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Dave Discenza's Conference Notes - Days 1, 2 & 3

Wednesday, May 25, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jesus Diaz
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There are some 8,000 people from I don't know how many countries attending the 2011 International Conference & Exhibition. You wouldn't know it though because of the size of everything. The conference center itself is BIG. The hotels where many of the conference attendees are staying are BIG. The result is that the space absorbs the crowds, and you don't end up feeling crushed. That's nice because I've experienced the opposite, and it really detracts from the conference. 

The theme of this year's conference is "Learning to Lead". I'm not sure what that means. Lead what? Lead who? Lead where? Well, on that last one, it's hopefully towards better productivity/profitability. The rest seems ambiguous to me and a bit surprising, given what this organization is all about. 

There are over 250 concurrent sessions throughout the conference, and so far the three I've attended have been worth the trip. The tracks include Designing & Facilitating Learning, Developing Effective Leaders, Learning as a Business Strategy, Learning Technologies, Measurement, Evaluation & ROI, Organizational Effectiveness, Performance Improvement and Talent Management. 

The Kirkpatricks are here; Don, his son Jim, and Jim's wife, Wendy. This conference is Don's "swan song." (Where does that saying come from?) Jim gave a high-level presentation on the Four Levels and ROE (Return on Expectation) as the Ultimate Demonstration of Training's Value. This presentation was part 1 of three. With close to 300 people in the room, it was hard for Jim to go into any depth, but he hit the highlights. I think the most important takeaway is this: We have to develop a compelling chain of evidence to show the value of training. Instead of being "order takers" (want fries with that training?), we have to position ourselves as business partners. This is a HUGE change for many of us and means we need to look honestly at ourselves to see if we have the competencies/skills to play that role. This won't happen overnight or throughout our companies. We need to establish our credibility one project and client at a time. 

The military is usually seen as a stidgy, tradition-bound, change- averse organization. The facts are very different. and it's the military that's leading the adoption of social media for learning. There was a presentation on MilSpace, which is like Facebook in its structure. The audience is platoon leaders and company commanders from newly promoted to veteran. The goal is to help young leaders learn from the mistakes of others. When lives are on the line--and they are--you don't want people reinventing the flat tire. This site has the ability to share videos produced specifically for the site. It has a book club with a discussion component.  While there are no hard- and-fast metrics to show this site has made the learning curve shallower, it is recognized as having value by senior commanders. Sometimes, that's all it takes. 

Is social media having a positive or negative impact on Human Performance Improvement in the workplace?   don't know. We never got to that point of the discussion in this presentation I attended.  This was a presentation that deserved more time and a smaller audience to really spark the discussion. This is a problem that can happen at these conferences. 

It is clear that social media has a foothold in some companies, and they are beginning to use it, but not all. In fact, some companies are putting up barriers that are forcing people to go around the barriers, using their own mobile devices to share information concerning work. This represents a real risk to intellectual property, making me think that companies may be forced to accept social media in an effort to prevent the loss of their intellectual property.

I started this on Sunday night and am finishing it Monday morning. The Expo opens in half an hour. Time to go look at all the wonderful products and services that are available to us in the T&D field. I'll let you know what interesting things I find. 
All for now.

As I  wrote yesterday, the Expo at the conference is HUGE. There are twenty aisles of vendors representing all sorts of services. One of the biggest draws is Franklin Covey. They are about to release a new product and to hype the release, they're giving away an iPad 2 every half hour the Expo is open. You can't get near the booth. There are several vendors with rapid eLearning tools that are built on PowerPoint plus the traditional vendors like Lectora and Adobe.

So far I'm 5 for 6 on the presentations. One clunker out of 6 isn't bad. As I noted yesterday, there are a lot of Chinese here. The Koreans are well represented as well. There are translation booths set up in the back of many of the presentations to accommodate them. They studiously listen and take pictures of the slides on the projection screens. It's clear that the companies that have sent them halfway around the globe see a value to training.  If I can, I want to ask them what their companies are expecting them to do with the information they are picking up here. 

A note on technology: There are a few people like myself who are using iPads to take notes, though most are using a stylus and the onscreen keyboard to type. (A special shout out to Enid Crystal for putting me on to this bluetooth keyboard/case for the iPad!) A few are using their laptops. It is possible to download the presentations from the ATD Conference website, though it's not always the most up-to-date version.  Hardcopy handouts of the decks are a thing of the past. Most people, however, are taking notes the old-fashioned way. The makers of pens, pencils, and writing tablets can sleep easier knowing this technology is still going strong. 

I've run into some friends of our chapter here. I bumped into Cal Wick of the Fort Hill Company on the Expo floor and caught up with Jeanne Meister of FutureWorkplace over lunch. It's great to hear them say complimentary things about our chapter. 

It's getting close to the start time for the opening of the Expo.There are several booths I want to revisit....including Franklin Covey. Hey, this is an iPad 1 I'm using. I wouldn't mind getting the iPad 2!

A recurring theme I'm hearing is that we have to start with the end. In other words, what do we want people to do back on the job or wherever it is they're going from our training? Of course, this is preaching to the choir. The people who need to get that message are the clients we serve who just want training to solve their problems. I'm still waiting for a presentation on how to convert those clients to this different way of looking at performance issues. 

As I wrote earlier, social media is a big topic here and the trailblazing companies are primarily in the technology space, though not all. Humana, a healthcare organization has moved into this technology. What keeps other companies from utilizing social media for employee development and performance improvement? What I've heard is the fear that intellectual property may be lost keeps companies from employing social media. It's an easy prediction to say that this will change as more millenials join the workforce and move into leadership roles. We Boomers need to "adapt or die". 

Last night was the Conference Celebration held at Universal Orlando theme park. As I stood in line for my chance to "fly with Harry Potter," the fellow in front of me struck up a conversation. "Hello, my name is David. I am from China." At last, I had my chance to ask some questions. I told him my name is also David, so we had some common ground on which to speak. David is part of a 40- person contingent from China that was sent by their respective companies to this conference. "Why did you come to this conference?" I asked. "Because", he said, "this is recognized as the authoritative group for learning and training." I wanted to know what he wanted to get out of this conference. "I have three goals," he said. "First, I want to learn about the most innovative learning technologies. Second, I want to learn about leadership development. Third, I want to learn about strategies to develop the training function." 

David works for the largest Internet service provider in China. He manages a training staff who are responsible for training technicians. His employer is expecting his to bring back the latest ideas and technologies supporting training and development. He's not alone. There is a large foreign contingent here and they are taking these ideas back with them to their companies. We should be concerned about this, not because this will foster competition, but because I'm not certain that our companies have the commitment to using training as a strategic competitive advantage as theirs seem to. I have no hard evidence of this. It's all anecdotal from what I've heard from the few people with whom I've spoken, but it seems to ring true. 

Competition is a good thing. It keeps everyone on their toes. It keeps companies from becoming fat, sluggish and complacent. American companies cannot assume that just because we are (or were) #1 in almost every industry that we will remain so. The footsteps we hear are the rest of the world running to catch up. If we aren't attentive, we'll get left in the dust. 

I have one more session to attend and then it's off to the airport for my flight back to the real world. I hope these notes have been of some value to you. Let me know if they have or haven't.

It's been fun writing them, and I hope they've served some useful purpose. I hope, too, that you'll be able to attend this conference in the future and that you'll share your thoughts and insights.

All for now.
See you at some Chapter event.

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