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ATD Blog

One Thing TD Execs Should Do Right Now: Define Your Operating Model

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Prior to the pandemic and the recent social justice situations, the talent development function was already dealing with disruption. We were anticipating a more virtual world, a changing workforce and workplace, and new definitions of leadership and of collaboration. Then we suddenly had to pivot. To our credit, we did. And even though we are not yet through this latest and momentous disruption, we need to consider how we will sustain talent development going forward and what operating model will produce the best results.

Before the pandemic, we had a model: centralized, decentralized, or hybrid. There were curricula, a calendar, classrooms, and portals. Now we have a new, de-facto model. The architecture was defined by a series of decisions we had to make in crisis mode. Going forward, is this the best model?

The most obvious change most of us have undergone is that rapid shift from in-person to virtual learning. But much of what we’ve done is proof of concept only. We were able to bypass the doubters and opponents of virtual and prove that it could be done. This wasn’t because anyone was convinced that it ought to be done but rather because it was our only choice. We might not have applied the scrutiny to our design choices that we otherwise would have.

In this time, leadership or high-potential development have been put on pause—maybe because we hold to the idea that these should be in-person programs or maybe because we have determined that our leaders needed to spend their energies working on the crisis. Will we simply take these programs off pause in a few months or should we consider a new approach to making them happen?

As consumed as we are by all of this disruption, now is an important time to take stock of our situation and ask:

  • Are there things we should probably stop doing or at least do much less of? Do we need to reconsider our build versus buy criteria? Have we accelerated our move away from the classroom?
  • What needs to be done differently? Are we organized for the speed and responsiveness that the business requires? Are we leveraging user-generated content?
  • What new capabilities are we being called on to provide? If what we anticipated would happen gradually are occurring now, we may be called on to have a critical mass of new capabilities around things like AI, analytics, and personalized learning. And do we have the software and systems we need to create, store, render, track, and measure development for our organization?

No doubt more change will come. But if we want to do more than just react, we need to operate in a way that will be the most effective and efficient for those we serve.

About the Author

Martha Soehren, PhD, is the chief talent development officer for Comcast. She spent 25 years with the defense industry, 13 years as an adjunct professor, and is going on 19 years with Comcast. She is the past chairwoman of the Board of Directors for Women in Cable and Telecommunications (WICT), is on the Board Selection Committee for ATD, was the 2014 chairwoman of ATD’s Board of Directors, and is a member of ATD’s Chief Talent Development Officer Board. Soehren also serves as an L&D expert for the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Board of Directors. She is on two advisory boards working to close the skills gap between higher education and the business world—the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and the University of Pennsylvania Liberal and Professional Studies. Soehren is a learning leader with the Elliott Masie Consortium and an executive champion for Comcast’s Veteran’s Employee Resource Group. WICT recently established the Martha Soehren Women Veterans Fellowship in her honor.

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