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"When You Love What You Do, Finding Meaning in the Work Comes Naturally"

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Elaine Biech
The worldwide talent development community is diverse. Our members bring a wealth of experience and insight to their work. We're spotlighting their stories.

Elaine Biech has been an ATD Member since 1992. Here's her story in her own words.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My ATD member story starts in the 1970s when I trained teachers across the United States to use a specific developmental model. I was a self-taught trainer and didn’t know that training was a profession or that the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) existed. I experimented with what worked in my training sessions. While other trainers were lecturing for four days straight, I was using relay races, crossword puzzles, and my discussion experiments (I later learned these were called role plays). I thought I had invented adult learning theory. Imagine my surprise when I met Malcolm Knowles—who soon became my friend and hero.

I discovered ASTD just as the association was moving from my state of Wisconsin to Washington, DC. I immediately got involved at the local chapter in Madison, Wisconsin, and registered for my first international conference. The conference had more attendees than expected and space for each session was limited to a first-come basis. The schedule included early-bird presentations at 7 a.m. and fireside chats that ended about 9 p.m. I discovered how much I had to learn so I ran to as many sessions as I could squeeze in each day. By the end of the conference, I was exhausted and defeated because I had believed that there was too much to learn and I’d never be a successful trainer. I was in tears and planned to quit the profession.

Fortunately, on the last day of the conference I met a stranger who convinced me otherwise. Since then, I’ve attended 38 consecutive international conferences. I’ve contributed at the chapter, regional, and national levels; served on dozens of committees; contributed to the certification process; and designed six certificate programs. I always try to give back to ATD and a profession that has given me so much. ATD has been my lifeline to a purpose in life, a future that I’d never imagined, opportunities to grow and develop, and a chance to take risks and try new things.

What are your personal and professional goals?

My personal and professional goals are the same: to help others uncover their passion and attain their maximum potential. We all have untapped potential and my goal is to help others find a way to explore a future filled with rewarding purpose. We spend too many hours at work to not LOVE what we do. Whether I am with friends, family, colleagues, or clients, I try to help them focus on what they can do to find passion in their lives and to help them discover how they can contribute to the world. In doing so, I have uncovered my own passion and maximized my own potential.

In a few words, please tell us about a “win” that you have experienced in your work?

This is a win that I didn’t appreciate until 25 years later. Although I was unaware of the significance at the time, I may have facilitated one of the earliest webinars. I conducted a seminar “How to Lead Effective Meetings” in person several times for Bill Williams, director of personnel at NASA Langley Research Center. In March 1986, Bill announced that NASA Langley was going to “beam me up” so others could benefit from the content. I lead the same seminar for all NASA locations throughout the United States, who tuned in to the session at the same time.

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What was a webinar like without Cisco WebEX, Adobe Connect, or Zoom? We had a recording, content sharing, and slides, but it was mostly one-way. Questions were asked via the phone and I answered them on the camera. Handouts were faxed ahead of time to each person. And support staff at my end numbered more than 30. It was a first for me and a first for NASA—not quite a first step on the moon, but nevertheless, a giant step for learning and development.

What challenges have you overcome in your career?

Probably many, but now that I look at them in the rearview mirror, they were all just opportunities looking for a solution. The challenges pushed me along on my personal learning journey with each being a cog in the lifelong learning wheel. All of us face challenges. The real question isn’t what challenges, but how you perceive them. The question isn’t how many times you were down but how many times you got back up. Overcoming challenges allowed me to lead an international consulting firm and publish books that help others.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve gained or experienced during your membership with ATD?

The most valuable thing I’ve experienced from my membership is that the more that I give ATD the more I get back. There is a continuous stream of collaboration, involvement, affirmation, friendship, and counsel that helps me to continuously gain skills and move forward. The more I involve myself with ATD, the better person and professional I become. And the better I am, the more I can support ATD, the profession, my clients, and my colleagues. I value every part of my membership: the people I meet, the occasions to try new things, and the opportunities that nurture my development.

What is a common misconception you see when it comes to talent development?

I am still amazed when I talk to employees whose employers will not invest in their development. It is just crazy! I am dealing with an employer like that now. The company has five locations and the owners believe that if they develop their people they will leave them for a better job. My mission is to convince them that a more highly skilled workforce will bring them more business, more satisfied customers, and more engaged employees. If anyone has the recipe for the secret sauce that will convince these owners, please share it with the rest of us.

Do you have any advice for people looking to further their careers?

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Get out of your comfort zone. Learn something new. Practice lifelong learning. Take risks. Go the extra mile. Be positive. Take responsibility for your own learning. Invest in yourself—if you don’t who will? Find work that you love. Get involved with ATD or your favorite association. Without ATD in my life I would not have the happiness, friends, and success I experience every day. Give without expecting anything in return.

How do you stay motivated and find meaning in your work?

I am one of the luckiest people on earth. I love what I do. So many people spend their time counting the hours until the end of the day, ticking off the days until their next vacation, or calculating the years until they retire. That’s sad.

When you love what you do, finding meaning in the work comes naturally. For me, I have the best job in the world. I am a consultant who develops people and organizations. That’s meaningful in itself. I also am rewarded every time someone says that a book I wrote helped them make a decision, or they took my advice from an ATD conference presentation and are happier for it, or that my work motivates them. I have received numerous awards and I am paid to do what I love. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The future of work is coming—and in some cases, is already here. In your opinion, what does the future of work look like?

The future of work will be one continuous learning event. That is why talent development professionals need to get out of the training business and start coaching managers. Managers need to develop their people, find ways to integrate new knowledge and skills into the work, and help employees find additional development opportunities. TD professionals cannot expediently deliver all the learning that our organizations require; instead they need to expedite the process of putting learning where the work is and supporting managers to gain the required skills.

There will be plenty of work and jobs for everyone, but they will be constantly changing and require persistent learning. Learning must come from within the job and the motivation to learn must come from within people.


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