From ASTD to ATD: Naming Opportunities

May 9, 2014

Being virtually present earlier this week at the formal announcement that the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) is immediately beginning a year-long process of transforming itself into the Association for Talent Development (ATD) provided, in many ways, a stunningly positive view of how a well-managed branding campaign rolls out.

ASTD_to_ATDAssociation managers including President and CEO Tony Bingham used the presence of approximately 9,000 association members at the 2014 International Conference & Exposition (ICE) to build excitement throughout the day with notifications that were also disseminated on the conference backchannel feed. He and his colleagues, furthermore, also took the much-appreciated step of arranging for the announcement to be available via live online streaming for those of us who could not be at the conference. Joining the backchannel discussion via Twitter as I watched and listened to the announcement online gave me the sense that I was there, with colleagues, sharing and reacting to the changing of the name. The backchannel exchanges gave the impression that initial reaction was fairly positive, although—not surprisingly—there were also questions and concerns expressed onsite and online during and after a brief question-and-answer period; many colleagues were acknowledging and applauding the direction the name-change implied; onsite vendors with space in the exhibits hall posted congratulations; and Chief Learning Officer was quickly among the first to spread the news throughout the industry it serves.

Even more interesting as an example of how to take advantage of the opportunities inherent in renaming a dynamic 70-year-old membership organization with an international clientele was what conference attendees saw upon returning to the conference site the following morning:all conference signage had been changed overnight to reflect the change of name; viewing even a few of the numerous photographs posted online via Twitter suggested the magnitude of planning and execution that went into making the transition real and immediate. And the online transformation was equally obvious: the ASTD website had a new graphic displaying the old and new logos side-by-side; chapter leaders had immediate access to new individual chapter logos so they could begin using them as soon as they are ready to do their part in making the year-long transition successful; and the transition webpage had plenty of background material for those curious about the process and the repercussions.

So the obvious next step was for ATD members themselves to absorb and further respond to all the change implies—both in terms of opportunities accepted and opportunities missed. For anyone interested in how managers and members in any association interact or don’t interact, reading Tricia Ransom’s online open letter to Tony and the organization’s board of directors is instructive. She includes a confirmation that she likes the new logo and that she is more positive than negative about the new name. But at the heart of her letter is a concise summary of why she feels left out of a decision in which she very much wanted—and felt entitled—to be included: “You said that you’ve spoken with countless CEOs and other leaders who recognize our efforts and how important our field is. You highlighted three executives, Senior Vice Presidents and higher, to tout the change. You emphasized the fact that you kept this change a secret for 2.5 years. Listen now to the voices of the tens of thousands of us who will never be an executive. Listen to the vast majority of the organization you lead. Listen to the people you are supposed to serve. We wanted to take this journey of change with you. You denied us. Why? We wanted to share our ideas, thoughts and suggestions about how we can grow. You denied us. Why? We have opinions to share with you. You never asked us. Why?…You don’t have to implement our choices, but at least ask.”

ALA_LogoReading Tricia’s note made me once again compare and contrast two membership organizations which I adore and which I consistently strongly support—ATD and the American Library Association (ALA)—because they have a lot in common. Both are large, well-run organizations with members in many countries. Both have a long history rich both in tradition and innovation to serve their members’ needs. Both work with people playing a strong role in training-teaching-learning. Both fulfill an impressive educational role by producing books, magazines, webinars, and other resources including first-rate conferences to support their members’ lifelong efforts to professionally serve their constituents. And both offer opportunities for volunteer engagement.

What is consistently different about the two, however—and what I believe is a core element of what Tricia is expressing—is that ASTD has, at least in the years I’ve been involved, tended to make huge decisions that leave members (correctly or incorrectly) with the impression that they were not part of the decision-making process. I repeatedly hear trusted and cherished ASTD colleagues express the theory that there are two ASTDs: one run by association managers rather than practitioners (which unfairly ignores how much Tony has done to consistently serve as a thought leader in our industry and how inspiring he is as a public speaker) and a second comprised of the practitioners themselves. Exploring this with an ALA staff member a few years ago, I was surprised by an insightful question he asked: how many volunteer opportunities does ASTD offer in comparison to what ALA offers? And my answer was “significantly fewer.” One of ASTD’s strengths is the streamlined nature of the organization; it doesn’t have the absolutely labyrinthine structure of committees, divisions, and round tables that sometimes absolutely drive ALA members to distraction. But, as my ALA colleague noted, it also doesn’t have the thousands of volunteer opportunities that come with the large number of committees, divisions, and round tables. We simply can’t be members of ALA without knowing that there are abundant opportunities to engage and participate in the decision-making process in ways that are custom-made for our numerous and varied roles in that industry.

