“Face of adversity” With Dr. William Seeds & Jeff Outten

Time and time again human beings have shown up as their best selves in the face of adversity. During a crisis, it is in our DNA to not only survive but to thrive. I’m an eternal optimistic so I do believe lessons learned can be applied in our next normal. As a part of my […]

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Time and time again human beings have shown up as their best selves in the face of adversity. During a crisis, it is in our DNA to not only survive but to thrive. I’m an eternal optimistic so I do believe lessons learned can be applied in our next normal.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Outten.

Jeff Outten joined DHG in January 2018 as the Director of Change Management. Jeff leads the DHG Change Hub, the purpose of which is to coordinate, support and enable significant change initiatives within DHG in a way that accelerates and improves change efforts and enhances collaboration throughout the Firm. Prior to joining DHG, Jeff was the President of an independent consulting firm, The Outten Group, Inc, which primarily worked with Fortune 500 companies in the areas of strategic planning, change management, leadership development and executive coaching.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I started out as a banker back in the 70’s when deregulation was taking place. Deregulation laws changed banking practices and allowed banks to operate across state lines. This opened the world to mergers and acquisitions, which happened very rapidly. I found myself enamored with the strategy behind mergers and put myself in a position to help banks.

Very shortly after that, I started my own consulting firm, which I ran for 30 years. We focused on three things: strategic planning and execution, big organizational change, and leadership. Many organizations are good at creating strategic priorities but need help with the execution. Very rarely do you walk into a board room for a strategic planning session and walk out without an idea for a major shift or change. Part of my services were to help organizations manage and execute these big change ideas. We’d work with organizations, such as Disney, IBM, Pepsi, DHG and more, to execute organizational change.

The leadership aspect was equally as interesting. Many clients would say, “We have a good plan, we understand how to manage change, but we hope we have the right leaders to pull this off.” We would also step in there and help coach leaders through change.

As a consultant, I always enjoyed the opportunity to work with DHG. It’s a very unique place with an unparalleled commitment to people, clients and culture. About three years ago as the accounting industry was changing rapidly, our CEO, Matt Snow, mentioned that in order to push the firm forward, DHG needed to become change agile and build strong change muscles. He followed this statement with a question, “How would you feel about joining us full-time?” Without hesitation, I replied, “Yes, what took you so long!”

Now I’ve been with the firm full time for two years and lead our Change Hub. My responsibility is to provide guidance, support and oversight for the organizational change, and help our organization strengthen our change muscles.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are two books that made a significant impact on me.

  • The first is likely out of print. It is called Grow or Die written by George Land, a very thoughtful and respected leader in the change management space. If you can find a copy, it is a fantastic read and much of my work in the change space is inspired by his growth curve principles.
  • Early in my tenure at DHG, a few leaders dropped a book on my desk written by Chip and Dan Heath. In Switch, they do a remarkable job transcribing the complex algorithm of change into simple language. There is also a fantastic video that walks you through the Heath brothers’ principles. Their approach and philosophy parallels the thinking at DHG.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Time and time again human beings have shown up as their best selves in the face of adversity. During a crisis, it is in our DNA to not only survive but to thrive. I’m an eternal optimistic so I do believe lessons learned can be applied in our next normal.

  1. Look forward, not backward. I had a major ‘aha’ moment during an executive committee meeting when we were talking about how long before we returned to normal. Our Chair, Tricia Wilson, asked a question that I’m still thinking about, “What is it about this ‘new normal’ that you want to keep when we come out on the other side of this virus?” This question stopped me in my tracks. Here I am, the “Change Guy” and I was longing for the past. I realized there is no going back from here, only going forward with many learnings.
  2. Cherish the intimacy from virtual experiences. During virtual meetings, I see my coworkers’ homes in the background, listen to them share insightful recommendations with children sitting in their laps, meet their dogs, cats, roommates and more. We are connecting on a deeper level that wasn’t possible in the office and is something to be valued.
  3. Gratitude, kindness and caring prevail. With COVID-19, we are all in this together. It didn’t just happen to a subset; it happened to us all and we are all experiencing challenges. I’ve been amazed by the acts of kindness we’ve seen — whether large gestures or simply checking in to see how others are doing. At DHG, we made the challenging decision to furlough some of our employees. True to our DHG values, people wanted to help. Almost all partners and leaders contributed to a fund to support our furloughed employees. It was a significant way to say we see you, we care about you and here’s a little something to try and make this situation even just a smidge easier. Throughout the firm, we saw individuals volunteer to take other people’s furloughs, send care packages to one another and even donate their employee fund donation to a colleague in need. These are the things we’ll remember and will make our culture stronger on the back end.
  4. Evolve organizational preparedness and transparency. On the business side, we learned we need to be prepared and be decisive. We no longer could practice the “ready, aim, aim again, aim again, fire technique” when making an organizational decision. We had to replace this technique with a more fluid and timely approach to analyze the situation, make a decision and then move forward. During turbulent times, people want to know the path forward. We shared purposeful, frequent and transparent updates, which helped us manage this crisis and remain a tight tribe.
  5. Increase in workforce flexibility. We’ve surprised ourselves at how productive we can be in a virtual world. We didn’t miss a beat with our clients; we showed up virtually and performed in extraordinary ways. As we move to the next normal, this opens a new possibility for virtual careers and challenges the traditional thinking that work and clients are reliant on geographic location. The possibility of virtual working also opens possibilities for individual’s career growth. There may be opportunities to do the work you are passionate about even if you aren’t geographically near the office or client. Virtual working and flexibility will be more accepted now that we have proven our productivity and efficiency.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

During challenging times, it’s more critical than ever that we show up as our best selves. I truly believe in the power of optimism and a positive mindset. At DHG, we’ve worked with Shawn Achor, an author and researcher who has done extensive research in the science of happiness. His research demonstrates there are tactics that trigger biological responses to promote happiness and wellbeing that can positively impact your work, relationships and energy.

The research depicted in his book The Happiness Advantage explains the five tactics that trigger biological responses for happiness and well-being.

  1. Gratitude
  2. Journaling
  3. Meditation
  4. Exercise
  5. Acts of Kindness

During the COVID-19 crisis, we encouraged all employees to incorporate these five tactics into their daily lives to change their perspective to reduce anxiety and increase well-being. I can personally attest; I’ve been practicing each tactic daily and it has made a significant impact on my anxiety and overall wellbeing.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

The best resource is one another. I mentioned this earlier, but we really are all in this together. If you think you are the only one feeling anxious, fearful or exhausted, you’re wrong. Everyone is feeling that way. This is a time, I believe, we are all well-served to reach out, share stories and support one another. Take a few minutes and reach out to a friend or colleague and practice kindness.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” — Nelson Mandela

Some of the greatest lessons in my life have come from my failures, rather than my successes. If you never fall, it could be because you’re not stretching to be the very best version of yourself. When we fall down, bruise our elbow, skin our knees, that is when our real learning happens.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Recent events in America have highlighted that our country is decades and centuries late in addressing the racial inequality in our country. DHG has a longstanding commitment to inclusion and diversity but, I believe, the business community needs to lean in and step up to be the leaders we want to see in world. It is time to move to our new normal.

What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?


Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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