#ASTD and #ATD – What’s in a Name? Plenty

It’s funny how the dropping of a single letter – nothing more than a short curvy line – can change so much and cause ripples throughout an industry. Such is the case with the change announced at the ASTD International Conference and Expo this week.

CaptureASTD is no more, having been rebranded ATD. While most people will refer to the organization in a way that simply drops the “S” – a smart marketing move that maintains the TD of Training and Development – the meanings behind the acronyms reflect a much more significant shift.

ASTD stood for the American Society for Training and Development. ATD stands for the Association for Talent Development. That’s a pretty substantial change. The change was so significant to ASTD/ATD that it warranted a high-profile announcement by Tony Bingham at the International Conference (with a live simulcast online), and the updating of all the ASTD-branding marketing to reflect the new ATD logo all around the conference overnight. If you were at the conference in Washington DC this past week and you saw the transformation that took place between Tuesday and Wednesday, you know the importance that ASTD/ATD has placed on this change.

Only time will tell how this will all play out, and how ASTD/ATD will evolve. All we can do is speculate on what it all means and comment on the ripples (and in some cases, large waves) that have emerged from Tuesday’s announcement. As someone that has been involved in the ASTD Community in a number of capacities (National Adviser to Chapters, Local Chapter President, Conference Planning Committee, CPLP, and more) I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts.

The Good

Losing “American”
ASTD has had a strong international presence for years, so patriotic pride aside, it makes sense to drop the “American” part of the name to reflect the global presence.

A Path for Growth
Non-Profit status aside, ASTD is a business. All businesses want to grow. For over 70 years ASTD has supported employees of the training profession and entrenched itself in that culture. The argument could be made that ASTD has saturated its target market. When that happens to a business, the only way to continue to grow is to expand to new markets. Training is a subset of Human Resources in most organizations, so positioning the rebranded ATD as Talent Development casts a much wider net for its potential audience.

The Bad

Less Resources for Trainers
When Tony Bingham shared the news about the rebranding, he made a point of mentioning that training remains at the heart of the new ATD, reassuring the audience that everything trainers have come to expect from ASTD will continue, plus more. This is something he has to say; the last thing ATD wants to do is alienate its existing customers. It’s also something I think is going to be very difficult to stay true to as time goes on.

CaptureConsider the International Conference. I’ve gone to the conference a number of times over the years. The size of the program has been fairly consistent, with 20 or 21 different sessions taking place during every block. It’s reasonable to assume that consistency will continue. If there’s an increased emphasis on the larger space of talent development, but the overall number of sessions remains about the same, that means there will be less sessions allocated specifically to training.

That theme would likely continue through all the resources ASTD/ATD makes available. As more emphasis is placed on Talent Development, there’s less bandwidth available to focus on training itself.

The Fragmenting of Consistency
In recent years ASTD has seemingly placed a lot of energy on “professionalizing” training, and raising its profile. It set a competency model that represented the skills needed by professional trainers and created a credential that certified individuals in those competencies. And in the last two years, it’s in some ways broken what it has created. The refresh of the compentency model stepped away from the language of learning and performance and returned to the older labels of Training and Development. Now, Training and Development have been removed from the name of the association completely.

So as of today, the competency model offered by the Association of Talent Development reflects the skill set needed in Training and Development so that individuals can be certified in Learning and Performance. There’s no consistency there, and I’ve got to think that’s something ATD would be looking to fix sooner than later.

The Challenge of Legacy
I’ve always seen ASTD as a legacy association. In many organizations training professionals don’t choose to join ASTD. For many organizations, getting an ASTD Membership is a procedural part of joining the department because all of the past department employees have been members. When an organization can become part of the culture associated with a field, it’s tremendously valuable. That’s what ASTD has for many organizations when it comes to training.

Why is that a problem? Because as much of an asset legacy is for ASTD as it applies to training, it’s that much more of a challenge as it applies to extending it’s umbrella over Talent Development. There’s already a legacy product that’s part of the Talent Development / HR space, and its name is SHRM.

The Ugly

Wither the Chapters?
CaptureOne of the strengths of ASTD’s National presence is the fact that there are a great number of local chapters all around the country. Even if you are unable to attend a national conference, you can connect with professionals in your area via your local ASTD Chapter. I’ve been a chapter leader for over a decade, and have had the privilege of speaking at other chapters all around the country. Local chapters are a great place to connect with other trainers close to home.

Emphasis on the word “Trainers”.

Most of the chapters I have dealt with have trainers as members and have programming that covers training topics. There may be an occasional topic that appeals to an HR generalist, and OD specialist, or a hiring manager, but those are not the norm. The chapters came to be to form a community around training. These are organizations that in many cases have existed for decades providing a valuable resource to area trainers. They have their own board of directors that sets an annual plan to continue that mission.

And then, without notice, they found out that their focus and their name has changed. Chapter leaders were not consulted about this change; it was placed upon them. I’ve often heard that the chapters are the lifeblood of ASTD. The way this change went down does not reflect that. Based on the early reactions I’ve heard from many chapter leaders, there’s damage control to be done here.

CPLP in Limbo
Part of the announcement about the rebranding included mention of a new “Global credential” that was going to be developed. That too raised a few eyebrows, as ASTD already has a credential in place in CPLP – and it is already global. But CPLP stands for Certified Professional in Learning and Performance, and that’s a small piece of the Talent Development pie. A true ATD certification and credential would need a larger scope, so it makes sense that a new credential would be developed.

But where does that leave CPLP, and the professionals that currently have the credential? It makes complete sense to maintain CPLP for the foreseeable future, but once the new global credential is unveiled, what happens? CPLP will almost certainly take a back seat at that point. My guess is that CPLP will be maintained as long as it still produces revenue via certification and education, but the new credential will be pushed as the “new standard” once it is available.

Managing the Change

The theme that ran through the keynotes at the conference was Change. Change in itself is a good topic, but in hindsight it wasn’t positioned in the context of our work; it was positioned in the context of a rebranding. Messages about the importance of change, and the value in it peppered the first two keynotes, ultimately setting the stage for the rebranding. While it’s a great move from a change management standpoint, it leaves me a little disappointed to realize that the keynote themes were not chosen for my growth, but as a way to prepare me for the change that was to come.

And ultimately it comes down to that one word – change – and how ASTD/ATD manages this transition. As I said earlier, all of my comments and the comments you see on other blogs and message boards are nothing more than speculation. It’s expected for people to be upset when you disrupt the status quo. ASTD/ATD has made a bold decision to change their course; but their destination is not yet set. What the new ATD winds up being a year from now and beyond will likely evolve over the next few months. Considering all the emphasis that was placed on Change during the keynotes, it will be interesting to see how things take shape over in the months ahead.

For more opinions on the ASTD / ATD Rebranding, check out these posts:

ASTD No More by Jay Cross

Beyond Talent Development by Clark Quinn

ASTD Changes Its Name by Marc Rosenberg

, , ,