February 2020
Issue Map
TD Magazine

A Very Different Model

Friday, January 31, 2020

Workplace and organizational shifts have affected what talent development professionals should know and be able to do.

The Association for Talent Development has rolled out a very different model for the TD profession. In fact, the Talent Development Capability Model is so different that there was considerable debate about whether it should even be called a model. I was one who argued against using that moniker, but then I thought about another model—the double helix—and the designation made sense. Let me explain.


The need for flexibility

There was a time in my career when the training department consisted largely of order-takers. They had a menu of programs from which the organization's leaders could choose. Most everyone got what the manager ordered for them.

It is not at all surprising that the (then) ASTD Competency Model came in the same form: a relatively static, hierarchically organized menu. It made perfect sense and was right for the time.

But even then, the model's authors saw change on the horizon. Though the top of the pyramid-shaped model was essentially ADDIE, together with some traditional training roles, the growing importance of strategy, coaching, and talent management were already evident.

When the next iteration of the model appeared in 2013, it reflected huge changes in the profession. It was no longer enough to take orders. Technology had exploded onto the learning scene. Organizations had discovered that L&D had to be better integrated into major change efforts and strategic initiatives, into the broader HR ecosystem, and into critical business processes. TD was a broader set of responsibilities than was comprehended by the notion of training and development. The American Society for Training & Development soon became the Association for Talent Development.

The TD function had graduated from waiter to sommelier. Though users still had to order from the menu, TD professionals had to be ready to provide critical advice and direction.

And so, though the ADDIE skills were still key, elements such as learning technologies, knowledge management, change management, and coaching gained equal prominence. Project management grew to program management.

Again, the authors had an eye on the future: They anticipated the growing importance of a global perspective, the need for broader and deeper industry knowledge, and the increasingly crucial role of technology literacy. Even so, the shelf life of that model has been about half that of its predecessor.

The shelf life of any static model was growing exponentially shorter. That's why the new model had to be so different. It couldn't be static; it had to be able to evolve. But more importantly, it needed to be incredibly flexible.

When ATD produced the 2013 model, organizations were just beginning to experience the impact of the digital transformation. Exxon, GE, Citi, and Walmart were among the top five companies, as ranked by Forbes based on market capitalization. Today, Alphabet (parent company to Google) is ranked number 4, behind Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. We are in an era of ever-growing information availability, accelerating search capability, analytics, and artificial intelligence.

Thus, ATD's model must remain robust in the face of the continuous disruption of society, business, HR, and TD. It must offer value to those doing the most foundational development work and those facing leading-edge challenges.

That's where the double helix model offers a useful metaphor. The double helix is a model, but the iterations of that model are practically limitless. You should view the Capability Model in the same way: It offers structure and makes clear the capabilities critical to our profession—and it represents an almost infinite number of combinations that can create totally unique profiles. It is a model, but it is also a set of tools.

A link to trends

That flexibility is critical. Today, innovation and agility are the keys to success for any organization. As a result, TD has become the most critical element of organizational success. TD professionals are now responsible for preparing the organization for a future we cannot predict.

Here are some trends we can see and that the model takes into consideration.

Personal capabilities are now as important as technical proficiency. In constant disruption, capabilities such as collaboration, communication, and creativity are constant needs. According to LinkedIn Learning's 2019 Workplace Learning Report, 57 percent of senior leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills. Not surprising, the study also found that adaptability is the number 1 in-demand skill. Clearly, the capability for lifelong learning is at the core of agility, flexibility, and innovation.

The workforce is now becoming a talent cloud. The employee life cycle is being redefined as, at best, a gig cycle. For example, somewhere between one-fourth and one-third of the global workforce will soon comprise contract workers. In fact, according to a January 2018 NPR/Marist poll, workers under contract hold 20 percent of US jobs; Forbes puts the number at 36 percent. Meanwhile, US Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals that about one in five people have been in their jobs less than one year, and the average worker stays at a job for less than five years. Coaching and development planning become key in this sort of work environment—and quite different.

