The increasing presence on executive staffs of a chief leaning officer or someone with a similar title represents the emerging recognition that an organization’s talent is a strategic asset- an essential element in achieving organizational goals. At the same time, businesses are beginning to recognize that having an organized, comprehensive way to develop and manage that talent is a critical element to success. Thus, we are now seeing the growing understanding that putting an effective enterprise learning environment in place will be one of the CLO’s most important strategies. Fortunately, the learning industry is coming of age and is beginning to be able to deliver for the CLO.
More than a year ago, industry analysts were predicting that the learning management system (LMS) would become the next enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for major organizations. Unfortunately, much of the early focus was more on the technologies of learning than on the total learning experience. Those were also the days of the “big hype” around e-learning. Most looked at the images on computer screens, the streaming capabilities and the platforms and thought that having good technologies would drive learning success. Of course, technology in learning delivery and management is important, but it wasn’t enough by itself to deliver effective enterprise learning environments.
Currently, the emphasis on implementing an effective LMS is shifting to developing and fielding more comprehensive approaches to managing the talent in an organization. Organizations are looking beyond the hype and are focusing more on the returns from investments in learning. This is a more appropriate focus: The real question for the CLO is how to use talent to improve business performance.
What do we mean by “talent management?” It is “the systematic development, planning and application of people, skills, learning and knowledge to maximize individual and organizational performance.” Just as ERP and customer relationship management (CRM) are established as an overarching definition of core business practices, ETM (enterprise talent management) should also be considered a core practice.
Properly managing enterprise talent goes far beyond administering training programs. The CLO has to work with other members of the executive committee to understand organizational goals, how the enterprise is structured to meet those goals and what job roles and skills are needed to achieve them. Skills, knowledge, recruiting, retention, reskilling, content, certification, organizational structure, workforce planning — all are part of the complex talent management mix, and they have to be approached in a comprehensive fashion from the top down.
The broad set of challenges CLOs face requires comprehensive solutions. More than courses or learning management systems, the enterprise learning industry has to respond to the needs of the CLOs by providing access to broad-based content, advanced learning technologies and the services to design and deploy successful learning environments. Learning solutions providers need to work closely with CLOs, not merely as vendors of learning technologies and content, but as trusted partners in the talent management process, helping business improve performance.
Unfortunately, both CLOs and the learning industry are battling the effects of economic uncertainty. Historically, the training budget is among the first to be cut when companies face declining revenues, and that makes it harder to invest in one of the most important ways to increase efficiencies and competitiveness– making the workforce more productive.
But we–CLOs and industry providers–are still focused on the importance of enterprise learning as a key driver of success. As the economy improves and the learning industry reshapes itself, we are optimistic that the new age of talent management has begun.
Trisha Bright is worldwide director of Enterprise Learning, Sun Microsystems Inc. Chris James is Sun’s worldwide senior director for Education Consulting Services. They both work in Sun’s training group, Sun Educational Services.