The New Chief Learning Officer

Although the position is becoming widely accepted and adopted, the role of the CLO continues to change and expand.

Although the position is becoming widely accepted and adopted, the role of the CLO continues to change and expand. The era of talent-driven learning requires a “new CLO” with the traits and responsibilities described below.

  1. Business Manager of Learning: First and foremost, the new CLO must understand the business’ key strategies and challenges and ensure the learning resources and programs to meet them. The CLO should never hesitate to outsource low-value learning functions to focus on high-value initiatives such as leadership development, competency management, the integration of performance management processes with learning, coaching and the implementation of career development programs. As the business leader for learning, the CLO also spearheads major capital investments in learning such as a new learning management system, a corporate video production facility, an upgrade to in-store training kiosks and other capital investments. The best CLOs are businesspeople first and learning experts second.
  2. Chief Demographic Officer: New CLOs must have a clear understanding of the workforce’s changing demographics and know how to tailor learning offerings accordingly. They must ensure the corporate learning strategy addresses current and future business challenges resulting from demographic shifts and supports different audiences’ learning needs and styles. For example, at Countrywide Financial, the senior vice president of HR has spearheaded the development of a companywide video podcast program, which features the CEO and other business leaders. She clearly understands that the newest workers in the company have iPods and expect YouTube-style videos for their corporate learning.
  3. Chief Performance Officer: For years, I have wondered whether the title “CLO” should be changed to “CPO,” for chief performance officer. One aspect of the new CLO’s role will be to focus relentlessly on employee performance. The value of traditional learning is diminishing, and employees are depending more and more on learning acquired through informal networks, online performance support tools, online references and communities of interest. The new CLO must connect business performance with employee performance and push the development and delivery of performance tools — not just learning programs. For instance, one of our research clients has created a team of portfolio managers that identifies, manages and publishes a wide variety of content for employees in different job roles. This kind of innovative thinking is indicative of a performance-driven learning organization.
  4. Global Learning Leader: Today, even the smallest corporations have global customers, partners and operations. One of today’s biggest learning challenges is the globalization of corporate learning, including programs, learning technologies, performance consulting processes, e-learning and other elements. Because learning styles and approaches differ by culture, globalization requires a federated approach — one that distributes and localizes programs and delivery yet centralizes highly specialized services such as content development and technology. The new CLO must be willing to invest his or her time in understanding and “morphing” the learning organization to meet global demands.
  5. Chief Development Officer: Most organizations are realizing the importance of a cohesive talent strategy with integrated processes for recruiting, performance management, leadership development, succession planning and compensation. Further, every talent-related process has a development component. Recruiting requires clear job competencies and onboarding programs. Effective performance management requires career development plans and performance-driven learning options. Defined leadership competencies, coaching and assessment programs are part of successful leadership development initiatives.