This blog post focuses on change and change management. We’re four weeks into our name change to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), and many in our community have asked us about the process we went through to consider a new name for ASTD and the change management plans that are underway. We appreciate all of the comments, notes, and questions that have come in and hope this background provides additional insight into our branding journey. So that you are hearing from key decision makers in this process, this post is a collaborative effort between our current Board chair, Martha Soehren, our past Board chair, Walter McFarland, and me.
Previous boards have examined the ASTD brand over the years—as many as six times since the mid-1990s. Several years ago we determined that it was time to re-examine ASTD’s name and brand and determine whether it adequately represented our growing field and the impact of our work on individuals and organizations.
How did we get to that decision?
Over many years, questions about our name have ranged from the challenges of being perceived as an American-only organization to the unenviable “STD” letters in our acronym. (In 1943 the STD acronym did not have the meaning it does today.) In recent years the questions have shifted in focus to asking us if our brand truly represents the scope of the profession. As shared in recent posts, the community has asked us repeatedly if the phrase training and development adequately describes how far the field has come—from order taker many years ago to strategic business partner today—and if it truly represents the breadth of the profession’s work.
When we began this journey to review the ASTD brand, we examined data and research from all sides: surveys of our members and customers across all of our products and services, conference evaluations, open-ended questions, satisfaction data, chapter and international partner guidance, and general feedback that our community willingly provides. And, we looked at data from the marketplace considering many questions: How do CEOs and senior executives view training and employee development in their organizations? What keeps them up at night when it comes to developing their workforce? How do line managers and senior leaders develop their employees—where do they turn to for resources? How are organizations closing skills gaps internally—do they develop talent from within?
The process to arrive at ATD—the Association for Talent Development—was demanding, thorough, and with deep analysis and consideration. It did not happen overnight and was a reflection of years of insight and input.
Confidentiality was paramount in the early stages. In a perfect scenario, we would have been able to tell everyone earlier about this change and these efforts, but it wasn’t practical or possible to do that without risking that these efforts would be compromised. We sought input from several thousand people by testing phrases, words, and asking about perceptions of ASTD and our brand in and outside the U.S., in addition to reviewing data already gathered as part of our ongoing research efforts.
Why not just replace “American” with “International”?
As far back as the 1990s and even today on our social channels, many people have asked why we did not change to be ISTD (to mean the International Society for Training and Development). While ISTD might seem like an easy go-to choice, would it have signaled the growth and transformation that the field has seen in recent years? Would it encompass everything that our profession is responsible for leading? And practically speaking, would our colleagues at ISTD—the Indian Society for Training & Development established in 1970—be pleased with this decision? Probably not.
How did we arrive at ATD?
Any name that was considered had to clear three strategic hurdles: what does the name mean, what does it stand for (is it inclusive of all facets of the profession, not just one or two), and how does the name and acronym sound?
With the help of top branding experts, we considered hundreds of names: 181 names and acronyms in the first round, and 245 names and acronyms in the second round, which were ultimately narrowed to 13. (For reference, as the name was undergoing legal review, we looked at 230 possible logos.) In those hundreds of names that were considered, the majority were not a match because they did not clear one or more of the strategic hurdles.
As the Board studied these names and acronyms through the lenses described above, we also wanted to ensure that the naming approach
• focused on terms that represented our industry
• signified that learning is truly global
• led the way for the profession today and in the future
• helped to mitigate the practical challenges of having “STD” in our name
• signaled advancement and positive change for the field and ASTD.
In addition to those considerations, there were practical aspects of a name and acronym to review and evaluate whether they were:
• not limited by geography
• easy to read, write, spell, and pronounce
• free of a conflicting or inappropriate online presence
• linguistically and culturally acceptable
• legally available.
While many people and organizations are excited about the change to ATD and how it represents the growth in the field, we knew that not everyone would love the name or the logo. Being uncomfortable or unsure of this change (or any change for that matter), especially early on, is expected. Our hope is that as we continue to share with you – in posts like this and others, and as we explain the process, the shared understanding will increase your comfort level.
A significant amount of care focused on protecting the confidentiality of any potential name change. For anyone who has undergone a name or brand change, you know that once a potential name or logo is out there publicly—even if it’s in a list among many options—it’s out there for everyone to see including competitors. And once that happens, our ability to lead—locally, nationally, and internationally—with this new name and brand would have been lost. In fact, soon after we announced this change a member of our community told us he plans to change his company name to include talent development. We did not want to be in the position of reacting to another organization’s use of the term. Confidentiality was a strategic business decision.
The change management process has just started.
May 6th marked the beginning, not the end, of this change for everyone involved in our global community. We knew the transition to our new brand would take a significant amount of time and we planned for that. Together with a core group of staff, the Board invested a tremendous amount of time planning the necessary steps to implement this transition over the coming year. We developed many change resources, particularly for our local chapters, to ensure that they have the support and tools they need to effectively transition at the local level on their own timelines. And we’re excited to see the enthusiasm many chapters have already shown–one even changed its chapter logo the same day as our announcement!
Our new name and brand is a symbol of change, not a change of symbol. In Walter’s book, Choosing Change, he writes that organizational change begins from within and many organizations mistakenly start with the premise to “change when you have to,” waiting for a crisis or urgent situation to unfold. Organizations that are successful and stand to gain a competitive advantage embrace change proactively rather than view it as an isolated activity.
We appreciate everyone’s input and engagement and look forward to continuing our professional dialogue with you one-to-one or through our social channels. We hope this post and future ones provide additional insight into our journey from ASTD to ATD.
Martha Soehren, 2014 Chair, Board of Directors
Walter McFarland, 2013 Chair, Board of Directors
Tony Bingham, President and CEO