Gib Kerr headshot

Gib Kerr
Professor of Executive Acquisition Management,
Defense Acquisition University

A Conversation with Gib Kerr, Emergenetics Master Associate, Professor of Executive Acquisition Management at Defense Acquisition University

One of our newest Master Associates spoke with the Emergenetics® team about his work using Emergenetics to support professional development in the federal government, success stories he has seen and what inspired him to become an Associate.

Q: What challenges were you facing that made you first want to try using the Emergenetics Profile and our products?

A: Working with teams since 1974, I’ve been assessed in a zillion ways. The challenge has always been to find the right complementary set of tools to help teams succeed.

Back in 2014, I was an executive at the Department of Homeland Security. I was working with relatively senior people, and for the life of me, I could not get my team to work well together.

My chief learning officer went to the Association of Talent Development conference and heard about Emergenetics and asked if I wanted to try it. At that point, I was willing to try anything, so I piloted the Meeting of the Minds workshop with my team.

Q: What about Emergenetics connected with you?

A: When I was watching the Meeting of the Minds workshop, I was impressed mainly because of the connection to the neuroscience, because of the global norming and because Emergenetics keeps its assessments modern.

I’m an Abstract thinker. Until I had the language of Emergenetics, I didn’t have a way to describe that. I can use my Emergenetics Profile to explain every decision I’ve made, and I can’t do that with any other instrument.

I’ve worked with a whole host of assessments, and this one resonated. It was simple but not simplistic. We could instantly use it. I saw our teams start to use it immediately and use the language, especially the term “scratchy.”

Q: Why did you decide to become an Associate at the Department of Homeland Security?

A: When you host a government training and it isn’t a “fed” leading it, federal employees feel you lack credibility because “You’re not from around here. You don’t know how it works here.” The difference in becoming an Associate is that you can share your experience with them, and you have a link to their professional work. You need to have lived in their trench to connect with them.

Q: What was the process of Certification like?

A: The Certification is the most rigorous I’ve done in my life, which is a good thing.

Every other Certification I’ve done goes like this: “Class, here is our facilitator’s guide and manual. Watch me while I show you. Use this script. Here are some materials. Any questions? No? Good. You’re certified.”

We need to remind ourselves, and the Associates whom we train, that this isn’t about memorizing content. It’s about fundamental change in the way we understand and interact with the world. This change requires a true passion and an ability to be truly “Emergenetically neutral” so that the Associate generates a value proposition that resonates with ALL of the brains in the room. Without that resonance and value, it won’t stick because there won’t be that intrinsic or extrinsic reward the participants’ brains need to truly change.

Q: How do you get federal government workers, who are very active, to get on board with this sort of training?

A: U.S. federal employees are whipsawed by change; they’re over-assessed. They’re a dedicated and passionate group of people. With this population, we have to link what we’re doing to their current reality. They need pain relief. They don’t have time for long workshops.

Every Meeting of the Minds we do is connected to something beyond the Profile. We talk about the pain they’re feeling whether that’s about my team not communicating well, not getting along well or our meetings are bad, we need help with strategic planning, etc.

We use Emergenetics as a way to relieve the pain. Once they get it, they’re advocates.

Q: How have you used Emergenetics at Defense Acquisition University (DAU)?

A: At the Department of Defense’s Defense Acquisition University, where I’m a Professor, I work with senior folks: colonels, navy captains and executives who manage large programs, often ones that cost billions of dollars. I wish when I was a major program manager that I had this tool to help my teams interact better with one another and with customers and contractors. So, I convinced the University to let me build Emergenetics into DAU curricula.

We’ve now got Emergenetics embedded in various Executive Training Curricula, including our Executive Coaching Program, Program Manager’s Skills Course and Executive Program Management Course.

We also combine Emergenetics with a variety of other topics that we take to the field to help these senior leaders’ organizations in areas like Strategic Planning, Stakeholder Engagement, Meeting Management, Team Norming, Building Trust in Organizations, etc.

Q: How have you adapted the Meeting of the Minds to meet government workers’ schedules?

A: We deliver Emergenetics in at least five different modalities, including webinars, blended learning and in-person, four- to six-hour Meeting of the Minds. Depending on the needs of the client, we tailor the delivery modality.

For example, for the Executive classes, we complete the instrument, watch a background video, and when they come to class, we do a review of the Attributes followed by activities that focus on each of them and what the Attributes look like in their workplace. Then we spend time having them understand the power of WEteams, or in the case of intact teams, the power of using a WEapproach.

Q: What are some success stories you’ve seen stem from your Emergenetics work with federal employees in terms of retention?

