2020 Best Practices
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2020 Best Practices
TD Magazine

Additional ATD Award Winners

Monday, July 20, 2020

Distinguished Contribution to Talent Development Award

Elaine Biech


Elaine Biech is no stranger to ATD members. She has been in the talent development field for more than 30 years, helping organizations implement large-scale change. She has written or edited more than 85 books and is president of ebb associates, a strategic implementation, leadership development, and experiential learning consulting firm.

And this year, Biech—the first CPTD (formerly CPLP) Fellow—is the recipient of ATD's Distinguished Contribution to Talent Development Award, presented in recognition of an exceptional contribution to the talent development field that has had sustained impact. Biech notes the importance of the words contribution and distinguished in the award's name. "I feel blessed to contribute to a profession that has given so much to me," she says. And the word distinguished "represents all the people who have received the award before me. It's humbling and amazing."

Biech has been key to the profession expanding beyond a learning and performance role to one of talent development. Indeed, she wrote the ATD Talent Development Body of Knowledge, the definitive resource for talent development professionals. Biech believes that today's talent development function needs to step up to serve as trusted advisors to leaders in their organizations. "How quickly we'll do that depends on us." She adds that doing so requires a change in mindset and a can-do attitude, as well as a willingness to be held accountable. "We need to do this so that talent development efforts reach their full potential."

Reflecting on the changes in the profession over the years, Biech remarks that—apart from such developments as technology, data analytics, globalization, and social learning—"It's much broader than that. It's a role reversal that's occurred in the past 10 or so years. That is true of both TD practitioners and of our learners." She notes that talent development professionals used to be designers and possibly deliverers; but they now need to have a broader understanding of their organizations, of the industry in which they work, and be more integral in HR—in recruiting, hiring, and engagement.

Biech advises that talent development practitioners also must be business partners, understand teamwork, be leadership developers and coaches—all in addition to being training developers. She adds that learning now needs to be customized and in the moment, managers need to be coaches, and learners need to take control of their careers.

In a 2018 Q&A with Biech for the ATD blog, Ryann K. Ellis wrote that Biech is someone "whom many consider an industry treasure." It is little wonder. For ATD alone, Biech has presented at 33 consecutive International Conference & EXPOs, written a monthly "Ask a Consulting Expert" column, designed the first Train the Trainer Certificate, and authored or edited 18 ATD books. Further, Biech has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Management Update, Investor's Business Daily, and Fortune.

Given all those accomplishments, Biech says that what she would most like to be recognized and remembered for is as "a person who was always available to help others achieve their dreams."

Champion of Talent Development Award

Brené Brown


Researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown is this year's recipient of the ATD Champion of Talent Development Award. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of five number 1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection; Daring Greatly; Rising Strong; Braving the Wilderness; and her latest book, Dare to Lead, which is the culmination of a seven-year study on courage and leadership.

In her newest endeavor, the Unlocking Us podcast, Brown hosts conversations that unlock the deeply human part of who we are, so that we can live, love, parent, and lead with more courage and heart.

During the ATD 2016 International Conference & EXPO, where Brown was a keynote speaker, she characterized the talent development profession in this way: "We're in the business of people." She added: "And if we're really going to reignite innovation and passion, we have to rehumanize the way we work and the way we learn." During that presentation, Brown—a former corporate trainer—focused on courage and vulnerability. As the ATD Conference Daily reported, vulnerability "is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful lives, vulnerability is the path."

"The Power of Vulnerability," Brown's 2010 TED Talk, is one of the top five most viewed in the world with more than 60 million views. In it, she discusses how connection gives meaning and purpose to life. To have a sense of connection, people have to be authentic, letting go of who they think they should be to be who they are.

In Dare to Lead, Brown states that to build courage in teams and organizations, daring leaders must cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation. In other words, courage is how leaders behave and show up in difficult situations, which ultimately strengthens care and connection between leaders and their team members.

"We have our work cut out for us," Brown says. "For all of you working with people trying to rehumanize work; trying to make a difference in the areas of equity and inclusion and diversity; to try to redefine leadership as showing up authentically, bravely—I'm grateful to you. And I'm grateful to be a part of this community trying to get that work done and trying to make the world a braver and better place. So, thank you so much for this award. And onward."

ATD presents the Champion of Talent Development Award to individuals from outside the talent development profession who demonstrate commitment, advocacy, and actions in support of talent development within or outside an organization.

Innovation in Talent Development Award

Memorial Health System

Memorial Health System is a community-based, nonprofit organization in Springfield, Illinois, that provides a full range of inpatient, outpatient, home health, hospice, behavioral health, and primary care physician services.

