Innovation, Leadership, Member/Customer Engagement

Leading Disruptive Change with Minimal Disruption: Joel Albizo

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One of the excuses for postponing or resisting large scale change is the fear that change has to be monumental, sweeping and immediate.  Extricating oneself from the pull of entrenched assumptions and the formulas of how things are “supposed to be done” may not always look dramatically different at first glance or undertake massive change all at once. The important shift is one of perspective and frame of reference.

The transformation of The Landscape Architect Registration Examination (L.A.R.E.) that the association administered is one such example. For years a portion of the exam involved hand drawn vignettes, which made administration difficult, expensive and risky.
The practice of requiring hand drawing was somewhat sacrosanct. It was associated with quality, tradition and the very identity of the profession. Instead of simply improving the current process, Albizo and his team took apart the component pieces of the examination and looked at them outside the current model, existing practices, prevailing assumptions or political interests, separating content from delivery.
The exam was not designed to test hand-drawing competencies, after all. It was designed to” determine whether applicants for landscape architectural licensure possess sufficient knowledge, skills and abilities to provide services without endangering the health, safety and welfare of the public.” So why require hand-drawn designs?

After looking at several options, the team redesigned the exam, by integrating technology and allowing the use of computer graphics in place of hand-drawn designs, creating a new graphical item model called “drag and place” during the process.

This was not a small feat. The end-product is a computerized agile, fast, economical, modern version that dramatically expanded the boundaries of graphical exam administration, delivery of results, the economic model, standards, assumptions and ideas about the use of technology in competency testing. It has been adopted by the 10x larger architecture profession reinforcing CLARB’s leadership position and enhancing its business model.

Gradually, automation lowered production costs for the association as a whole significantly. It is a major in the association’s financial health and the money in reserve it can rightfully boast about

Breaking away from limited, product and association-centered thinking creates a snowball effect in which a small innovation leads to another and another.

International groups approached CLARB, asking for its help in setting standards. At the moment, Albizo and his team are in the process of transforming a U.S. centric service organization into a globally-recognized, innovative leader in professional testing, standards development and regulatory leadership. Recently they completed the first-ever global job task analysis as part of this initiative.


Albizo put the development of deep relationships with member boards at the heart of the business model. The association and the state and provincial boards now work as partners to identify trends and factors in the rapidly changing markets that impact the profession and determine licensure standards that both safeguard the profession and reflect the new market realities.

    • Who are potential disrupters to regulation, like technology and changing demographics, and what might be the implications?

    • What is the future of licensure as the pressure to reduce barriers to licensure mounts?

He spared no time or effort to develop his own board of directors into strategic partners and co-creators. He gave them assigned readings of seminal leadership books, such as “Good to Great” that became shared reference points for all. He created leadership initiatives and criteria for assessing leadership and governance.

The board now works as a cohesive, collaborative leadership community with a strong sense of ownership. It has recently voted for an overhaul of the governance structure and a plan for creating a hybrid board—with some members appointed and others elected and the organization is working to build an innovative “pipeline” process to ensure that the right minds and perspectives are on the board.

Unlike the push for quick gains in new products and membership numbers, “the Journey to better governance has taken 6 years,” Albizo notes. “And it is a matter of continuous development.”

Joel Albizo is what I call a “learning CEO”—mapping processes of discovery and allowing development through learning in action rather than waiting for the perfect plan to be completed before acting. This is how, as he puts it, he “figured out how to be a CEO. Figured out how to build teams and how to win with the team.” His leadership philosophy is not based on volume of products, numbers of members or even getting to the perfect plans or answers but on “creating, sustaining and evolving an environment for pursuing innovation and creating value; the right mindset rather than the right program.”