With the evolving development of the information-based economy and the increasing need for high-performance employees, intellectual capital is becoming the most critical resource in the corporation. This means that those companies that do the best job of empowering their workers through education and training are most likely to enjoy the highest levels of economic success.
The chief learning officer (CLO) leads the initiative to transform the corporation into a learning organization. The CLO must not only balance all the roles he plays in relation to the issues he serves, but he must also find the right mixture and presentation of outsourced, educational tools to achieve his ends. This article takes a look at the roles, issues and learning tools that the CLO utilizes to create and grow a learning organization that is vital and competitive, and therefore able to serve its markets, customers, employees and community well.
“The CLO needs to look at the gauges and decide which ones need tweaking at what time,” said Rick O’Coin, head of the Learning Resource Network and director of IT education for Unum Provident Insurance. “If the environment is competitive, we need to look at learning as a benefit. I have to look at the radar screen and decide what topics management needs because we’re really here to support them.”
In today’s business world, companies that are better able to manage constant change, internalize it and translate it back into customer value will be more successful. The CLO’s role is to be a force for change, but change without threat.
“Change agentry might be the alternative way of defining the CLO’s role,” said Rick Daly, executive vice president and CLO of AmeriCredit Corp. “The CLO has to be someone who is willing to say what he sees and then help you figure out what you want to do about it.”
Daly is taking change management a step further. For the next 12 to 18 months, AmeriCredit’s executive team is reformatting the organization to “get everybody involved in everybody else’s business.” Daly explained, “We’re thinking that if we don’t know the business model as well as we ought to, we can’t contribute to the next series of strategic business discussions. So, I may find myself learning finance. Our treasurer, who excels at finance, may find himself in a discussion on how to move the leadership competency model forward.”
Ally to Managers
Another role that the CLO must add is that of ally and consultant. She can be that extra sounding board that can be so useful to an individual manager. The CLO needs to be plugged into the culture of an organization and can also be the non-official, non-managerial set of ears and eyes who acts as a coach. It’s also very important that the CEO and the CLO see eye-to-eye about the purpose and execution of the CLO position.
Daly started his AmeriCredit CLO duties quietly, by talking with trainers, managers and executives about the company road map and where they were trying to go. He added process improvement components, started an e-learning organization, added people skills and brought in a learning management system. Focusing on making the function of learning real in the organization, he then put everyone in the company into a database of learning styles and began efforts to make learning a part of the everyday language. His first effort to normalize the idea of learning in the corporation was to get a patter going that “learning could occur in a variety of different formats.”
O’Coin’s Technical Advisory Board allows him to become an ally to the departments and managers who need help. “We identify a lot of the issues of resistance to something new before I recommend it to the senior executive team. So instead of putting together requisitions and then finding out where difficulties are, we get that resistance at the meeting. The board discussion provides early identification of problems and politics and keeps us from stepping on any land mines.”
Nurturer of the Learning Culture
To nurture the idea of learning in a business organization, the CLO must consider the hot buttons or WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) motivators, the kind of learning processes the organization practices (how do we make sure that the field gets the information at the same time as R&D?) and the tools and technologies that are easiest for his organization’s culture to accept.
Daly believes that AmeriCredit is still defining the culture of learning, but that the company is in a period of transition. He talks about engaging his entire 5,300-person organization in the company’s new initiatives and admits, “A whole bunch of learning triggers need to be pulled to get people engaged, or they’ll sit in the room for hours and tune out. We need to get them to start thinking about how our new initiatives are relevant and important for them. E-learning comes in a lot here. Blended [initiatives] come in a lot here. Most of the stuff we’re launching– like organizational development concepts and knowledge theory– come in here. We’re also using discovery learning and gaming to make it engaging and interesting for them. And in the classroom, we’re going to do lots of practice, so that at least the conceptual stuff is in people’s heads enough to start engaging them in an experiential way.”
