, automated or a combination of both. How efficient and effective are they in achieving your objectives? How is the flow of work happening? Is work-in-progress slowing down your delivery of valued outcomes? Can you remove impediments, make the work or resources more self-contained, reduce batch sizes, integrate or automate more? What questions need answering to get to the next level of performance?

People icon

Competencies and capabilities to get work done. Is your staff empowered at the right level to make key decisions and progress their work when needed? Do they understand and agree with what is expected of them and how they are measured? Are you focusing on developing their T-shaped or cross functional skills? Is the work meaningful to them? Are you building your organization’s capability and longer term resiliency? How wide is your network and how well are those relationships nurtured and leveraged? Do people know what opportunities exist for them? Are they appealing and accessible?

Patterns icon

Relationships between different roles, processes, and outcomes. What does your organization’s structure look like? Is it enabling or hindering your work processes and your ability to deliver value early and often? Do you have the right people in the right roles? What are your feedback and learning loops? How well are they working? What are the symptoms of your problem telling you about the deeper issues in your organization? How might you disrupt the patterns that are not serving you well and create new symbiotic or more harmonious ones?

Power icon

How authority and decision making are recognized and distributed. This is often referred to as Leadership. What roles or individuals are account­able for strategy? For determining priorities? For allocating resources and the capacity needed to get the work done? How is this communicated and shared with others? How are competing priorities or limited resources handled? Are diversity of thought, people and information encouraged and incorporated? How do those with the most and the least power view their roles? What might they need to do their jobs more effectively?

Policies icon

How organizations operationalize performance expectations and staffing decisions. This can include financial and reporting systems, HR systems, and the various IT systems that keep the organization running smoothly. Do they reinforce your strategy and the culture you want to create or sustain? Have they kept up with the ebb and flow of your business needs? Are they congruent with your purpose and priorities? Do they address any complexities or unique business challenges that you experience? What new opportunities might exist that could serve your organization better? Are they worth the effort and investment?



The distinctive ‘look and feel’ of an organization that that results from the interplay between the various components listed above. If you want to change your culture to better align with your strategy or with a changing external environment, you do not focus on “changing the culture” but rather on changing how people work and interact (the DNA of the organization). This then changes the culture (the output). If you want a more agile organization for example, look at how agility is incorporated and reinforced in each of the various components. The more prevalent you can make it, the more agile you will become.