ATD Blog

Connecting, Collaborating, and Sharing at the ATD Forum Fall Lab

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The ATD research report Change Agents: The Role of Organizational Learning in Change Management states that seven in 10 leaders experienced at least one major organizational change in the past two years. Of that group, 60 percent saw three or more transformations, and 25 percent reported six or more. For most organizations, the new normal is constant change. This shift demands leaders take a more holistic approach to performance advancement.

How do talent development leaders keep up with ever-changing business environments in ways that support evolving employee performance needs? The best leaders put in place an organization-wide, performance-based ecosystem that includes wide-ranging solutions from formal and informal content strategies. This might include assets ranging from personalized learning paths to just-in-time support for frontline managers, and all are generally supported by technology systems.

At the ATD Forum 2018 Fall Lab held September 18-20 at BMO’s Institute for Learning in Toronto, 75 senior learning leaders from 33 companies and representing varied industries connected, collaborated, and shared cases. They focused on using the big-picture performance needs of employees to reimagine system-wide opportunities to support them using a variety of approaches and methods. The overarching aim of the Lab was to create an engaging and interactive environment for Forum members to learn from each other, to experiment with new approaches, and to build professional relationships.

The defining attribute of a Lab is immersion in the culture, space, and work of the host member. This was unique at BMO because of its campus facility where all services are onsite: the learning center, meeting rooms, hotel rooms, social center, gym and swimming pool, all-inclusive dining, and even an English tea garden. In addition to the physical amenities, customer service was premier. Gina Jeneroux, CLO and keynote speaker, set the context for the experience by talking about how they are future-proofing the BMO workforce using upskilling, bold reskilling, and building a culture of continuous learning. BMO also provided a deep dive into their human performance continuum concept and model. This was supplemented with intimate discussions and behind-the-scenes insights on using e-books, video stories, and microlearning.

A management consultant industry member shared some of their new science of learning research on “learning in the future” to advance more effective self-directed learning and how this builds on their motto of “Time away for learning and learning all of the time.” A manufacturing member provided insights for advancing employee learning using their learner-centric model focusing on experiences, exchanges with colleagues, and formal learning, following the 70-20-10 framework. This practice incorporates the Fuse technology.

A member from the healthcare industry incorporates Dr. Clayton Christensen’s “work to be done” theory, and from this perspective the organization uses functional, social, and emotional dimensions to focus designing for the patient-experience, thus advancing the employee performance capability. A member in the retail industry shared their story of employing a three-pronged approach: AGILE, using action-mapping, and deploying a rapid development platform.


Supplementing these case studies and practices was a pop-up activity by a government organization where small groups built a helicopter—while wearing blindfolds. From a facilitated processing of the experience, participants were able to understand and “see” how to implement Gottfredson and Mosher’s 5 Moments of Need for learning. The group provided ideas for addressing performance challenges with access to cascading levels of support delivered in a variety of ways.

None of these opportunities happen in organizational transformations without technology to enable and support. Because the Forum is vendor-free, the Tech Roadshow provided the opportunity for users to discuss and demonstrate a variety of learning technologies to advance human performance, from LMSs to aggregators and integrators. Rather than a marketing pitch from vendors, this session featured experienced users providing information on why they selected the technology, how they are using it, the pros and cons of the functionality, and their lessons learned.

William Duggan’s creative strategy approach via a treasure hunt process was used as the overall approach to tie all of this experience together. Starting with a card sort to crowdsource the most critical elements for advancing employee performance, participants used an Insight Matrix form to individually capture data from “what works scans” research as they heard about the various cases and practices. This approach is very different from many innovation practices. Instead of brainstorming untested ideas, this approach researches proven best practices for each of the specific elements identified. The individual data was analyzed, synthesized, and documented at the table level. The small groups then used creative association to design “big idea” solutions for volunteer clients based on combining examples or precedents from the various elements.


At the end of the two-day Lab, participants had the following:

  • Access to 12 workable big ideas for advancing employee performance, including the team that designed the solution.
  • Connections with (and written bios for) 74 other senior talent leaders interested in advancing employee performance.
  • Personal experience using the Duggan creative strategy process.
  • Access to all of the documentation, including the instructions and deliverables from the session.

If your organization is one of the 70 percent that have at least one major transformation a year, being able to engage in interactive experiences like Forum Labs might be just the ticket to help you enable your workforce to be future-ready. The ATD Forum’s next Lab, hosted by American Airlines, will focus on culture as a competitive advantage and will be held in Dallas, February 26-28, 2019. Join us for this opportunity to connect, collaborate, and share! Visit for more information.

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

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