Moving from Tricia’s open letter to a blog post by Clark Quinn, I found a wonderful exploration of a second theme consistent among those who are—at least initially—less than enamored of the new name for the organization: “To me, Talent Development is focused only on developing people instead of facilitating overall organization performance. And I think that’s falling short of the opportunity, and the need. Don’t get me wrong, I laud that ASTD made a change, and I think Talent Development is a good thing. Yet I think that our role can and should be more. I wish they’d thought a little broader, and covered all of the potential contribution[s].”

What Clark notes is something with which many of us in ATD and ALA—managers and members alike—struggle: finding terminology that accurately, concisely, and inspirationally captures all of what we do; I believe, because of the breadth, scope, and depth of our contributions to the communities we serve, that it’s ultimately a fruitless endeavor that will never produce a completely satisfying result. My own less-than-adequate term in the ASTD/ATD context for the past several years has been “training-teaching-learning” since I believe those are three core elements I consistently observe in the colleagues I most respect. But what Clark’s note suggests is that there is still a hole, and he concludes with this observation: “I just wonder who’s going to fill the gaps.”

To myself, to Clark, and to all my colleagues who are wonderful enough to passionately engage in and contribute to the work of our associations, I suggest that it is all of us who are going to fill the gaps. And not just by spending time trying to find the perfect name; ASTD was a far-from-perfect name, but somehow inspired results that contributed magnificently to the communities we serve. But by continuing to do what we do best: facilitating learning opportunities that serve the numerous workplace and lifelong learning/professional development/talent development needs of the individuals, organizations, and communities who rely on us to help “create a world that works better.”

N.B.: Additional thoughts on the change have been posted by ASTD staff, Tony Bingham, Jay Cross,  David Kelly, Alan Montague Marc Rosenberg, and others.


ALA Annual Conference 2011: Learning With and From Our Colleagues

June 24, 2011

For those of us whose attendance at conferences is an essential part of our teaching-training-learning, there is an unofficial game that keeps us coming back for more: the game of wondering how quickly we will first run into someone we know.

I have yet to top the time I boarded a shuttle for the ride from my home to San Francisco’s airport and, five minutes later, discovered that the next stop was at a colleague’s home. Which was almost as good as the time that another colleague was on the same flight out of San Francisco even though we were leaving a couple of days before that conference was scheduled to begin. And it began this time when another cherished colleague and I, on our way to the American Library Association’s 2011 Annual Conference here in New Orleans, spotted each other on our way to a connecting flight that had us both in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and had nearly an hour to catch up on what we had been doing since our last encounter.

The extended game of Catching Up With Colleagues continued yesterday—the day before preconference activities were even underway. After conducting an orientation session for conference volunteers, I saw Peggy Barber, one of my favorite marketing colleagues, not far from the main conference registration desk. Because neither of us had any appointments scheduled—a rare occurrence at events where so much is offered in a relatively brief period of time—she and I were able to have a two-hour lunch that carried us far beyond our usual and all-too-infrequent hello-goodbye exchanges. There’s a level of magic that accompanies each of these unexpected encounters and reminds us why we go to all the expense and inconvenience of traveling all the way across the country. It’s what Frans Johansson describes so lovingly in The Medici Effect: when those of us who do not frequently see each other face to face have those concentrated bursts of face-to-face time, the exchange of information and ideas is as intense and rewarding as any well-run day-long workshop—and often far more productive. From her side of the table, there were thoughtful and thought-provoking observations about how many of us confuse advocacy with marketing and end up ineffectively promoting issues rather than taking to the time to listen long enough to determine what our clients and customers need from us. From my side, there were plenty of stories about what all of us are doing to promote effective learning opportunities in a variety of settings.

And our options for making those wonderful connections seem to be increasing at such a rapid rate that it’s hard to keep up with all that comes our way. But not impossible.

Even though I don’t have a smartphone and therefore am not constantly Big-C Connected at all times, I’ve learned enough from colleagues to check in for conference updates via Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media tools that can serve rather than enslave us if we use them effectively—at our moment of need. I also have learned to arrive onsite before activities are underway so I can see where the essential points of contact are: shuttle stops; information booths; meeting rooms; food courts; the onsite Internet cafés that mean we can leave our laptops behind; and those onsite lounge areas where tired colleagues tend to congregate and talk when they find themselves beyond the capacity to absorb even one more word from all the first-rate presenters we came to hear.