New technology is emerging on an almost daily basis. TD professionals will need to be even more proficient to ensure that their organizations and the people in them take full advantage of these tech breakthroughs. The technology-related skills that companies need most, according to LinkedIn Learning data, include cloud computing, artificial intelligence, user experience design, and mobile application development.

Related to tech is the constantly changing workplace. The TD function must lead the organization's next-skilling for readiness. This is not simply technical training on how new technology works or how to access a new system or its resulting data. Rather, it includes training people on how technology changes jobs and work, how to thrive in those changes, and how to make the best use of technology and the data it yields.

Knowledge management capabilities are growing and changing. That's a result of digitization emanating from every part of the business and generating from employees everywhere. What's more, as companies collect more data than ever before, they are hungry for professionals who can not only make sense of it but also make smart decisions.

Development is becoming increasingly personalized. The ATD Research report Personalized and Adaptive Learning: Shaping Employee Development for Engagement and Performance found that 83 percent of organizations offer at least some personalized learning options. And more importantly, individuals are taking control of their own development. As the opportunities and tools for development become democratized, the old hierarchies of curriculums become insufficient and much less relevant.

Businesses and the people in them are looking for something to hold onto, something that does not change. Culture is that touchstone. Leadership is accepting the responsibility for modeling the organization's values and beliefs and turns to TD to provide tools and training that teach the skills and behaviors that those leaders can use to reinforce the culture.

TD is beginning to use data not just to prove impact but to drive decisions. Data can drive real-time improvements during development solutions. Predictive and prescriptive analytics can vastly improve development's efficiency and effectiveness at an organizational and individual level.

Future readiness

The potential to address all the opportunities those trends present resides in the permutations of ATD's new Capability Model. But the model goes beyond that. It is also aimed at helping prepare TD professionals for the trends we can't yet see and that future we cannot predict.

The model's future-readiness portion seeks to develop capabilities that TD professionals can use to anticipate, sense, recognize, and quickly leverage change. From external and internal scanning to modeling and promoting creativity and innovation, and from the study of emerging technology to collaboration and networking, the model seeks to help professionals stay prepared.

After all, it is TD's fundamental nature to be about the future. To be in that business, we must be exemplars of learning agility and the discipline of personal mastery.

And that leads to another feature: It is a model of capabilities, not competencies. At first glance, the distinction may seem subtle. In the view of the model's authors, however, it is quite clear. A competency is a state of being, the quality of being competent. It is of great value. But a capability is the power to generate an outcome. It is the application of competency.

The shift in nomenclature is deliberate and powerful. It acknowledges the impact that the profession is already having on organizations and recognizes that, in the future, we will be using our existing competencies in some new ways.

TD must-haves

Today and in the future, the TD function must possess the capabilities to do these actions:

Be the guarantors of development options. The people we serve can now access a vast array of development options. Some of them are great, some not so great. Some may be inefficient, ineffective, and inconsistent with the organization's values—or even dangerous.

The TD function must serve as the guarantor of quality and utility and be the underwriter of the company's development resources. The goal is to make it easy and natural for people to use well-vetted methods and sources.

Guide development. The TD function's future job is helping the organization and each person in it to understand where they want to go and how to get there as quickly and safely as possible. TD will do much more consulting and a lot more individual coaching. As a result, TD professionals become development-planning partners and career-pathing architects.

Experiment. In reality, the majority of the solutions the TD function provides are experiments. TD professionals use every bit of science and experience available to guarantee success; but, ultimately, there is no guarantee of how well things work until well afterward. In the old model, there was one shot. Now, there are many. Microlearning means that TD will increasingly be helping individuals to conduct their own development experiments.


Be provocateurs of development. The TD function must encourage individuals and groups to launch their own development experiments and to support their experimentation by helping them to find the experiences that are most relevant to their needs and most valued by the company.

