A Generalist Approach to Business Transformation

Kira Ciccarelli

A Generalist Approach to Business Transformation

How can directors best support and direct strategic business transformation in 2021 and beyond?

Listen to Episode 53 on Apple Podcasts

Guest: Dorlisa Flur, Board Member at Sally Beauty Holdings, Hibbett Sports, and United States Cold Storage; President of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Carolinas Chapter Board

Hosts: Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Meghan Day, Senior Director of Board Member Experience for Diligent Corporation

In this episode:

  1. A “Breadth Strategy” Philosophy: Flur thinks of herself as a breadth strategist rather than a depth strategist. She explains her perspective, and the value of having both breadth and depth in corporate leadership.
  2. Public and Private Strategic Business Transformation: As a transformation expert who has led several companies through unique transformations, Flur discusses her experiences with private and public company transformations
  3. Strategic Transformation in COVID-19: Flur discusses what she learned from launching strategic initiatives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.


As we move toward the next normal, how should boards think about business transformation? In this episode, we hear from transformation expert and board member Dorlisa Flur about her experiences overseeing several unique business transformations, some in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A “Breadth Strategy” Philosophy

Flur has referred to herself as a breadth strategist rather than a depth strategist. She explains where this perspective came from: “Regardless of my title at different companies, I always managed strategic positioning and transformation. At various points, I was handed the steering wheel and led these transformations.”

Managing strategic transformation at a variety of companies informed Flur’s philosophy in this regard: “Those roles informed my ability to think in a top-down way, but to link that approach with a bottom-up perspective. As a director, it allows me to fly high and broadly, seeing changing landscapes, but also to find the right critical point to dive deep enough into the details to inform the top.”

For Flur, having a generalist’s understanding of the business gives her broad insight over an entire transformation, and allows her to recognize which topics, issues, or areas she should drill down deeper on. She aptly summarizes this approach: “I think of myself like a dolphin, you can’t stay down in the water too long and you have to come up higher too.”

Her recommendation on this philosophy is a book titled Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. She says, “The generalist is able to see patterns and connections, and be more agile to changes in context. Specialists may not be as adaptable.” In today’s rapidly changing world, this skill is imperative. Flur underscores this point: “I have to ground myself in flying broad and grasping an organization’s unique and changing context. This is the only way to envision the right path going forward.”

“As a director, you need to be able to effectively contextualize, adding value and insights in real time. Having a breadth of perspective allows you to do that.”

Dorlisa Flur, Board Member at Sally Beauty Holdings, Hibbett Sports, and United States Cold Storage

Public and Private Strategic Business Transformation

In her career, Flur has led strategic business transformation across a wide variety of public and private companies. She details some differences in her experiences: “All of the companies had great leadership teams. To generalize, the dialogue starts from a different place.”

For private companies, she indicates that the conversation usually begins with what is most right for the business. She goes on to say, “As we started thinking about stakeholders and purpose, they have a portfolio level value on continuity. This continuity makes us look towards investing along sustainable lines.” This translated into the boardroom: “Strategic conversations were then about people and power, and how we leverage better jobs with automation.”

By contrast, Flur discussed how strategic business transformation occurred on the public companies she had been involved with: “In the public arena, the dialogue is more around metrics and reporting. I felt like it was a more reactive approach, and that the motivation was one of stick rather than carrot.”

She suspects that a lack of concerted education efforts, particularly surrounding ESG issues, could be behind this disparity: “I was on an ESG team at one of my public company boards, and the company still used single-use plastic bags. Once the rest of the team researched this issue, we had that enlightenment, that ‘a-ha’ moment about the harm and cost of plastic bags.”

Strategic Transformation in COVID-19

Flur led not one, but two strategic business transformations in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Borrowing a classic line from Charles Dickens, she laughs: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Going on, she iterates, “You’ll absolutely look crazy doing something like this in the middle of a crisis.”

But this shouldn’t deter an organization, Flur says. Expanding on her experience, she states “We had sub-team at the board level working with a C-Suite core group. We came out of a March 2020 meeting, and we proceeded to meet every 2-3 weeks. We came to a formal resolution in November, but now it’s an ongoing mechanism.”

Taking on an intensive transformation during the pandemic had plenty of unforeseen benefits: “Tackling this process during widespread lockdowns made it more personal. People noticed changes in one another’s office backgrounds, for example.” She goes on, “It gave us a working team model rather than presentations, so we were able to address these issues as they arose. Now, the board wants to use this strategy team to talk things out before we go to the full board.”

“I’ve deliberately entered boardroom situations where there’s a transformation happening, and that excites me. I don’t want to necessarily be on boards that are stuck in maintenance mode.”

Dorlisa Flur, Board Member at Sally Beauty Holdings, Hibbett Sports, and United States Cold Storage

Also in this episode…

Flur gives her prediction for the biggest difference between boardrooms today and boardrooms ten years from now: “Being a board member is becoming more of a profession than a hobby. We are at an inflection point where there’s been a lot of emphasis on board members providing independent oversight. However, many members don’t have the proper background to understand and engage in strategic dialogue. Often, the experience they do have is very company-centric.”

Resources from this episode: