Today’s World-Class Chief Learning Officer


The role of the Chief Learning Officer has changed dramatically over the last few years. With skills and talent in short supply (despite the high unemployment rate), the need to globalize organizations, and rapid changes in learning and HR technology, the modern CLO must take on a bigger and more important role.

1. Chief Capability Officer.

The first new role todays CLO must play is that of "Chief Capability Officer."

Rather than think about the job of "training people" and running the L&D organization, High-Impact Learning Organizations (HILO)  focus on understanding the detailed capability requirements of critical positions in the company.  Our new HILO research finds that companies that focus here greatly outperform those who deliver "skills-based" training.

At SAP, for example, Mary Sibley, who delivers sales training worldwide, has a comprehensive model for all the capabilities needed by sales people. Training is delivered via simulation, gaming, and formal education – focused around the complete competencies needed to position, sell, and support customers.

This focus means that the CLO and the team must really understand what the daily life of these professionals is like. They must understand their working conditions, the day to day nature of their job, and what "high-performance" looks like. It's a much bigger problem than simply "skills development."

2.  Chief Leadership Officer.

While some organizations have technical training teams which operate separately from leadership development teams, it is nearly impossible to develop capabilities in any function (IT, sales, manufacturing, marketing) without teaching leadership skills. So the second critical role for any CLO is to understand, drive, or own the company's leadership development.

At Mars, CLO Andre Martin has responsibility for enterprise-wide leadership development as well as the functional colleges of IT, sales, and other business functions. Mars, a very decentralized organization, operates in a very agile business model: business units make their own decisions and set their own business strategies. While the company has many standard practices for manufacturing, quality, service, and employee relations, the CLO's job is to build a common culture and a rigorous and consistent set of business and leadership skills.

Business Acumen has become one of the most important skills in leadership today. As companies delegate more and more responsibility to regional and line leaders, the CLO must build a common framework for making business decisions. At AT&T, for example, the CLO now trains more than 80,000 people in the fundamentals of leadership and the business. All project managers and line leaders must understand supervision and the way AT&T makes money.

3. Chief Change Officer.

As IBM"s new CEO study points out, one of the biggest differentiators between high performing organizations and their peers is their ability to drive change. CLO's have a critical role in creating and driving change.

At Qualcomm, for example, the CLO owns all employee communications. She realizes that a major part of her job is "story telling," which as we all know is the most powerful way people learn. Not only does she develop leaders and technical skills, but she reinforces the culture of innovation, performance, and continuous improvement.

I remember a conversation I had with the CLO of a major insurance company years ago. The CEO was driving a complete transformation of the company from product-selling to solution-selling (selling "risk management" instead of "insurance.") He asked the CLO to fly all the sales people to New York for 2 weeks of training.

The CLO refused. He told the CEO that in order to implement this change he was likely to lose 30-50% of the entire sales force, and that perhaps 10% would "get it" immediately, 30-40% would "get it" within months, and many of the remainder may have to be replaced. Rather than try to boil the ocean with a huge retraining program, he developed a rapid training program for the top 10% "change agents" – who then went back into the field and started rolling out the program to the rest. This company totally transformed itself and is now a powerhouse in business management.

4. People Technology and Measurement Officer.

Whether you like it or not, we are living in a world of BigData and tremendous technology change. While strong CLOs do not need to be highly technical, they must feel 100% comfortable with technology and data.

One of the best examples here is what Sundar Nagarathnam has done at NetApp.  Sundar, who has been the CLO for several years, has put in place a technology platform for learning delivery and measurement which is among the best in the world. New employees at NetApp get access to the NetApp "Briefcase," an iPad and PC-based application that understands their job role and pushes content, programs, and news to them in a personalized basis. Through this system Sundar can rapidly onboard and train anyone in the company and rapidly onboard new employees during an acquisition.

In addition, Sundar's team has built one of the world's most comprehensive learning measurement programs. He uses a comprehensive data warehouse to capture hundreds of data elements around the company's capability development programs and delivers dashboards to all line managers and executives on capabilities, compliance, skills gaps, as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of all L&D investments.

5. Chief Talent Officer

And finally, of course, CLOs have to understand and play a major role in end-to-end talent management. Not all CLOs run talent management (many do), but they must understand work closely with recruiting, performance management, employee engagement teams, and compensation teams.

While "learning" and "capabilities" are the biggest challenges in business today, these problems are only solved when the company looks at the end-to-end process of managing people. Are we hiring the right skills and culture? Are we onboarding people well? Are we giving people job rotations and opportunities to develop correctly and openly? Do we have a talent mobility strategy? Are we giving managers lots of feedback on employee engagement? Are comp and rewards programs adequately supporting the balance between performance and continuous learning? Do our leaders support a culture of learning?

CLOs today are more important than ever.Our research and membership program will teach you everything you need to know to become a world-class CLO. Talk with us about how we can help you and your organization become world-class.

Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin writes on the ever-changing landscape of business-driven learning, HR and talent management. His favorite topics include strategic talent management, creating high-impact learning organizations, and how organizations drive business change and competitive advantage through talent strategy and technology.

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