Be strategic business partners. It's not at all a new thing for TD to partner with the business in support of key strategic initiatives. Those partnerships create huge value—but they are not really strategic partnerships. Strategic partnerships work in both directions, linking development to the business and the business to the process of development. TD executives are increasingly business executives, and their partnerships with other leaders are becoming a strategic partnership. Those relationships will only grow in the future.

The ultimate tool set

ATD's new model contains the capabilities that enable TD professionals to do what they've done for decades and that those they serve still need. But it also prepares them to do some of those things in new ways and to do some different things. The good news is that the fundamental TD competencies applied in new ways will serve the profession well in the future—if we have the insight and the will to deploy them.

By making ourselves ever-ready for the future, always looking at the horizon and the periphery, our future-readiness skills will help us to spot the trends, see the patterns, and determine how we can best apply our competencies to new capabilities.

If we use the Talent Development Capability Model as a set of tools and if we analyze our own situation, we can build the version of the model that will serve us well now—and in the future.

And each of our models will be very different.

How Did We Get Here?

A look back at the Association for Talent Development's competency models shows the profession's evolution and demonstrates the increasing professionalism of the L&D function over time.

A Study of Professional Training and Development Roles and Competencies

  • This is the first model to define the basic skills, knowledge, and other attributes required for effective performance of training and development activities.
  • The core skills and functions it identified—such as analyzing and diagnosing needs, determining appropriate training approaches, developing and counseling individuals, and preparing job- or performance-related training—are still important for practitioners today.

Models for Excellence

  • This study identified 31 training and delivery competencies and depicted human resource development (HRD) as a wheel.
  • It established the format for future ASTD competency studies.

Models for HRD Practice

  • This added career development and organization development to established training and development competencies.
  • HRD was defined as "the integrated use of training and development, organization development, and career development to improve individual, group, and organizational effectiveness."

ASTD Models for Human Performance Improvement (HPI)

  • This study explored the roles, competencies, and outputs that HPI professionals (or performance consultants) need to effect meaningful change within organizations.
  • It presented HPI as a process, not a discipline. The model pinpointed 15 core and 38 supporting competencies of HPI.

ASTD Models for Learning Technologies

  • This study examined the roles, competencies, and work outputs that professionals need to implement learning technologies in their organizations.
  • HRD professionals were identified as those who use training and development, organization development, and career development to improve individual, group, and organizational effectiveness.

ASTD Models for Workplace Learning and Performance

  • Practitioners, senior practitioners, and line managers provided input to determine what current and future competencies (five years beyond 1999) would be required for them to succeed in the field.
  • Workplace learning and performance was defined as "the integrated use of learning and other interventions for the purpose of improving individual and organizational performance."

ASTD Competency Study: Mapping the Future

  • This study identified the most significant trends and drivers that would affect current and future practice and described a comprehensive, inspiring, and future-oriented competency model.
  • It provided a foundation for competency-based applications, deliverables, and outputs—including certification.

STD Competency Study: The Training and Development Profession Redefined

  • This study updated the knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors first identified in the 2004 Competency Study.
  • It provided important insights into which competencies were emerging, transforming, and increasing in terms of their importance, such as an emphasis on technology literacy, adopting a global mindset, demonstrating emotional intelligence, developing dual industry knowledge, and being innovative.
About the Author

John Coné is a former chief learning officer who consults and writes on issues of talent development and organizational learning. He has advised dozens of companies, universities, and the US government agencies and has served on the boards of both for-profit and nonprofit education organizations. He chairs the Chief Learning & Talent Officer Board for i4cp and is the catalyst for ATD’s CTDO Next group. He serves as a jurist for the CLO Learning Elite Awards. He is a past ATD Board chair, a jurist for the BEST Awards, and an advisor to multiple ATD initiatives. In 2005, he received the Gordon M. Bliss Award for lifetime achievement. He is a futurist, a painter, a bicycle mechanic, and a sock aficionado. He is a luminary contributor to ATD’s Handbook for Training and Talent Development.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.