When the miller’s daughter called out the name “Rumpelstiltskin” to identify the mischievous little man who could spin straw into gold, her problems were solved. Her story showed us that creating a name or label and identifying what it means is often the first step toward mastering an issue.
The fertile field of brand management has grown up in recognition of the power in identifying a name (brand) and the conceptual experience (meaning) that is linked with it. This idea is applicable in many areas of personal and professional life, and it is front and center for those of us in the corporate learning business.
Five years ago, only a handful of companies used the term “CLO.” We are still in the infancy of defining that term and the role associated with it.
At this month’s Chief Learning Officer Symposium, one of our primary objectives is to bring greater clarity and precision to the definition of the CLO role. There is obvious room for difference, given the unique aspect of various industries, cultures and geographies. But there’s a great deal shared by all companies that have become serious about elevating the learning role to the level of its strategic potential as a source of sustainable competitive advantage.
Each of us has ideas, opinions and experience related to the role, and all of us, collectively, can add depth and dimension to this important conversation. Just as a hologram is enhanced by the perspective of multiple dimensions, so our conversation will benefit from the shared intelligence that exists in the rich diversity of views held by CLOs worldwide.
I want to start our conversation by suggesting three broad dimensions for the role:
Dimension 1: In an information economy, we are only as good as the ideas skillful critical thinkers generate and act on. If the learning organization is to achieve its real potential, the CLO must lead the charge to create a process for the continual expansion and practical use of knowledge relevant to the organization’s strategic objectives and goals. We have used the phrase “knowledge management” and “learning organization” to describe aspects of this dimension, but mostly they have failed to deliver, and there is not enough to show for all the talk about these ideas. We must describe more pragmatically the role in terms of its mandate to bring better ideas to life.
Dimension 2: Courses and online information are impotent to create positive change, unless they reside within a culture in which they are valued. If there is a battle between good ideas and culture, the culture always will win. As an example, many organizations struggle with their performance management processes. More classes and a better system are not an adequate solution. Rather, it requires a fundamental culture change to create an environment in which the content is embraced. It must be expected, noticed, rewarded, celebrated and reinforced. The CLO has a significant role as a shaper and cultivator of culture in collaboration with the other senior leaders in the organization.
Dimension 3: Ultimately, the role of the CLO must be about the business of cultivating performance capability in the organization. Even our finest idea generators are susceptible to the outrageous slings and arrows of fortune. Only when the business leaders acknowledge the learning function as the vital source for enhancing business performance on the most critical dimensions of success will its place be more secure in the organization. Failure to do so will contribute only to the continued pattern of making learning the first thing to go when budgets are tight.
I offer these three dimensions as only the start to a fascinating conversation. For the past decade, there has been a great deal of noise about the importance of learning in organizational life. To this point, it has been mostly noise and not cheering for the remarkable contribution learning has made. It is time for us to step up to that challenge.
So, let the cheering begin, and let it start as we, like the miller’s daughter, call out “CLO” with meaning so we can spin straw into gold.
Fred Harburg is a managing partner at Venture Works and has held numerous international leadership roles at IBM, GM, Disney, AT&T and Motorola. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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