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ATD '23 Recap: Talent Development and The Future of Work
Recap of my visit to the ATD '23 International Conference in San Diego
This past week, I had the chance to attend ATD (Association for Talent Development’s) Annual Conference in San Diego, California. Myself, and approximately 9,000+ other talent and learning professionals spent the past few days in southern California talking, thinking, sharing and ideating on how the workplace is changing and what it means for talent and learning professionals and leaders.
With a little help from keynote speakers like Adam Grant, Priya Parker and Leslie Odom, sessions, panels, and workshops from hundreds of talent/learning professionals and an Expo with over 200 vendors, there was a lot of ground to cover.
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Here’s a summary of what I saw, learned and hope to take away moving forward.
Title: AI in Talent Development
This was one of the most well-attended sessions that I went to throughout the course of the week and it’s not a surprise - people are genuinely curious in learning about the implications of AI in L&D.
The moderator started off the panel by asking people if they knew about Chat GPT a year ago, and very few people raised their hands. Then he asked people to raise their hand if they knew about it as of 3 months ago, and virtually everyone raised their hand. It is truly incredible to see how quickly it’s taken its toll.
Case in point: last year, there were 5 sessions on AI at the ATD conference. This year, there were 17. The session was a panel, and each of the panelists went on to talk about some of the ways they were specifically using AI in talent and learning today. The three examples were given were:
AI generated courses for Microlearning
AI for sales coaching and delivering feedback to improve practicing for sales reps
AI chatbots that interviews a learner and produces a recommended learning journey that follows up with the learner to keep them on track
Part of the discussion centered around what skills talent and learning professionals needed to gain in order to best take advantage of the AI tools and technologies for L&D. Not surprisingly, many of the ones the panelist suggested were uniquely human skills, such as critical thinking, curiosity, etc.
Title: How Leadership Development Must Change Now
I attended this session because my podcast, The Edge of Work is all about how the workplace is changing, and how we need leaders who recognize that they too must change how they lead and operate in this new environment. Additionally, I’ve listened to Kevin’s podcast, and wanted to check out his work.
In this session, Kevin spoke about how the workplace is changing and if we don’t change, it won’t get any better. And if we want leaders to be effective in helping us manage this, then it starts with re-thinking how we train and develop leaders.
Kevin went on to highlight a number of shifts and changes we need to make in terms of how we think about our leadership development programs. A few of those changes include
Making sure that leadership development is a want versus just a need
Moving away from being event based
Integrating more peer learning and coaching
Making it personalized
Making sure it directly connects to their work and business
Among his other pieces of advice in the session:
Confidence is an under-appreciated aspect of how we learn. People’s readiness and willingness to learn often relies on their own confidence in their abilities. Find ways to inculcate confidence and you can increase their willingness to engage
We connect to things that we already know. But we (as talent and learning professionals) often jump very quickly to the new trend, model, framework, etc. Focus first on the timeless principles and then go from there
Title: Powering a Dynamic Workforce with a Skills-First Approach to Talent
Topic: Career Mobility
My desire to attending this session is in preparation for a podcast episode I have coming up with Linda Cai, VP of Talent Development at LinkedIn, however, generally speaking, I have found interesting insights and and nuggets from leaders at HR tech companies in the way they approach topics like talent development and employee retention given the nature of their work.
The session's speaker, Tiffany Poppleman, shared with us some of the LinkedIn research they have done on topics related to talent and learning, and how they are infusing what they know about skills, upskilling, and the desire for career mobility to help their employees explore career opportunities inside the company. A few of the key highlights from this session were:
1) As markets and businesses evolve and change, so too must our employees and their skills. One way to accelerate this is through empowering them to explore their many career possibilities. The goal here is to explore multiple possibilities and paths, not focusing them on just one.
2) Career development is a team sport. For companies to do this right, L&D can help facilitate but it really involves responsibility at the org wide, manager, and employee level. Tiffany shared in her talk the different roles each of these stakeholders (organizational leadership, direct manager, individual employee) played a role in the development and growth process at LinkedIn, and how that worked.
3) Career development plans, career conversations, pathways, journeys etc are all good and important, but what employees really need is to know they are making progress towards a goal. Anything you do should help them see how they are taking the next step in their own unique path. Tiffany did share a few examples of programs they offered, but underscored the importance that employees need to see progress and direction.
A few examples of programs they ran were:
UpskillIn - an internal program to help improve diversity of candidates for sales roles within linkedin. They created a learning journey for interested employees that consisted of a mix of courses, assignments, job shadowing, assessments followed by an interview process which allowed candidates to move into an entry level sales role.
ShadowIn - a 3 month job shadow experience where employees got to shadow other leaders in business roles within EMEA to allow for exploration and internal mobility.