A: We do Profile comparisons with leaders and deputies and talk to them about how they work together. We give them the language of Emergenetics, and we talk about how it’s not about the Profile. It’s about the lens that the Profile gives us to communicate and interact with their teams.

When you have rapid turnover and demand for quick responses, you can’t afford to go through all the forming and storming in the usual length of time it takes teams. Emergenetics helps close that time between forming and norming, and reduces storming to almost nothing. To drive team results, I use the Team Norms Power of WE workshop and see extraordinary outcomes.

Another example comes from this Second Lieutenant I know of in the Air Force who thought his boss was awful, he hated the work he was doing and he was going to quit the Air Force. His boss was ready to transfer him out. His senior leader, who knew about Emergenetics, realized that this kid had an Abstract Profile and they had him assigned to do all these Concrete tasks at work.

So, knowing that their agency was about to reorganize and put together this new concepts group, the senior leader talked with the Second Lieutenant and had him assigned to this new group, which gave him Abstract tasks to engage him. That Second Lieutenant is still with the Air Force today.

Q: What success stories have you seen in using Emergenetics for persuasion or communication?

A: We always emphasize the use of the template. When you leave an Emergenetics event, you won’t know everyone’s Profiles. Even if you don’t know the Emergenetics Profiles, using the lens and template will help you.

One of the colonels who learned about Emergenetics in our executive program used the template to make a pitch to win a multibillion-dollar budget, and that’s why he won it. He knew he’d only have all of his stakeholders in the room once, so he used the template to organize his presentation to provide something for every Attribute (and every brain) in the room to win their approval in a single pass. He literally held up the template, showing me how it worked, how he spoke to each Attribute.

Using the template, you can see when we’re missing an Attribute, and that’s when things don’t get approved because no one’s advocating for that preference. We need to be mindful of all Attributes to be successful.

Another executive I worked with insists that each new Military Assistant that gets assigned to her receive her Profile and that the Assistants get their Profile and Tip Sheet. She also requests they share those reports with her. She says the adjustment period is much faster and easier using Emergenetics.

Q: You’ve mentioned governments are over-assessed and use a lot of tools. How have you woven Emergenetics in with other tools to improve outcomes?

A: I’ve combined Emergenetics with a variety of Franklin Covey content, including Leading at the Speed of Trust. In one organization, we did it without Emergenetics, and it missed the mark. The next time, we blended the two and now, they’re getting a significantly better return.

I’ve linked it to Cohen, The Heart of Change, and Kotter, Leading Change, models. In those models, the first three steps are telling. Step one about increasing urgency is a data driven, Analytical thing. Step two about building guiding coalitions connects to Social thinking. Step three is about getting the vision right, so do you have the Conceptual capacity to come up with that clearly articulated vision? Emergenetics helps explain the model.

I’ve combined it with Parallel and Lateral Thinking systems from de Bono Thinking Systems. Those tools help organize your thinking and generate new ideas. Obviously, that’s going to depend on how someone is wired to think and behave, so having that Emergenetics lens and language while using those tools helps a lot.

I’m a black belt in Lean/Six Sigma. I couldn’t figure out why continuous process improvement wasn’t taking. Once I had Emergenetics, I knew that the Divergent thinkers and even some Abstract thinkers weren’t likely to resonate with the process. So, I actively involved them in designing this process in however their behaviors and thinking preferences would allow them. I’ve “Emergineered” a lot of tools.

Q: What’s been your proudest moment as an Associate?

A: The proudest moment has been working with the people in this last Emergenetics Associate Certification cohort I just did at DAU. Demand for Emergenetics was increasing about 50 percent each year at DAU, and I needed some help or Emergenetics programming was going to consume everything I was doing.

These new Associates are so excited. They are cautious because they don’t want to screw it up. After four or five years working with Emergenetics in government basically solo, to have people like that who are ready to do this work, who want to own this full speed ahead, is exciting. When a federal employee is passionate about anything and wants to share it, that’s really cool.

Q: As we close our conversation, we’d like to congratulate you on becoming a Master Associate. What makes you excited about this distinction?

A: I was flattered to be invited to become a Master Associate because it really is an honor, given how few there are. As a Master Associate I believe now I have the credentials to apply quality control to folks who are doing this work at the Department of Defense.

I’m representing the intellectual property of Emergenetics and protecting the intention of the Meeting of the Minds. Now, as we roll it out, I can exert a level of control that was missing before I was a Master. I can now be sure we’re doing the right things to bring Emergenetics to government and others as it’s the best tool for improving human interaction.

I had such a need for something like Emergenetics for so long. I believe it’s now part of my DNA. When you develop a passion for it and you see that it has that kind of impact, that four years later people are using the word “scratchy” or understand what it means to be a Conceptual thinker, it’s powerful.

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