ASTD Changes Its Name

This week saw a name change and a shift in focus as ASTD ceased to be and ATD was born. We welcome Marc Rosenberg as a Guest Writer to TWIST to share his thoughts on ASTD, ATD, and what this change might mean.

“What’s in a Name?”
~ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Marc Rosenberg, President,  Marc Rosenberg and Associates

Marc Rosenberg, President,
Marc Rosenberg and Associates

Name changes can be disastrous.  Netflix tried to change a big part of its business to Quickster (lasted a month).  For some crazy reason, United Airlines once changed its name to Allegis (lasted just over a year).  AT&T once tried to sell itself as American Bell.  Ford changed the name of its once best-selling car, the Taurus, to the Ford 500 (and quickly back again).  Radio Shack took out the “Radio” to become The Shack, and Pizza Hut dumped “Pizza,” to become The Hut.  What were they thinking?

But they can also have positive results.  Jerry’s Guide to the Worldwide Web became Yahoo!, BackRub became Google, Quantum Computer Services became America Online (AOL), and The Haloid Company became Xerox.  Andersen Consulting created a firestorm when it gave up its well-known brand to become Accenture, only to be vindicated a few years later when what was left of the old firm got mired in a huge accounting scandal.  And Research in Motion changed its name to Blackberry (the jury’s still out on this one; did they wait too long?).

Welcome to the Association for Talent Development

From the ASTD website

From the ASTD website

Last week, at it’s international conference in Washington, D.C., ASTD changed its name.  No longer The American Society for Training and Development, it’s now the Association for Talent Development.  This will take about a year to fully implement but changes should appear pretty quickly.  For the field, it’s a big deal.  For ASTD, it’s a very big deal.

This is not the first name change for the world’s largest training and development organization.  It started out some 70 years ago as the American Society of Training Directors, and then changed to the American Society for Training and Development.  More recently, it focused mainly on its acronym, ASTD.

Names Matter, But What Happens Next Matters More

Putting aside the obvious joke that ASTD is becoming a Hollywood talent agency, the new name creates big challenges, but also makes sense.

CEO Tony Bingham noted that the field is changing and ASTD must change with it.  Not content to simply redefine its current brand in a new way, for example, calling itself the International Society for Training and Development, Bingham and the Board of Directors have put a new stake in the ground, recognizing that development includes the important role of training, but it is much, much more.  “…It was time for ASTD to change to better demonstrate this profession’s work and the impact you have that reaches far beyond training,” said Bingham.  His presentation was, perhaps, just a little bit of an admission that maybe the field was moving a little faster than ASTD was, and it was time to be in front again.  Good.

But the name additionally reflects an important boundary.  Talent development is not human resource management.  Important as they are, it does not include functions like benefits, compensation or recruitment, except as they impact the development of people.  Also good.

Big change can bring big discomfort.  Some might lament the lack of the word “performance” in the name.  That’s ok.  Performance is, admittedly, hard to market as an all-encompassing concept.  But, for sure, performance is at the core of what talent development is.  Many might struggle, some to the point of anger, with a seeming de-emphasis on training, including eLearning.  Bingham and the Board went out of their way to address this, saying that training remains a core value (which begs the question, what are the implications of shifting away from ASTD’s current tag line, “the world’s largest association dedicated to training and development professionals?”).  And there is no doubt that there will be disruption within the ASTD family – chapters, conferences, communities and communications – all will be impacted.  A focus on solid change management and support will be key.

For a while, ASTD eschewed the words training and development for “workplace learning and performance,” but it didn’t pan out.  Perhaps the time was not yet right or the voices for change were not yet strong enough.  Albeit early, this time, beyond the marketing, the shift feels more encompassing, more deliberate.  It better be.

Hard Work Ahead

As a massive force in the field, ASTD – err, ATD – has an awesome responsibility.  Changing the logo and branding is the easy part, and if that’s all there is, it will disappoint or even fail.  There is work to be done, perhaps the hardest work the organization has ever done.  How will ATD embrace new areas of talent development and still meet the primary needs of the overwhelming membership base of trainers and instructional designers?  How will it keep a focus on learning technology?  What will change, and what won’t, in its professional development programs and publications?  Does the T&D Competency Model still work?  All of a sudden, the organization’s charter has become broader.  How much room is there for new ideas?  What stays and what goes?

ATD’s core mission, values and operating principles must evolve to meet this new leadership responsibility.  Talent development, as a concept, is not easy to explain, much less sell.  There is hype and baggage that comes with it that must be overcome (not easy).  Furthermore, there may be some short-term financial and membership consequences of this move.  But for ATD, it’s the right thing to do.

It’s not where you’ve been, but where you’re going.

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