Douglas Flory, International Change, Strategy, & Culture Expert

Douglas Flory is also known as The Changeologist and Culture Alchemist. He works with global leaders, cultures, and organizations to lead them from the current state to their future state by navigating change & transformation with the art & science of a people centric strategy to achieve benefits realization. With 20 years of experience leading the way change works, his passion is leading change via a toolbox of mixed methodologies combined with other related certifications. He is recognized on LinkedIn as: A Top Change Management Voice on LinkedIn; A Top Culture Change Voice on LinkedIn and A Top Change Leadership Voice on LinkedIn. His vision statement is “to foresee a solution to the new so that it casts a light for others to advance through ambiguity”.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Douglas shared his professional trajectory, insights on some of the key challenges faced by global companies when it comes to implementing change, personal sources of motivation, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Douglas, could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into change management?

Hello! First, I offer an attitude of gratitude to CXO Outlook for reaching out to be part of this. It is my hope that your readership finds the answers they seek with this interview. Upon graduation with my bachelor’s degree, I was involved in Sports Medicine as my choice of careers. Yet, “change” had a different plan for me. Overnight, I was amidst a job market during the 11 September 2001 calamity. I had to find work and landed at a top financial firm.

During my time there, I accelerated into leadership roles where they emphasized professional development. This is when I was first introduced to concepts like Project Management and Lean Six Sigma. As it turned out, I really liked it. Next, they introduced this new thing called Change Management, to which I had no clue why it was necessary or that it existed. Experience taught me that it always comes back to the people and change – regardless of the scope. From that moment, I dedicated my career pursuits to the profession, credentials, and community. Over time, I was fortunate enough to be given many chances to see change management at work in a variety of fields, applications, and geographies.

You are an Advisor at the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP Global). Can you please tell us about this association and your role in it?

The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP Global) is like PMI (project management), SHRM (HR), American Bar (law), and other specialized bodies. ACMP is where change specialists come together “facilitating connections between its membership community and commercial, government, nonprofit and educational organizations of all sizes, ACMP provides a community for its members to belong, learn, and thrive”. Initially, I founded a local ACMP chapter in my home state. From there, I was fortunate to be elected by my global peers to serve on the Global Board of Directors and then in the Office of Treasurer. It was an amazing time to connect and learn more about the people side of change in places like Africa, Ukraine, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and many other parts of the world. Recently, we established “The Council of Advisors”. Although it just began in Q4 2023, I believe it will lead to great contributions in the near future and long-term accomplishments.

We act as a forum of change leaders who historically served on the Board of Directors. Our aim is to support the CEO, COO, and current Board of Directors with special assignments and thought leadership to give ACMP members the best experiences, governance, and opportunities possible.

From your extensive expertise on change, why do you think change is one of the biggest challenges leaders have?

i. Mindset – change management is often characterized as hard to do or the soft side of business that is a ‘nice to have’. Ironically, it is also recognized by many firms as a prioritized focus and skill set for modern employees and organizations. Unfortunately, leaders do not always maintain their focus, dedicated resources, and consistency to how change works in their culture. How you think about change is what can create change!

ii. Training/Education – Many leaders of today attended university. However, they did not have a course elective or a degree in “Leading Change 101”. Most likely, it was not a topic in the curriculum of the past. Today, we see the opposite with many academic institutions recognizing the importance of this aptitude while offering courses and even terminal degrees. How do your leaders know how to lead change and is it a competency as part of their development?

iii. Awareness – Many people may create change via their daily work or they might be involved in solutioning transformation via communications. Yet, they may not realize that there is a legitimized field that is dedicated to this practice. A common myth is that “you just send an email” to get it done. Yet, there are strategies, plans, levers, art, and science that create truly transformative change.

With the psychological impact of change in mind, would you say that change management and delivery are separate skillsets or are they one and the same?

May I begin with a definition to answer this question and so that we are all reading from the same perspective? Please see below as a starting point.

Change Management = The practice of applying a structured approach to the transition of an organization from a current state to a future state to achieve expected benefits. (ACMP, The Standard)

This structured approach does not necessarily mean a checklist, but a framework that can be utilized and blended with a tailored approach to the type of change occurring. Therefore, your delivery and expected benefits are a part of the equation to solve for change. It is also important to note that change does not stop when a product, service, or policy starts. In fact, change is really just beginning because it is now being adopted and applied by the stakeholders. You must continue to reinforce the new behaviors, procedures, and systems so that they do not revert back to old habits. Recognizing their efforts and rewarding your team’s results are an important part of that delivery.

In your experience, what would you say are some of the key challenges faced by global companies when it comes to implementing change?

i. Leadership Styles/Organizational Models – There are currently five generations in the workforce, which is a historical milestone never before seen. How do you lead others with such distinct history, traits, commonalities, and differences? You have to consider not only the audience and context, but your own intrinsic ways and thinking. Today’s world is different than it was decades ago, even just three years ago. Our styles, models, and architecture need to evolve with this rather than stay in legacy forms previously created.

ii. Common Threads – In my consulting experiences, I have the chance to work with multiple industries, sizes, and tenures. Two of the most common quotes that I often hear are:

1. “Yes, but we are different.” Sure, everyone wants to be and likes to think that they have some special sauce secret. That is to be expected because of the pride, achievements, and history of their company. So, my next question is “How?” This allows me to understand how they are unique or what is it that makes the situation so rare that no one else has encountered it (yet). All too often, the same issues exist, but maybe with a slightly different twist or flavor.

