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ATD Blog

Thought Leader Reflections: Learn, Lead, Adapt, Improve

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Since its inception, ATD (then the American Society for Training Directors) has relied on practitioners and experts in the field to provide insights about their work. Over the years thousands of professionals have shared ideas, experiences, best practices, and rallying cries. The global community of talent development professionals is truly generous.

In that spirit of sharing, and in celebration of our 75th anniversary, we’ve been interviewing thought leaders and asking them to reflect on the field—where we’ve been and where we’re going. We add new interviews every month, so I encourage you to check in often. For now, though, I wanted to share some insights that have resonated most with me.

In “Time to Take Our Own Advice,” Elaine Biech reflects on what’s different today and what opportunities exist for talent development professionals.

“When I first started, training departments were almost all within an HR department. Since developing employees was not getting the attention it required, L&D was pulled out to stand on its own with a chief learning officer as its head. Now, with the expanded role that talent management requires, it makes sense that several traditional HR responsibilities such as recruitment, pre-onboarding, engagement, and others are again being combined with talent development under one central umbrella. As we look at the talent continuum from recruiting excellent employees to transitions out of the workforce or company, we can see that talent development should be a part of the entire employee experience.

“Here’s what’s really different, though. For decades, many training departments complained that they didn’t ‘have a seat at the table.’ Well, now we do. Our organizations are not just giving us a seat at the table, but they are expecting us to lead the talent development efforts from the table. It’s time we stepped up and took our seat—not to just add our opinion, but to lead. Yes, we must lead the effort to ensure all employees have the skills and knowledge to ensure our organizations achieve their goals.

“The concept that talent development needs to lead is the first half of an equation that I have been promoting: Trainers must lead and leaders must train. The other half is that we must help our managers, supervisors, and leaders be able to train and develop their people. Many managers cannot make that change themselves; they need talent development to coach them, provide job aids, and demonstrate what techniques will work.”


Bill Rothwell agrees that TD’s connection with managers is critical. In “The Target Remains the Same: Improve Performance, Boost the Bottom Line,” he says, “I want managers to realize that training is not (and should not be) a ‘feel-good’ activity that can be cut when times are hard. Done right, training is a strategy to make people productive faster after time of hire, keep workers’ skills current as work changes due to new technology and other pressures, and prepare people for more or different responsibilities over time. If training is done right, no manager in his or her right mind would want to cut it when times are hard because it is so closely tied to getting and keeping people productive that cutting it would lead to direct, noticeable losses to company productivity and profitability!”

As organizations put more emphasis on developing talent, it may require an overhaul of existing systems. TD professionals have to champion that. Mimi Banta addressed that in “Instructional Designers Need Flexibility.”

This need for flexibility also comes into play in how organizations use their learning management systems. Mimi warns that the tool often is guiding the learning. “Instructional designers are caught in the middle,” she says. “They want to deploy the most current solutions, like social and informal learning, to best meet a need. Yet, the organization’s infrastructure may not be able to document and track that type of learning.” Ultimately, she says that designers are going to need to be persistent—and flexible—in finding ways to change and make upgrades. She states that L&D needs to think: “Let’s look at the best way to do things. We can figure out how the systems need to adapt to us, versus the other way around.”


More advice for designers and other TD pros comes from Jennifer Hofmann. In “Blended Learning Needs Digitally Fluent Designers,” she encourages fellow practitioners to learn in the ways their learners are learning. “Participate in blended learning courses. Be a full learner in a virtual classroom. You’re going to be uncomfortable at first. But smile and get through it,” she advises.

Talent development professionals must keep learning and refreshing their skills if they are to stay relevant and able to help organizations and learners adapt to the future of work. Joe Willmore, in “Being a Business Results Detective,” addresses the need be fluent in the language of the business your supporting so that work has more impact. He also notes the need for practitioners, regardless of where they are in their careers, to network and learn from each other.

“Whether new to the field or longtime pros, it’s critical for everyone to connect with others in our community through organizations like ATD,” says Willmore. “Personally, I can say that ATD helped me build my formal knowledge and skills around performance improvement—through its magazines, books, research, and so on. ATD also helped me network with other performance consultants at events like the annual conference. More importantly, through these publications and events, ATD gave me a platform to spread the word on performance improvement.”

About the Author

Kristen Fyfe-Mills is the director of employee development and engagement at Farmer Focus, an innovative organization with the fastest-growing poultry brand in the US. In her role, she supports nearly 900 team members, from front-line hourly associates to the executive team. Before joining Farmer Focus, Kristen served in many roles at the Association for Talent Development, culminating in her position as director of marketing and strategic communications.

Kristen holds two master’s degrees, one in pastoral and spiritual care from Marymount University and the other in journalism from Northwestern University. She serves on the advisory board for Shenandoah University’s Transformative Leadership program. She is the mom of two exceptional humans, and she and her husband Doug live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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