Alan Landers, President, The OD & Change Leadership GroupAlan Landers, President
Digital transformation, increasing global competition, and changing customer expectations—today’s business ecosystems are caught in a web of dynamic market shifts. The onus is on business leaders to lead the charge and steer their organizations toward success amidst all these changes. At the same time, they need to foster innovation, act quickly, maintain a strategic perspective, and inspire and motivate their staff.

As we approach the end of 2020, change leaders are occupied with strategically planning business transformation for the coming year. However, the loftier the goals, the more care and hard work goes into achieving them. The question is, how can business leaders effectively lead change in today’s modern workplace to create the maximum effectiveness? While organizations ponder over the viable ways to effectuate a successful change strategy, the San Diego-based OD & Change Leadership Group (ODCL) provides answers to the question. ODCL specializes in enhancing the capabilities of leaders, teams, and individuals through personalized learning networks, one-on-one coaching, and change leadership consulting. With over 140 years of consulting and corporate training experience, ODCL develops competencies, expands capabilities, and enhances competitive advantage for its clients.

In a conversation with the editorial team at Manage HR, Alan Landers, President of the OD & Change Leadership Group, discusses how his company helps clients lead change, build dexterity, and facilitate organizational agility.

Could you provide us with an overview of your company?

I started OD and Change Leadership consulting in 1978. After graduate school, I was offered a position in the OD and Training Department of the City of San Diego. Nine years later, I became a senior consultant with a multinational consulting firm. In 1989, I started my own company, originally named First Step OD & Training. Our brand went through a few iterations before settling on OD and Change Leadership Group. My philosophy has always been to prepare people for their journey toward enlightened leadership and organizational success.

To draw an analogy, my consulting philosophy is somewhat similar to how outfitters on the banks of the Mississippi River prepared the settlers who traveled from the East to the California gold fields, in 1849. As the settlers began the trip to the West, they realized they were not prepared for the journey across the continent. That's where the outfitters came into play. They gave the settlers maps, sold them wagons, horses, oxen, guns, and everything they needed to survive and cope with the challenges along the way. The outfitters prepared them, led them a few miles down the trailhead, and left the settlers to complete the journey on their own. That's the model I have followed in most of my consulting career. I prepare my clients so they can succeed independently.

One of my contracts typically lasts between 6 to 18 months. My job is to provide my clients with the tools, equipment, and knowledge that they need for the journey, make them aware of any obstacles they might encounter, and prepare and help them understand how to overcome them.

My very first client was the New York Power Authority, and I sent a letter to them, thanking them for giving me the opportunity to work with them as an external consultant. I made a typo. The client wrote back, saying, "Alan, we love you. We're looking forward to working with you, but we don't need an ETERNAL consultant." I had misspelled the word “external” as “eternal.” That response has stuck with me. I don’t want to be an eternal consultant. I believe that if I can't teach my clients what they need to know in 18 months, I am not good at what I do. In some cases, clients reach out to me for additional support years later, and I am happy to be of service.

What are some of the pain points faced by your clients today?

Most of my clients are undergoing structural, systemic, and cultural changes in the wake of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled most businesses to shift to the “work from anywhere” model. However, this remote working strategy comes with advantages and disadvantages. People might feel that it is difficult to collaborate with peer workers when working remotely, but it is not as bad as it appears. While physically interfacing with a person helps build relationships, the same can be achieved over a Zoom meeting. Do we miss some of the body language cues? Yes. Do we miss some of the subtleties? Perhaps. At the same time, this flexible working model works to the benefit of many organizations. Employees now have the option to reside anywhere they want, eliminate rush-hour commutes, save money working from home, and even spend more time with their families.

On the other hand, business leaders who like to have complete control over their business activities may find it challenging to adapt to this virtual model. The problem, however, does not lie with the people who find it difficult to adapt to a remote working environment, but with those who fail to adopt new norms and processes for thriving in this new world.

We help our clients set up norms within their organization to ensure smooth functioning. We also deliver leadership and teambuilding training, help clients improve systems, increase organization effectiveness, and enrich cultures. One of our clients in the mortgage industry, based in Washington, D.C., was looking to triple the size of their sales force. To this end, we are designing and delivering sales training, establishing a national recruiting function, and working to enrich the sales culture. Some of our other clients include Microsoft, General Motors, Dun & Bradstreet, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, New York Power Authority, Rhone-Poulenc, Callaway Golf, and H.J. Heinz.

Could you provide a case study where you helped your client achieve what they were looking for?

One of our clients, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), was concerned about the number of senior technicians and engineers who were close to retiring and the loss of valuable intellectual capital they represented. Many of them, 189 of them to be precise, had completed 27 or more years with the Commission and were planning to retire shortly after completing 30 years of service. After interviewing all the 189 senior engineers, I revised their job descriptions and created competency maps for each position. A competency map is a list of the knowledge, skills, and capabilities needed for a person to perform a given task. Using the competency maps, WSSC was able to identify, recruit, train, and promote future leaders.

Could you elaborate on your partnership with the Drucker School of Management?

The Drucker Graduate School of Management is built on the management principles of Peter F. Drucker, often revered to as the father of management thinking. The institution molds students into leaders with powerful, ethical, and universal management skills. We offer a global Certificate Program in OD and Change Leadership in partnership with the Drucker School of Management. We believe it to be the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. The first iteration of the certificate program was completed in November last year, and the second iteration was supposed to be rolled out in March this year. In keeping with the new needs brought about by the pandemic, we modified the program to make it entirely online.

The program starts with an online competency assessment that helps the participants identify their strengths, weaknesses, and development areas. That’s followed by completing an individual development plan. The development plan is used to guide the participants through their learning experience during the program. Next, they enroll in three e-learning programs covering the history of OD, core theories, and advanced concepts of group development. These serve as an introduction to the workshop. The workshop is comprised of three-hour webinar sessions—12in total, two a week, spread over six weeks. This is followed by a three-month coaching/ practicum program.

Our program is very comprehensive. It includes multiple learning modalities and experiential learning activities, case studies, and incorporates an online change management simulation developed by one of our international partners—KNOLSKAPE, a learning management company located in Indonesia with over 300 clients in thirty countries. Our international partners include an instructional designer in Taiwan, Global People Strategies in Malaysia, and the Drucker Institute in Hong Kong. We are a global company with partners around the world.

Where do you see your company in the next 12 to 18 months?

We have a close-knit team of eight OD/IO consultants dispersed across the U.S. Our plan is to actively promote the OD Certificate program, offering it at least three times in 2021. The team is actively developing new programs that we will offer through our global network. We aim to add new clients and share our expertise.