2. “But, that is the way we have always done it!” Whenever this quote arises, my next question is going to be simple. “Why?” I ask them to explain to me why it is that way. It is a reason that involves regulatory, regional, industry, or special case handling? Often, the answer is no and they truly do not know the ‘why’ behind their Standard Operating Procedures other than “the legend of our forefathers…” For every rule or policy, be sure to always include an explanation that accompanies it.

iii. A Human Centric Approach – We can design the best laid plans and forethought. But let’s be honest and real: when people get involved, there are variables that are introduced that can divert the process. We need to lead with more trust, civility, and emotional intelligence to bring people along with us on the journey and as part of the solution. By doing so, employees are engaged, they feel like they are making a impact to something bigger, and you are reducing resistance/increasing adoption with their inclusion.

iv, Culture & Values – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a common misunderstanding. In fact, Peter Drucker did not say that according to the Drucker Institute. What he did say, in his article for the Wall Street Journal (28 March 1991) was that “culture—no matter how defined—is singularly persistent.”

Can you define and tell me what your company culture is and what your values mean? What about the culture of your different departments and teams? How does written culture/values and the unwritten culture/values help your employees to achieve their best every day? Culture, when aligned with strategy and values, can be the catalytic asset that truly differentiates performance.

Do you think change management is typically considered early enough in the project lifecycle?

We want to help you! All too often though, It is often overlooked and considered towards the end of the project. Someone usually comments, “how are we going to let everyone know about this?”

Below is data (Prosci, 2020) that shows the consequences of “Change Management Starting Late”.

Fortunately, this way of working is shifting with more coaching, collaboration, and maturation. If you were to ask any change practitioner, they will guide you to an answer that suggests:

o starting during the project initiation phase

o engaged in the RFP process

o as soon as possible

This allows the change manager to optimize the ROI, benefits realization, and possible tactics with more time allowance to contribute. When we have less time or are brought in later, our onboarding to the initiative is a delay and we typically reduce the options that are possible. Therefore, results can still be achievable, but most likely to a lesser degree.

How have you kept yourself motivated in difficult times? Have you developed any new skills, or a focus on personal well-being?

If anything good came from the Covid Pandemic, I believe that it is more attention on well-being, including mental health realities. I hope that people are more self-aware of their emotions, body reactions, and capacities. These are more than just randomized symptoms; they are feedback that is unique to you. I think this has also been a focus for me to get more in tuned. Trying to develop a more robust vocabulary and awareness of the specific emotion or feeling that I am facing rather than a generic term, like “good” or “bad”. Asking others how they are as an inquiry rather than a salutation so that I stop to listen to their response and support them.

A few things that keep me motivated in difficult times are: (not in exact order)

i. Notice each day a different gift or blessing that occurred than another day.

ii. Writing and music has helped me to clear my mind and moods.

iii. Intentional time in my calendar to ponder, ideate, think, and reflect.

iv. Watching my children grow provides a different perspective than just thinking of myself in the moment.

v. Ice Cream!

What does the term “authentic leadership” mean to you?

This is the question that I thought most about. I believe that our examples of authentic leadership are fluctuating, and that Bandura’s Social Learning Theory (1977) is more relevant than before. I am optimistic because when I see good leadership it stands out looking like the following characteristics:

  • Seeing others before self-interests
  • Respect and civility for one another
  • Integrity and honesty
  • Kindness over selfishness
  • Helping others to ease their burden with time, encouragement, or service
  • Stating thanks to those who help
  • Optimism instead of pessimism, knowing what is important rather than a popular trend
  • A willingness to learn for growth.

What are some of your passions outside of work? What do you like to do in your time off?

The most important title that I will ever hold is not found in the corporate sector. My legacy is that of father. My family is the center of all that I do and occupy much of my devotion. With six children, they keep me rather busy with their school and growth. I love spending time with them if we are watching a movie, traveling, or learning to cook. When people find out that I have six children, I often say this is where the real change leadership and management occurs; I just work here for fun, and it seems easier because of my life at home! (LOL)

What are your plans for the future?

More change of course! Change does not and will not stop, but people are always at the center of change. Even as change experts, we have to navigate ambiguity and transitions. That is why I love my work as much as I do; I find it simultaneously fun and challenging with amazing rewards to help others succeed.

Continue to learn more. One of my favorite sayings is: “Change Management + _(methodology/tactic) __ = ___ (positive outcome) __ !” I really love to learn and partner with other colleagues in related fields to see how we can synchronize our efforts to achieve more together. We know that Change Management and Project Management have a symbiotic relationship. What about other qualifiers, such as Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI), Environmental Sustainable Governance (ESG) factors, Remote/Hybrid Work, Neuroscience, Behavioral Science, Customer Experience, Coaching, and so many others?

Perhaps teach at a university? I have been at university teaching Change Management on occasion. I never would have thought that I would be in this role. Yet, I wish that I had it when I was younger in my personal story; the chance to learn about change, help others, and to give back to our future change leaders is an exciting privilege.

Looking back on your career and experience: if you could give readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

Do not avoid or be afraid of change. It is often stigmatized as hard, scary, or something that will very frequently fail (this is myth by the way!). The fact is change happens every day, sometimes on a small scale with new features added to our smartphones and other times when life events occur less frequently. Our ability to change is how we learn, grow, and experience our world. Responses to change are often based on our own personal biases, meaning that we follow a scenario such as the following:

i.Awareness of change

ii. Recall historic involvements with change

iii. Memories remind us of the positive, neutral, or negative outcomes.

iv. Emotions are attached to those memories.

v. We very quickly, almost instinctively interpret change based on this bias.

Have a growth mindset. Try new things. Say yes to new possibilities. If you are pursuing something different and there is a bit of hesitation, this most likely means that you are on the right path and should keep going as you are outside of your comfort zone. When our brains have found the efficient and effective routine, that is a sign that we are in a routine or ritual. Conversely, when we encounter something different, our brains grow (neuroplasticity) new neural activity so that are brains are active and engaged. It is literally and figuratively a growth mindset in action!

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