Title: The Art of Gathering Keynote with Priya Parker
The Tuesday Keynote featured Priya Parker, Author of The Art of Gathering. Given how much dialogue is going on around in-person experiences this was a thoughtful and introspective keynote on thinking through the purpose and intention of bringing people together, and perhaps also a must read/listen for leaders and anyone in charge of a workplace policy.
One of the interesting insights and tidbits for the reason behind the book was Priya’s observation that rarely do we ever pay attention to the “social infrastructure” of bringing people together. But given the environment today, never has that been more important. According to Parker, one of the most critical elements of a gathering is the first 5% - those opening moments set the tone and norms for those involved in the experience. In those first moments, people will ask themselves, do I belong? Are these my people?
Parker also suggests that There is no one-size-fits-all approach when gathering. The most successful gatherings are those that are designed with purpose and intention, rather than following a specific set of rules or norms. To start, go with the need/why before designing the how. Finally, one of my favorite insights and takeaways from this was the idea that every gathering holds the tension of the “we’ versus the “I” - The difference between a “cult” and a “federation,” and the push and pull between what should people do by themselves, and what should be done together.
Title: Successful Career Development Solutions for Your Hybrid Workforce
Topic: Career Mobility
Most companies want to do career development to promote mobility and improve employee engagement and retention. However, in my experience, many fall short of delivering on a holistic solution. This session featured Palo Alto Networks and their FlexLearn platform, a career development solution that was built to help each employee navigate their own career journey, and their 14,000 employees.
The career development solution is designed for employees, managers and mentors - giving them tools, resources and templates that enable them to be on their own career development journey, or to support someone on their career development journey.
This was a pretty holistic solution (see image below) to help employees navigate and explore their careers.
Each element of the solution falls into one of three buckets, which underpins their career governance philosophy:
Online knowledge transfer - on demand learning
Guided practice - virtual and in-person sessions
On the job skill building - tools and resources to facilitate ongoing development
Combined, they believe that employees have the tools, resources and access to people needed to explore their careers.
In their last performance review, about 1/3rd of those promoted completed one of the main programs in the FlexLearn platform.
What stood out to me about their approach was that it was 1) holistic, 2) strategic and 3) supported and resourced at all the stakeholder levels.
Title: Next Capabilities of the Talent Development Profession
Topic: Talent Development
This panel, featuring four talent development leaders focused on the changing workplace and what it means for talent development professionals. The panel honed in on a discussion around some of the key capabilities and skills that future talent development leaders will need so they can be effective in a changing workplace, as well as some of the potential gaps there are that might get in the way of that actually happening.
In terms of those key capabilities, the ones I wrote down from the panel included:
Learning in the flow of work
In terms of the gaps, we heard things like
We just are not ready
Things are moving too fast
We’re unable to build an understanding across our organization fast enough
Being able to tie our work to business results
Unsung Heroes: Designing Leadership Development For Middle Managers
Topic: Leadership Development
This session, courtesy of DDI Leadership Development dug into all the ways that we’re falling short with supporting and development middle managers in our organization. As the title suggests, oftentimes, middle managers get all of the trouble but none of the glory - DDI shared some of their research on how we are failing middle managers, but also offered some solutions and suggestions for how to structure leadership development programs for these people who can unlock so much value inside organizations. These four principles of good middle manager leadership development include:
Don’t hide the business strategy
Tell me about my gaps
Give me something practical
Give me time with my peers
And in terms of how to make that happen, they had five critical considerations including
Personalized - Highlight the unique value for the learner
Relevant - Tie to real world challenges
Immersive - Do, learn do - make it real
Human - Focus on the human side of leadership, give space and psychological safety to promote sharing and vulnerability
Trusted - Anchored to research, and track via measurable behavior change
The sessions I attended were a sliver of the amount of sessions that went on during the entirety of the conference so it would be hard to walk away with too many conclusions from the entirety of the conference, that said, here is what I am taking away from the ones I attended as a talent development professional
Keep a line of sight on AI/tech - Technology has transformed this profession and many professions and will continue to do so. That said, the latest advancements in AI definitely seem to be more pronounced than others. Having an eye and even a thought exercise of consistently thinking on how it could help enhance our job as talent practitioners I think is a worthy thought exercise
Align to impact and outcomes - Someone made the comment in a session that learning drives development which fuels performance. It was a small but simple reminder to me about what this is all about. It’s easy to lose sight of that amidst all that’s going on, but a simple reminder for why what we do matters.
Help Your Employees Make Progress - I got into a number of interesting conversations around what employees really mean when they say “career development.” Some people think that all employees want is a promotion and more money, while others think it’s much more than that. It’s hard to make generalities come to life in a meaningful way for such a diverse workforce, so I think where I’ve landed for now is that it’s making sure that as companies and managers, you are helping see the progress they are making (and ideally, you are helping enable that) so that they can be successful on their terms, in the short and/or long term.
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