Its talent development efforts are based on "intentional alignment between the learning and business strategies." Initiatives focus on four principles: integration by placing learning professionals within projects and workgroups; competencies based on individual strengths and opportunities for growth; partnerships with academic organizations; and outcomes—applying business analytics to measure effectiveness.

An example of the system's innovative talent development practices is the onboarding process for emergency nurses, which uses point-of-view education in which learners make decisions in a simulated scenario. "This method allows staff members to be submerged in an environment that is conducive to learning and development," says learning consultant Allison Helmerichs. "Being allowed to make a mistake with no risks and with using limited resources gives the staff confidence to test their knowledge and mentally prepare for the real thing."

This learning—which is coupled with classroom education, hands-on skills training and mentorship—has helped reduce the turnover rate among emergency nurses from 18 percent in July 2018 to 9 percent in July 2019. To expand upon that success, learning consultants in other departments are also using the practice.

The ATD Innovation in Talent Development Award recognizes an innovation that has a measurable impact on an organization or audience, is moving the talent development industry forward, is sustainable, and is replicable within or outside the talent development field.

Certification Institute Champion Award


In 2019, Paylocity brought together into one department more than 70 L&D professionals previously assigned to individual business units throughout the company.

"The team had everything from individuals with master's degrees in instructional design to ‘accidental trainers' who came from various functions within the business but had no formal L&D training," explains Joe Dusing, senior director of L&D. "To create a unified L&D team, we decided everyone needed a baseline of knowledge and a common language that would help us communicate effectively with one another and our stakeholders."

To achieve that goal, Paylocity—a payroll and human capital management software provider—researched various certifications and ultimately decided that team members should pursue Associate Professional in Talent Development certification to ensure everyone holistically understood L&D. Last year, the company supported 31 team members throughout the APTD process, paying their exam fees, purchasing training materials, and encouraging study groups—a significant undertaking that earned Paylocity the 2020 Certification Institute Champion Award. The recognition is bestowed upon an employer that demonstrates its commitment to and support of certification.

Because L&D develops others in the organization, Paylocity believes the benefits of developing this new team amplifies across the company. "Pursuing certification at the same time created commonalities and allowed cross-functional conversations among team members to explore how we could best function in the future," Dusing says. "By bringing everyone up to a level from which we could launch, we were also more credible and valuable to our internal stakeholders."


One to Watch Award

Shermaine Perry


ATD bestows its One to Watch Award to an individual who is early in their talent development career (five or less years of experience), is viewed as a leader by peers, and who has demonstrated professional accomplishments and leadership capabilities. Shermaine Perry, APTD, fits the criteria to a tee. An employee development specialist with the Fulton County Government in Atlanta, Georgia, Perry wears a strategic business partner hat, offering advice to executives for process improvement and employee development in her combined roles of instructional designer, project manager, senior trainer, teacher, and facilitator.

Perry, like many in the profession, is an accidental trainer. "Stepping into the talent development field is the most rewarding path that I've embarked on," she explains. "Great service and impact are a direct reflection of the level and quality of training an employee receives."

To that end, Perry collaborated on the design and facilitation of the Five Star Customer Care Program, which gives employees just-in-time learning and helps managers provide better feedback. Some 2,000 employees have participated in the program, helping them communicate professionally, demonstrate empathy, enhance internal customer relations, and build trust to enhance the external customer experience.

Perry also volunteers with ATD to promote credentialing in talent development. "My proudest talent development accomplishment to date is taking the leap of certification. This has created many opportunities for me to teach, lead, consult, and publish as a subject matter expert. It added great value to my work and confidence in professional learning."

Dissertation Award

Zachary A. Mercurio


Zachary A. Mercurio is an instructor in the Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change program in the Colorado State University School of Education in Fort Collins, Colorado. His dissertation, "The Lived Experience of Meaningful Work in a Stigmatized Occupation: A Descriptive Phenomenological Inquiry," sought to expand on studies that show positive outcomes related to meaningful work—benefits such as engagement, job satisfaction, performance, and a sense of well-being. Drawing on previous research, he defines stigmatized occupations as "jobs relegated by society as physically, socially, or morally undesirable due to the nature of the work."

Mercurio said he chose custodians as his research subjects because "in a former event planning role in higher education, I interacted closely with members of the facilities team, including university custodians. I quickly realized that these are the people whose work makes everything else possible." He also recognized the difficult working conditions of university custodians—feelings of invisibility, long hours, low pay, and the perceived lack of respect from others.

Through his research, Mercurio found that meaningful work comprised a learned, positive approach to work, taking pride in one's work, receiving outside validation of the self and work, helping others, and developing positive and personal relationships. "From a talent development perspective, this has implications for leaders' own conceptualizations of employees, especially in lower-wage, frontline, and stigmatized occupations."

The ATD Dissertation Award recognizes outstanding dissertations that hold significant implications for the talent development field.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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