Though the CLO must make the evolution of the organization one of his top priorities, he also has to know how the company makes money and how he can directly aid in that effort. If he has to make recommendations about technology purchases, he must exercise the same level of financial due diligence expected of the CIO or CFO.
One of the only ways the CLO is going to be successful with the money issue is to quantify the nonquantifiable things like lost productivity and what a five-minute increase in a department’s ability to use a software product equals in dollars saved.
Bryan Bergsteinsson, group vice president of the University of Toyota, sees his division as a resource and a consumer of resources. As one of 15 officers of Toyota’s North American corporation, Bergsteinsson says that he, too, has to battle for adequate resources to ensure that the educational organization remains vital.
Bergsteinsson also believes in running the University of Toyota as a profit center. Because the University of Toyota not only serves Toyota’s US Motor Sales and financial sales division, but also provides marketing and training support to Lexus and Toyota franchise dealers around the country, he recovers some of the dollars spent through developing marketing and training initiatives, through marketing-based materials for his financial services arm and by providing basic marketing help to global distributors.
O’Coin also feels the budget pressure, and a priority this year is making critically sure that his department is aligned with Unum Provident’s business needs. He is trying to stretch the budget to cover more ground by moving some initiatives that had been outsourced- such as classroom training- to insourced (or online) status.
Due to budget constraints over the past two years, everyone who needed to take foundation-level IT training at Unum Provident had to take it online. Those who have taken the Web-based courses have found that it’s better than they expected. An additional surprise, according to O’Coin, is that instead of just taking one course online, Unum Provident’s IT workers take other IT courses via their online subscription.
Gatherer of Best Practices
It’s important to be able to take the knowledge system tools and business processes developed or refined by a manager or set of managers and store them for use (or as elements for recombination) for the organization as a whole.
O’Coin’s best practices resource is a peer network. “It started off more than 10 years ago as the Hartford area trainer’s executive board and is made up of (those who were) head of training at NE Utilities, Aetna, Travelers Hartford, Steam Boiler, Phoenix Mass Mutual, a whole group of companies,” he said. “We’d get together quarterly and talk about challenges that could be considered chief-learning-officer challenges, though no one was called that in those days. Now, we use each other’s experience all the time. You always take a risk when you bring in someone new or try something new. The more you can do to figure out the track record beforehand, the better off you are.”
Daly believes that AmeriCredit is building new best practices, as well as capturing the best of what has helped it to succeed in the past. He also said, “You can never take anything just the same way. You have to look and see how a process will be most useful for a new initiative and then tweak it for each person in that new setting.”
Using Outsourced Tools
Before approaching the daunting task of assessing all the learning tools in the marketplace to find the best ones to help the organization accomplish its goals, the CLO should consider the learners and what she hopes to accomplish through the training.
“What with all these technology advances, many organizations see tools first and implementation second,” said Bob Mosher, executive director of education for Element K. “You have to know what your objectives are in order to find the right balance and mix. All these outsourced tools that we use for training are means to ends, not ends to means.”
The CLO, Mosher noted, can be a facilitator to select the best new tools for learners and a guide to help learners understand how to thrive in the new learning environment.
O’Coin is a fan of e-learning because it’s relatively inexpensive, generally accurate and consistent over time and distance. “We have had what I think is phenomenal success with e-learning on the IT side. I believe IDC’s industry stats say 30 percent of the people who start an e-learning program finish it. We’re getting 50 percent. Unum Provident buys IT e-learning on a subscription basis, so once an employee has an ID, theoretically he has access to approximately 250 online courses.”
O’Coin believes that even if workers don’t complete an online course, there is still value. They may be able to take away those parts that are relevant for their jobs or at least know where to find that information online if it becomes a need.
Daly said e-learning accounts for about 25 percent of AmeriCredit learning, but it’s on its way to 100 percent. However, he believes the classroom is still important. “It’s important to stare into the learner’s eyes and get immediate feedback. We’re doing a CRM initiative right now, which is a huge change for the people in our call centers. We’re trying to do both classroom and e-learning, but e-learning is not mature enough yet to do away with classroom learning.”
