Shannon O’Connor Bock, Senior Vice President and Andrew J. O’Connor, President, A.J. OConnor AssociatesShannon O’Connor Bock, Senior Vice President and Andrew J. O’Connor, President
Today’s dynamic business environment is moving at an unrelenting pace and is characterized by ongoing, and often rapid, change. Sustainable transformation tops the list of boardroom agendas, and as the Harvard Business’ State of Leadership reports, 86 percent of organizations—small and mid-sized businesses as well as large enterprises—are currently undergoing some form of organizational transformation. While technological and operational advancements remain at the forefront, the ability to develop leaders who are strategic, agile, and resilient is a key component that cannot be overlooked when determining an organizations’ potential to transform. There’s no denying that investing in building high-performing teams and in unlocking the full potential of leaders is a strategic tool in achieving sustainable transformational change. However, some organizations find themselves struggling to deliver the development programs needed to increase the knowledge, skills, and behaviors of teams and leaders. Established to partner with organizations to activate the full potential of their talent pool is A.J. O’Connor Associates.

New Jersey-based A.J. O’Connor Associates (AJO) is a leading human resource consulting firm that specializes in providing a wide range of services that includes high-potential identification and development, team and leadership development, executive/ leadership coaching, and career transition. The third generation, family-owned business thrives on the core values on which it was founded and a commitment to building strong, long-lasting partnerships. The reputation that the company has earned after more than 35 years in the business guarantees individualized attention, customized solutions, and transformative results.

In an interview with Manage HR, Andy O’Connor, the President of AJO and Shannon O’Connor Bock, its Senior Vice President, share their insights on how the company continues to leverage its expertise and experience to deliver first-class services to clients.

Could you give us a brief overview of A.J. O’Connor Associates?

AJO was founded in 1983 by Andy’s parents and Shannon’s grandparents, Andrew Sr. and Betty O’Connor. Originally focusing primary on outplacement services, Andrew Sr. and Betty coupled their human resources background with their desire to provide assistance to individuals impacted by the recession of the early 1980s. From the humble beginnings of providing emotional, strategic, and transitional support for career growth, we’ve now evolved into a full-service HR consulting firm that enriches organizational growth with executive coaching and leadership development services, while upholding our family values. We’ve almost four decades-worth experience in the HR consulting space, making us an established and trusted HR partner for a wide scope of clients from small and mid-sized businesses to prestigious large organizations, including Fortune 500 companies.

We are proud to have more than 100 highly credentialed coaches located in over 20 countries worldwide who are dedicated to helping our clients develop and retain high-performing teams and global leaders. Our clients value that we are an experienced, trusted, service-oriented company with a flexible and transparent approach to partnership. Our goal is to provide individualized attention and customized solutions that help our clients achieve transformative results. Our competitive edge lies in our reputation for using industry-leading methodologies as the foundation for personalized services that align with the organization’s strategic objectives, company culture, as well as the individual developmental goals.

Offering a comprehensive suite of HR services – consulting, executive/ leadership coaching, talent development, and career transition – AJO’s experienced team of experts provide individualized attention and customized solutions to achieve transformative results

Could you elaborate on AJO’s service portfolio?

As a leading strategic HR consulting firm, AJO offers a comprehensive suite of services that encompasses HR consulting, talent & leadership development, executive/leadership coaching, and career transition. We work with organizations of all sizes, needs, and budgets to develop high-performing teams and global leaders.

Our HR consulting services deliver custom-designed business solutions for programs and projects designed to improve, evolve, or transform our clients’ talent, capability, structure, and culture. Our talent development initiatives focus on individual, team, and leadership solutions intended to increase knowledge, skills, and behaviors to drive sustainable organizational change.

We also partner with our clients to unlock the full potential of organizational leaders and high potentials by leveraging our executive/ leadership coaching services. Our coaches work alongside leaders to increase self-awareness, enhance strategic thinking skills, foster retention, and drive short and long-term organizational change. In a survey of nearly 100 recent AJO coaching engagements, 96 percent of leaders reported that they have noticed a significant change to their skills and behaviors after going through our executive/leadership coaching sessions. Our formalized coaching practice was established more than 20 years ago, and in that time, we’ve successfully coached more than 1,200 high potentials, emerging, and established leaders.

What does AJO’s Methodology Look Like?

We adopt a powerful four-phase approach—partner, plan, perform, and progress—when collaborating with clients, helping fulfill their needs by improving leaders’ performance and strengthening the connection between the leader’s and organization’s objectives. A typical client engagement begins by AJO partnering with key stakeholders to gain a holistic understanding of the specific business needs. We then step into the planning phase where our experienced team of experts analyzes the client requirements and develop a strategy and solution specifically designed for them. The implementation of the solution happens in the perform phase. Unlike a typical consultant firm that may airdrop a solution into the clients’ ecosystem as the final step of the engagement, we go the extra mile to offer post-implementation services to review and measure outcomes and accomplishments while providing ongoing development recommendations to ensure long-term and sustainable success.

With such powerful lines of services, we’ve partnered with over 600 organizations—primarily in New Jersey, Cambridge, and San Diego region—from several industry verticals, including pharma, life science, biotech, insurance, banking, and energy, to name a few. We pride ourselves on our longstanding relationships and are proud of the number of repeat clients who have counted on us over many years.

Could you provide us with a case study that exemplifies AJO’s value proposition?

A longstanding client challenged us to create a signature program to accelerate the development of their organization’s talent and ensure that high potentials advance in their careers within three to five years. This leading NJ-based pharma company sought to develop a learning culture that reflected their goal of developing and retaining emerging leaders.

We proposed a customized, year-long, collaborative program with a blend of experiential and classroom learning experiences that aligned with the organizational strategies and values. Our multi-tiered approach included a series of personal and 360° assessments, skill-building workshops, one-on-one leadership coaching, peer mentoring, and group projects.

The program objectives focused on developing an executive presence, increasing leadership agility and resilience, direct exposure to senior leadership, and solving complex organizational challenges. While sharpening their skills, participants also built relationships and developed an internal network of invaluable peer and mentor relationships.

This signature program has resulted in the successful development of 69 high potential leaders, with 80 percent having already been promoted, including five alumni who are now on the senior leadership team. The program has increased engagement with a retention rate of 77 percent.

How does the future look for AJO?

We recognize that in the current and future business landscape, leaders will continue to face new and unprecedented challenges and expectations. We will continue to evolve our business to support our clients to accelerate the development of the talent and achieve organizational growth and stability.

The next step in our journey is to leverage our expertise and experience in executive/leadership coaching to certify the next generation of coaches. In January, we are launching a coach certification program in collaboration with a renowned expert in the field. The program, named RESERO – Latin for UNLOCK – will challenge participants to develop the ability to connect, change perspective, and learning to be present.

We look forward to many more decades in this business – perhaps adding a fourth generation –to empower individuals, teams and organizations to transform and achieve sustainable results.