If there is a single role that differentiates the CLO from other learning professionals, it is that the CLO must set the overall learning strategy for the enterprise. But what is a learning strategy, and what does it include?
The most important element of an enterprise learning strategy is this: It must be built firmly upon the business strategy of the company. In other words, it must contribute in critical ways to what the CEO says the organization must accomplish in the next few years to stay competitive.
CLOs do this by gaining insight into business strategies and values of top management. They need to sit in on CEO strategy meetings. They pay attention to statements about cutting costs, improving customer satisfaction, pursuing new markets and encouraging employee innovation. They need to know the products and services the organization will provide two to four years out.
One must also gain input from the key business units. What challenges do they face? What business problems are they trying to solve?
What else must the strategy include?
- The learning strategy considers workforce needs in the future. What kind of people are needed to develop and deliver the offerings that senior management says the organization must? Do current employees have the competencies and experience?
- The learning strategy has to consider the money. Where are the learning dollars going now, and where should they go in the future?
- The learning strategy encompasses all learning programs. It includes existing programs, new initiatives and new technologies.
- Learning strategies these days blend high-tech with high-touch. Depending on the business need, budget, topic and audience, today’s blended solution might combine e-learning and in-person workshops with the extra human touch, such as coaching and mentoring.
- The learning strategy addresses staffing requirements needed to deliver on the programs prescribed. What roles should training professionals play? What skills do they need? What is the balance of outside resources versus internal staffing?
- The learning strategy defines centralized versus decentralized programs. What is provided by headquarters, and what is left to the operating units or regions? Will there be a corporate university? Are the operating units responsible for translation of HQ-provided content?
- The learning strategy addresses corporate communication. The strategy should ensure communication supports training, and vice versa.
- The learning strategy needs to be practical. It addresses how the organization will be informed about new initiatives, how people will be enticed to embrace initiatives and how management will be encouraged to implement and sustain the initiatives.
- The learning strategy educates executives on the business criticality of learning and on how the success of the business strategy depends on new learning and high performance on the part of employees. The learning strategy doesn’t plead for learning-is-good support from management. Instead, it clarifies where and how learning is fundamental to business success.
- Like any business plan, the strategy needs to build the business case for the time, effort and budget required to create, deliver and evaluate the programs.
- The plan needs to state how initiatives will be evaluated to determine if they are working and whether they’re making a difference.
- Most importantly, the learning strategy states the specific business results that will accrue to the enterprise if the strategy is funded and supported. It should clarify what indices will be tracked and on what dates they will be reported back to senior management.
The main responsibility of the CLO is to produce the overall learning plan for the enterprise. More than anything else, that learning strategy must contribute to the overall business strategy of the enterprise.
Brandon Hall, Ph.D., is CEO of brandon-hall.com, a research and advisory firm in Sunnyvale, Calif. He is recognized for benchmark studies and e-learning software comparison reports, helping organizations develop their learning strategy. He can be reached at CLO@brandon-hall.com.