Honoring the Individual: Dispatch from ATD 2019

At an event with more than 10,000 attendees, it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd. Maybe that’s why the theme of visibility – of every individual’s need to be seen and understood for their authentic selves, and of the journey to find our own authentic purpose – seemed so poignant when it cropped up again and again during this week’s ATD International Conference & Expo.

I’ve been to ATD once before, and MRG has made several appearances there over the years, dating back to before ATD was even ATD! This year may have been a little more exciting for us than years past, however, as MRG President Tricia Naddaff took the stage as a presenter for the first time. We arrived on a particularly sticky Sunday (thank goodness for over-air-conditioned conference centers!) and her presentation was at 4:30 that afternoon. With more than 20 concurrent sessions to choose from at that late hour, we were thrilled to see people pack the room.

Tricia’s topic was Accelerated High Potential Development at Every Level, and the audience had a mix of experiences with this work. When she polled the room, a narrow majority admitted that HiPo identification at their own organizations is mostly limited to informal conversations. That’s far from unusual, but in a tight labor market, it is risky; it leaves you vulnerable to personal biases, overlooking internal talent, and overspending on outside hires who can be slower to onboard. She spent the next hour diving into research-driven strategies for identifying and developing your high potential talent pipeline – not just in preparation to fill executive vacancies, but at every level of your organization. (I won’t recap the full presentation here, but you can download the PDF guide to developing leaders level by level here. And if you’d like to get the slide deck, we’re happy to share that, too, just send us a note!)

One of the critical strategies Tricia shared was to allow for a diversity of leadership approaches, rather than a single, organization-wide formula for the “right” kind of leadership. It was validating to then see that theme echoed throughout the event, especially in the two high profile keynotes: one from Seth Godin, influencer and expert on all things marketing, and the other from Oprah Winfrey (who I assume needs no introduction!).

Godin had a lot to say about how desperately we need to evolve from a “training” mentality toward one that embraces uniqueness and individuality – not only because you’ll get more engagement from your people, but because you need unique leaders in order to innovate. And with the current pace of change, we all need to be innovating! Our desire to be seen, he said, drives almost everything we do. So we need to abandon the model that each employee is just an interchangeable gear I the machine. Individuality should be nurtured, not repressed.

Oprah also highlighted this deep need individuals have to be seen when she talked about reassuring guests on her talk show. When the cameras turn off, she said every single one of her guests – not just the everyday people, but celebrated figures from Beyonce to Barack Obama – would turn to her and ask, “how was that?” We all have a need for validation and acknowledgment. To signal that you hear and see someone – even if you don’t agree with them – is a gift you’re giving them, and it’s critical to relationship building in all facets of your life.

In addition to big-name inspiration, there were literally hundreds of sessions from practitioners and experts filled with practical strategies, tactical takeaways, research, and much more. Live tweeting the sessions I attend helps me stay focused, so if you’d like to see some highlights from all this content, head over to the MRG twitter account and look at the #ATD2019 tweets.

We’re looking forward to having this conference on our calendar in 2020 and far beyond. If there are session topics you’d like to see from us at ATD – or other events you’re attending where you think MRG could add value – please let us know! This team treks many thousands of miles each year to share what we’ve learned with people who are passionate about development, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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