Much of it is serendipitous, and some of us comes from planning. After leaving my lunch-time colleague yesterday, I spent some time alone to absorb a little of what had already come my way. Then joined a small group of workplace learning and performance colleagues from libraries
all over the country.
And once again, the magic was a product of the meeting: our conversations went far beyond the routines of our day-to-day work. We meandered through conversations about our more personal pursuits. Talking about the loss of colleagues, friends, and family members who have left us since the last time all of us gathered. The changes and innovations occurring on a daily basis in workplace learning and performance. Our own creative pursuits.

And as Johansson suggests, the rewards are immediate. Visceral. And moving. As I confirmed for myself this morning when I woke up at 5 am and had to move more words from mind to paper so I wouldn’t lose all that our gatherings inspired.


When Trainers Lead: To Market We Go

July 23, 2010

Because trainers and those who use their services often ask what tangible results they produce, it’s a pleasure to note the continuing successes one group—board members of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Mt. Diablo Chapter—is achieving.

While the adoption this week of a Chapter marketing and communications plan might sound about as exciting as watching gopher holes under construction in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (where do people find time to make and post these videos?), it actually serves as another example of what happens when trainers assume leadership positions.

The plan, like the strategic plan Board members adopted earlier this year after more than 14 months of work, is notable for several reasons. It fills an obvious need: helping Chapter leaders, other members, and an evolving group of business partners, collaborate to better serve the organization’s core constituency of workplace learning and performance professionals throughout the San Francisco East Bay Area. It is part of a larger organizational development effort since it is interwoven with the strategic plan and has, as its foundation, a commitment to implementing the Chapter’s mission, vision, and value statements. It was developed relatively quickly and in a way that generated enthusiasm rather than boredom; all that was required were three intensely focused and very productive conference calls lasting less than 75 minutes each and easy-to-accomplish between-meeting activities on the part of a Chapter marketing and communications task force—all in response to a clearly defined mandate with a definitive set of deadlines.

Best of all, it was far from the work of a small group of insiders who were simply egging each other on to produce a document that would gather dust instead of producing worthwhile results. The plan draws from the expertise of current Board members; other Chapter members with marketing, writing, and editing skills; and a successful and respected business partner—Diane Fleck, Founder and CEO of The Learning Café—who had not, until recently, had a formal affiliation with the Chapter in more than five years even though she had served as Chapter President nearly 10 years ago. Flecks’ participation in shaping and now moving quickly to implement the plan provided expertise and a simultaneous opportunity to revive that long-dormant relationship; it also offers the additional benefit of providing a template for additional business partnerships to strengthen the Chapter’s ability to meet and exceed its members’ needs and expectations. Not bad for a process that was originally designed to provide a roadmap for organizational growth and development through better communication with its constituency.

With the ink hardly dry on the document, key Chapter trainers as leaders and other volunteers are moving to maximize the impact of the plan. Joe Novosel, Chapter VP, Communications, posted the document on the Chapter’s website so members and guests would have access to it and so it could serve as a resource to other ASTD Chapter leaders throughout the country. Task force and Chapter member Lynda McDaniel—a second newly acquired Chapter business partner and Founder/Director of the Association for Creative Business Writing—is providing much needed assistance in writing and editing marketing and promotional materials for the Chapter. Fleck is reaching out to her extensive network of contacts to provide additional resources for the Chapter. And all of us on the Board are beginning to breathe a little more easily as we see the incredible workload we have been carrying being dispersed a bit into additional obviously qualified hands—one of the many goals we set for ourselves in the Chapter’s strategic plan.

As mentioned in an earlier article, the Chapter—with collaboration from a variety of interested and dedicated volunteers—has been on a long and steady road to recovery from the threat of extinction nearly three years ago. A partially moribund Board was slowly and steadily rebuilt while the Chapter bylaws were rewritten. Board job descriptions were revised to stress the collaborative approach Board members take to conducting Chapter business. And the strategic plan was created through the same sort of process which produced the marketing and communications plan—formation of a task force which included Board members, other Chapter members, and those who had previously been active in the Chapter but had, for a variety of reasons, drifted away over a several-year period.

Facing the final five months of its existence in its current form, the Board (where members serve overlapping two-year terms designed so that half of the Board’s members are up for re-election or replacement every year and half remain to provide continuity from year to year) will aggressively move forward to build on the Chapter’s successes while seeking even more. And always with an eye on what can be done to promote the Chapter as a sustainable organization offering “a professional, caring, supportive, and fun environment” that is rewarding for anyone involved in workplace learning and performance.


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