HR Administration

The Last Word: ASTD’s Bizarre Name Game

By Rick Bell

May. 7, 2014

Granted, I’m some 1,200 miles away from the American Society for Training & Development’s annual conference, but the Tuesday, May 6, announcement that the learning and development organization was changing its name to the Association for Talent Development had some odd fits and starts.

As the rumor mill cranked up on Monday, we got wind that ASTD was merging with the Society for Human Resource Management. Now, that sure got my attention. But as Tuesday wore on and after a few emails to sources provided no confirmation of an agreement, we speculated that if a merger was coming, it would be done on SHRM’s terms, not ASTD’s.

Then came the announcement of a briefing. Or, more accurately, the lack of an announcement. The conference schedule teased it, but I’d expect that the communications crew of a 40,000-plus member association would pump out an email blast to interested media regarding a major statement coming later in the day. Or perhaps an embargoed news release. As of this writing, there wasn't even a news release posted on the newly named ATD's media website.

And, strangely, the briefing would take place after Day 2’s conference events wrapped up at 5:30. Hello, 5:30 p.m. is officially after hours in the East, and it was near quitting time here in the Midwest. Not exactly prime time for a blockbuster announcement.

I’m sure the announcement was met with a collective yawn by SHRM officials, who I am guessing did not stick around the office to watch the briefing and see if merger rumors carried any weight. But the relationship between the associations was on the minds of ASTD members.

After ASTD President and CEO Tony Bingham spent 30-plus minutes explaining the rebranding, the first audience question had to do with SHRM. Asked if he expected a “bouquet of flowers” from SHRM and if the rebranded association was stepping out of its traditional role in learning and development to challenge the behemoth HR association’s turf, Bingham stated there would be some “refinement” of its role based on member input, but that it wouldn’t delve into talent acquisition or comp and benefits.

There was also a question as to who would be picking up the tab to rebrand the chapters, but Bingham explained that costs would be negligible and the national organization had no definitive plan for funding. And an attendee griped on Twitter that members weren’t consulted about the rebrand. Revises in a vacuum don’t often sit well with membership. That whole silo thing, you know?

Again, I was watching online, but it seemed like the announcement was met with polite skepticism by a pretty small crowd. Applause from the audience seemed lukewarm at best, and the Q&A was not overwhelmingly positive.

The midconference briefing, the lack of a formal announcement, and the late hour it took place just strikes me as somewhat slapdash and hastily executed. And while I have my qualms about SHRM’s relationship with the media, I’m pretty sure they would have handled it in a much more professional manner.  

I wish the newly christened ATD good luck with its rebranding. Now that the secret is out, here’s hoping its bizarre rollout will still lead to a successful future.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director.

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