ATD is an embarrassment, and I'm out

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I’ve been trying to help build community in the Learning & Development space for the last 5 years or so. In that time I’ve spoken at probably a hundred industry events, and connected with fellow L&D Professionals from all over the world on issues we care about.

I’ve argued and advocated, joked and questioned, and changed my mind about lots of things along the way. That is to say, I’ve learned and developed :)

When I encounter people or companies that I don’t like, I try to say either nice things or nothing at all — at least in public. I keep the more honest private conversations private. Even then I try to be upbeat and see the bright side.

That said, in the last week I’ve witnessed some things that angered me, and that made me sad for us. I’ve had too many private conversations with others who feel the same.

Overall, I’m feeling a bit embarrassed by the lack of care that some within our community give to the community itself, especially to those who have invested so much of their own time and effort because they really believe what we can do together.

It’s a weird time for everybody, granted. Still, as a community I believe we can treat each other well, and that we should withdraw our support from those who don’t treat our community well.

^^^ I posted that much to LinkedIn, here’s what I didn’t want to say there…

ATD does not treat our community well.

I just attended ATD21, the Association for Talent & Development’s International Conference & Expo in Salt Lake City, and it was an embarrassment from start to finish. It’s supposed to be a professional organization, but there was little that was actually professional about it, IMHO.

Now I should say upfront that I’m predisposed to dislike the top level of ATD. For the last few years, I’ve only supported local chapters for this reason, many of whom do some really good work organizing folks at the local level. A lot of those people are friends of mine. It’s what all that rolls up to is a mess and has been for some time from what I can tell. I don’t have or want any friends there.

True, there were plenty of COVID-weird adaptations to this conference that had nothing to do with ATD as an organization, but at every opportunity they failed to do things respectfully. The lawyers and accountants may have been happy, but everyone else must have been an afterthought. At every opportunity, they made the situation more awkward, not less.

Fortunately, I’m good at awkward, so I still had a good time connecting with many people I’ve known for years and hadn’t seen for the last two. And meeting new people too! I’m glad for all that, and I did have a good time — because I decided to have a good time anyway.

But I believe that ATD does not deserve to exist anymore. It’s time to let it go. I kinda did this quietly a while back, but going forward I’m recommending that others do the same.

On what grounds?
  1. Taking advantage of Speakers & Authors, which they’ve been doing for years
  2. Ripping off Vendors, which they certainly did this year
  3. Not valuing Volunteers, which they rarely do and certainly didn’t this time
  4. Mistreating Attendees, which they often do and certainly did this time
  5. Generally running both their event marketing and events themselves poorly, which they usually do and absolutely did this time.

Now I’ve never run anything on the scale of ATD, though I have helped produce conferences and festivals both online and off. I don’t know how you get to be as perpetually clueless as ATD is about producing events and still have people show up to them.

Well, actually I guess I do. When you have keynote speakers like Oprah or Barack Obama, you have plenty to skate by with. Without headliners like that, you don’t have much of anything though.

This year’s keynotes were all fantastic, by the way. They just don’t have the draw of an Obama is all. This COVID-times decision was a good one, though I’m sure it came from a budgetary place, and the value to the community didn’t factor into it at all. I’m sure because the community never seems to factor into any of their decisions. ATD may be good at business, but they’re bad at community. Like really bad! Like, Ew, seriously?!? Do I want to be associated with these people? bad.

Y’know, this conference could have gone SO differently! This could have been the moment when ATD stepped up and energized their base support, creating diehard fans from those who braved a pandemic and 18-months of bizarre to be there in person. This could have been a celebration of who we are in L&D, a doubling-down on all that we stand for and all that we believe in!

Instead, from every angle I could see, they just pissed off most of these believers-in-waiting. It felt like we were being punished for showing up. It felt closer to watch sessions online than to be there in person. There was no recognition of the “Us” that were all right there to be part of something.

These people may not say so publicly like this, but many did say so privately to me. There’s just not enough in it for them to return. ATD burned some serious bridges this week, and they may have a hard time rebuilding.

Frankly, I hope they do. I hope they have the good sense to stop and step aside. It’s been, what, 78 years now? That’s a human life expectancy. So let’s not be sad when they pass, we can celebrate all that they did and that they had such a good run! It’s okay to do that when it’s time. Sometimes death is the most compassionate path, the best choice to make.

I wish ATD would declare success and get out of the game, letting others who actually care about the community and are willing to keep pace going forward to take it from here.

But they won’t. So I will do it for them.

This was the nail in the coffin experience for me. I’m no longer interested in giving so much to keep them on life support. I’ll remember the good times, and politely never work with them or support them in any way again. They don’t represent me or my views, and I’m not going to pretend anymore. I don’t want to be associated with any professional organization that is this awkwardly unprofessional.

I have plenty to give to those who treat people well! But no more time for this shit. It’s embarrassing, and I’m out.

What about you? What do you think? The comments below are for your commenting

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