Though the amount of Toyota’s e-learning is growing relative to the classroom, Toyota is aggressively developing more blended-learning modules.
Blended situations (where tools are mixed to complement each other) depend on a highly self-motivated, independently driven learner base. For blended solutions to succeed, organizations first must do considerable analysis of their goals and their learners. Often, an organization does not have the skills or the infrastructure in place to support learners who are new to sustaining the interest to learn outside a classroom setting.
“For most corporate training, you put people into a classroom for three to five days and smash as much information into their heads as possible,” O’Coin said. “Then you send them away hoping they’ll remember what it was three months from now. With blended learning, you can get them in a classroom, give them what they need for the first three to five months on the job, then give them an e-learning program a little farther down the road. By breaking it up like that, you get a lot better retention.”
Focusing on Learning Styles
How does the CLO account for learning styles when evaluating outsourced learning tools?
AmeriCredit has a learning styles database. “We have about 3,600 of our 5,300 workers in our database at the moment,” Daly said. “Before a traditional in-classroom trainer comes in to teach, when people sign up through the LMS, they get a questionnaire asking them about motivation, about what are they giving up to take the course.”
Daly explained that the facilitator then gets a report on those who are taking the course and, based on a learning model that combines the learner’s attitudes with behavior models, one can map any course and any facilitator to the learner’s profile. With this kind of tool, a trainer can offer analytic minds some e-learning prior to the course and design some in-class games to make the material more relevant to action-oriented learners.
Learning styles are not an overriding factor for Unum Provident. “We can’t afford to give people training programs in three different modes. If we can adapt to learning styles, that’s great,” O’Coin said. “There are some e-learning programs that have you take a little test up front to determine your style. Then they give you the version of the course that fits your style. If vendors are going to do that for me, that’s wonderful, but we can’t do that in the classroom. We can only deliver one way, though we try to consider all styles when we develop the course ourselves.”
Learning Management Systems
Ideally, a knowledge management system would work in tandem with an LMS. It would hold all the internally and externally developed learning objects and posses the capability to recombine any of these objects with additional new information to produce other just-in-time learning objects that were needed for a new use.
“E-learning plays a large role in our intranet, which is called ToyotaVision, or TV,” said Bergsteinsson. “Our associates can log on for hundreds of courses. We are also in the process of putting in an LCMS (learning content management system) for training in which one can drag and click to develop a new e-learning package specific to his needs. Though most of our learning objects, especially those dealing with technology, are off-the-shelf, with this new LCMS capability, we’ll be able to develop more of our own materials.”
Daly said that AmeriCredit is just beginning to start looking at knowledge management. “You have to put a whole lot of baseline stuff in first, not only on the tech side but also on the conceptual side,” he explained. “It’s hard to teach people to run before they can crawl. So the sequence is get organized, lay in a bunch of basics, add organizational development process improvement, organize the e-learning function and have it offering some really good stuff, add change management, address people’s learning styles and preferences, then start doing basic research on knowledge management and rapidly move the whole organization to performance consulting.”
Daly sees mentoring as a very focused kind of training. He believes that if someone in a company is good at a particular task, she should provide mentoring for that particular task, and that’s all. He also said that if you are asking a more senior worker to mentor a junior worker and that involves time outside of work, the senior worker should be paid for his time.
Bergsteinsson said, “We’ve done some of that but not in a formal way. I think the best form of mentoring is just part of the culture. The best mentoring relationships are born on their own and not forced on the culture. Mentoring relationships work best informally.”
Prior to joining Boston University’s TrainingTrack, Steve Lynch worked in corporate/adult education for more than 20 years, including as director of end-user training with IBM’s Catapult Software Training subsidiary and as the chief learning officer of UK-based KMS.