Great learning at the last ASTD conference

This year, I also had the opportunity to speak with Eileen Harper from Scottish Power on 'Developing Commercial Acumen in HR' and I'll write a separate blog on that in the weeks to come.

Written by Owen Ferguson
Published 20 October 2015
Great learning at the last ASTD conference

At the beginning of May I had the privilege of attending the last ever ASTD International Conference  in Washington DC as part of the UK delegation and, as before, I found it a fantastic time for reflection and learning. This year, I also had the opportunity to speak with Eileen Harper from Scottish Power on 'Developing Commercial Acumen in HR' and I'll write a separate blog on that in the weeks to come.

The big news of the week was the change of name and wider focus of the organisation to the Association of Talent Development. ATD appears to be a smart move, giving the organisation a wider perspective and an opportunity to become truly global. The opening of a new office in China is a clear signal of intent. Jay Cross has some good thoughts on the longevity of the name Talent and, personally, I would have liked to have seen more focus on outcomes and performance.

The Keynotes

During the four days we had three keynotes:

Arianna Huffington, was witty, stylish and a good opener. Her message was well received and Quinn Clark produced a great mind map of the session. It was a familiar message, but no worse for that, based on four pillars: Wisdom, Wellbeing (sleep more and better), Wonder and Giving.

The closing keynote was given by Kevin Carroll, the author of The Red Rubber Ball at Work, and what a inspiring personal back story Kevin has. He talked about the importance of play and being a catalyst for change, and challenged L&D and Talent professionals to be the CEOs (Chief Encouragement Officers) in their organisations. I've started reading the book and would recommend it.

Unfortunately, the middle keynote by Gen Stan McChrystal was a bit of car crash for the majority of non-Americans in the audience, who didn't respond well to the culturally insensitive message about killing terrorists. If the ATD is to be a truly global organisation, it will need to avoid similar keynotes in the future.

Sessions and Themes

Over the four days, I attended a number of really good sessions and I've noted below my highlights. Twitter was a very good back channel this year, and to follow the themes check out #ASTD2014.

Ben Betts (@benbetts) got a lot of attention on Twitter for his comments on the value of the curation of content: 'Search is fast food. Curation is gourmet'. 'Individuals not algorithms provide appropriate context.'  As a curator of content for leaders and managers, this was right up my street!

It was also good to see Charles Jennings getting wide coverage on 70:20:10 and to meet Dan Pontefract, as I like his 3-33 model. It will be interesting to see if this gains traction. I think both models are useful tools and the issues I encounter are more to do with application than the ideas. There is a useful blog on the differences here.

Measurement, in particular the different models of ROI and ROE, got some attention, but I found it deadly dull and was more encouraged by the overall thrust of performance outcomes and people asking 'What difference are we making to performance?', which seemed to be making real headway. This has always been a keystone of our work at GoodPractice and it was great to hear it so well presented by speakers such as Julie Dirksen.

Julie's session on User Experience Design for Learning (Slides on Slideshare) was first class and my takeaways were:

  1. A design pyramid (from Stephen Anderson) at the top of which is: 'Learning: does it change behaviour?' (so performance outcome focused)
  2. The importance of building behavioural triggers into learning.
  3. Tools for prototyping.

Dianna Booher gave an excellent session of executive presence and if you want a masterclass in how to present go and see Dianna. I thought I knew a bit about this, but I now realise I'm a rookie...

Bank of America presented a very good case study on leadership development and change, and I thought their metrics for measuring success were interesting.

It was also interesting that their big challenge is: how do you change executives who have been selected and trained to put the organisation first, to start to put customers first and make decisions accordingly? An unexpected outcome of the programme was that participants moved on from the organisation. So they are now looking at how to manage retention as part of development.

Finally, the wonderful and practical Jane Bozarth gave a superb session on Show Your Work.

And you can find out more in her book on the subject. Watch this space I'll be sharing my work more in the weeks and months ahead.

The Expo

The exhibition was as large as ever and it was good to see UK companies such as Kineo and Edinburgh's own Administrate (a great training management system) as well as our new partners Assess Systems having a presence. I'm really excited about the new product we are developing with Assess and I'll be writing more about that later. There didn't seem to be a lot of new ideas, but Mindsetter were doing some interesting things on driving engagement which all tied into our engagement model really well and I'll be tracking their progress in the future.

Next year, the first ATD conference is being chaired by Neville Pritchard from the UK and I'm looking forward to another hectic week of learning, reflection and being re-energised by the sheer enthusiasm of the delegates and speakers.

About the author

Owen Ferguson

Owen Ferguson

Product and Technology Director
A self-confessed nerd, Owen is passionate about taking an evidence-led approach to developing digital products that solve real-world problems. He is also a regular on our weekly podcast.

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