ASTD no more

The American Society for Training and Development has ceased to exist. Now it’s the Association for Talent Development. I have mixed feelings about this.

atd                 Tony Bingham announces name change in Washington, May 6, 2014.

This is hardly the first time this professional association has taken on a new name. In 1947, it came to life as the American Society of Training Directors. That left out lower-level trainers so development replaced directors in a name change and the doors were opened to everyone in the training business.

That change was a good move. Trainers flocked to the organization. They learned stand-up skills and how to conduct a needs analysis. Vendors of packaged training courses filled ASTD’s exhibit halls. Members of the Instructional Systems Association, a group of business owners, wryly called ASTD “the union.”

About ten years ago, the association felt the need to switch monikers once more. Shouldn’t the club be international? Was training really the primary focus? The Board enlisted the help of identity consultants and branding experts and eventually decided on a new name: ASTD. Just initials that didn’t stand for anything.

Naturally, the name changed flopped. People would refer to ASTD, the American Society for Training and Development. 

A couple of years ago, pressure began to build again. Every business you could name was going global. This “America” label was confining. Worse still was the word training. Say training to managers and they think school, teachers, classrooms, and courses. Professionals know that schooling is not the ideal way to help people learn. True learning is experiential, social, incremental, and engaging — the opposite of typical training. Training is generally a backwater in the HR department, and HR is hardly the brightest constellation in the corporate firmament.

Executives say people are their most important asset but pay scant attention to training because they know in their hearts that school-style training doesn’t work very well and they aren’t aware of the modern alternatives to help people learn. It’s wise for ASTD to drop training from its name.

Which brings us to talent. Talent has been a management hot button since McKinsey first scared executives with the notion of talent shortages and the ensuing war for talent. The problem is that there’s not enough to go around.

In this sense, we’re talking about people, the way that the entertainment industry refers to performers as talent. When you’re faced with a shortage of, say, engineers, you put recruiting into high gear. Look at the talent management function in most corporations, and you’ll find lot of recruiters, some people concerned with retention, and not a whole lot of emphasis on developing the people who are on board. You won’t find any trainers.

For ten years, I’ve been on the Faculty of the Future of Talent Institute, a colloquium of talent managers from forward-thinking corporations. I’m the token training guy. The attendees take the need for corporate learning very seriously; it’s just not part of their jobs.

All of which brings me back to the Association for Talent Development. One would expect the membership to be talent developers. But are there any talent developers??? I’ve never seen that designation on a business card. Do trainers need to rebrand themselves?

 

And who’s talent and who’s not? Does talent encompass senior management? Or is it like show biz, where performers are talent but producers and directors, no matter how talented, are not? 

The extended enterprise is the organizational form of the future. Because the highest returns come from doing what you’re good at, major corporations will be shrinking to their core expertise. All other activities will be outsourced to partners, specialty firms, suppliers, contractors, and temps. Are these people talent? In an increasingly complex world, an organization would not want to deny them the opportunity to learn along with the core group.

I’ll go out on a limb here. I’ve been in business long enough to see the demise of everything from the typewriter to the minicomputer. I suspect that talent is jargon that will go out of favor when a more apt term comes along. I give it five years. 

In the meanwhile I offer best wishes to the Association for Talent Development.

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