Given the relative newness of the chief learning officer role, it might come as a surprise to some that it’s already due for some changes.
As enterprises increasingly focus on critical talent questions (e.g., “How much do we need?” and “How can we get it?”), CLOs will have to develop and enhance proficiencies that reflect their growing strategic importance to the organization. Some of these qualities include exercising leadership at the highest levels, as well as possessing acute organizational and industry knowledge.
Still, there will be some continuity — CLOs will have to maintain their understanding of educational principles and familiarity with learning technologies.
On March 13 at Spring 2007 CLO Symposium in Huntington Beach, Calif., 70 senior learning executives took part in an intensive work session to produce their best thinking about the future of the CLO role. Subsequently, we continued the dialogue, using a blog, to react to and refine the initial thoughts.
The challenge was to follow the succession best practice that requires executives to identify, qualify and prepare candidates to succeed them in their current position. In this case, we made the assumption that current CLOs will serve until March of 2010, at which time they will vacate that position for other opportunities.
The first step was to prepare a position description that reflects the probable changes that will occur between now and March 2010. My part in this process was to capture and synthesize the tone and content of the “voice” coming from those who contributed. I offer genuine gratitude to you, my colleagues who gave so generously of their most precious resource: their energy.
2010: Continuation of HR Outsourcing and Self-Service Through Automation
In 2010, the outsourcing of HR has accelerated to the point that most large and medium-size businesses have moved the majority of their traditional and transactional HR business outside, and many have moved them offshore. Some of the largest businesses did this through direct relationships with multiple suppliers. Many companies outsourced transactional HR functions and processes to a single systems integration company with which they have a contractual statement of work.
The remaining internal HR organization is “strategically focused.” Advice and support on sensitive and complex issues such as compensation, benefits and senior staffing remain the HR priority. Even with these issues, continuing cost pressures have resulted in many companies gaining greater economies of scale and competence by having external specialists handle the complexity and continuous change in these arenas while a few insiders exercise oversight.
Enterprise resource systems have swallowed the earth. Global, integrated systems have expanded, if not improved, and HR is riding the technology tiger. If HR was once criticized for being more focused on paper and procedure than people, it is now berated for being a geek farm.
Ever-increasing attention to security and compliance makes systems spending the largest part of the HR budget. The appetite of the enterprise system providers has driven them to provide “kitchen sink” solutions, forcing the integration of the silos that previously have separated HR and learning. Turf issues among HR, learning and IT have become more obvious and dysfunctional than they were in 2007.
The primary internal focus for both HR and learning is on strategic talent management — finding, securing, developing, managing and fully engaging people who will give the company a strategic business advantage.
2010: Lean, Global, Matrixed Learning/Talent Development
Similar to HR, learning has experienced a continuation of severe cost pressure, resulting in leaner staff and the expanded use of online learning, as well as the use of external suppliers and partners to accomplish its objectives.
An imperative to “show us the money!” from line managers has forced learning professionals to demonstrate the cost-benefit of every intervention, and they are still struggling to do it credibly. The ROI methods are as good as the assumptions on which they are based, and the assumptions of most companies have been modestly accurate in 2010.
Instructor-led classes continue to be the strongest venue of choice for learners, but the cost of maintaining a stable of elite designers and trainers has continued to force companies outside to find the best design and delivery talent. Online learning is starting to create high-engagement, high-relevance content with universal accessibility, realistic time horizons, effective participant tracking and demonstrated value. Similar to HR, the learning function relies on external suppliers and partners to design and deliver most of its work while it exercises oversight and supplier relations.
Corporate learning organizations use a single systems integrator less often than their HR siblings. In 2010, none of the larger learning vendors or degree-granting universities has emerged as superior at managing these partnerships — they still lack sensitivity to their clients’ businesses, find it challenging to demonstrate added value and have difficulty integrating learning technology in a winning way.
Reliance on a variety of suppliers continues to be the rule. The technology obstacle has two dimensions. Learning management systems providers focus primarily on the functionality of their systems to produce administrative support, platform stability, reporting capabilities and integration with other corporate systems. Best-of-class content development, design and nuanced talent management (particularly if it is not e-learning) are still foreign territory for them.
True learning content management systems still seem to be a promise for the future. As systems companies follow the money, they find increasing demand for security and compliance support. This has favored the larger, big-name enterprise resource plans.
This advantage is fanned by zealous procurement professionals who push HR and learning professionals to use the same systems and to merely turn on a module switch rather than buy stand-alone systems. All this leaves much to be desired.
In 2010, the increasing flood of baby boomer retirements and the dearth of next-generation talent have intersected to create a talent crisis. Development is both an imperative and a differentiator when attracting the best talent to the company. Individualized development and systems support is firmly a part of the learning agenda. Companies have recognized a pragmatic solution tailored to real people beats the complexity and unwieldiness of older bureaucratic competency approaches.
In 2010, the most common organizational structure still places the learning function under the HR umbrella, but we are seeing learning starting to take over HR rather than the other way around — many of the CLOs are becoming the heads of human resources. Over the last five years, we have seen learning professionals become very astute at understanding the value proposition and issue of their clients. In fact, they are businesspeople first and learning professionals second.
In 2007, we started to see the job description of more CLOs include talent management responsibilities. This change eliminated the inefficiencies, duplications, communication disconnects, higher costs and lower quality associated with separating talent management and development.
As capability building moved away from classroom courses and toward experience-based and coaching-based approaches, it was only natural for the CLO to also be the head talent officer, to run the succession process and to tie development efforts directly to the business unit strategies.
Having learning specialists and HR strategic business partners help the same line management populations created more pressure. This worked marginally, as long as the clients saw these people as part of the same team. Eventually, however, the line managers who kept seeing two human capital people in the room at every meeting forced one of them off of their cost structure and out of their Outlook appointment calendars.
They now demand one individual help them find integrated talent management and human capital solutions. Both line managers and enterprise system integrators have forced a shotgun marriage of learning and HR. The resulting organization looks like a talent management and organization development service provider that also provides core systems, content and integrated human capital solutions.
The final piece of the 2010 learning landscape has to do with the resolution of tension between the core versus business units regarding who should own the budget, head count and control over the human capital function. When the pendulum swings too far to the business units or departments, the result is disjointed silos, duplication of efforts and inconsistency of process and methods. When the pendulum swings too far to the core, there is excessive bureaucracy, a lack of pragmatism, irrelevance and low acceptance by the units.
The inevitable solution was a matrix with a core function that provides systems, processes, content, purchasing and customized solutions. The talent/performance consultants are jointly hired by the core and the business unit. They live in and are a part of the business operation while they receive training, career support, tools and processes from the core.
Different organizations use a combination of dotted- and solid-line designations that work for them. Consultant head count is paid for in the units. A centralized budget takes care of the costs for the core. It also pays for core systems, tools and head count.
The Ideal Successor
The ideal 2010 CLO successor will be a credible and influential business leader with deep talent development and learning expertise, as well as uncompromising ethical character.
CLO candidates will be widely respected for business acumen as a primary orientation and consistently will contribute to resolving all dimensions of complex business issues. Successful candidates will powerfully and appropriately influence committed action across disparate global cultures to make learning, education and talent development ubiquitous throughout the organization. They will demonstrate highly developed skills in influencing, partnering and change leadership, independent of positional authority or control.
Ultimately, the CLO will guide the development of a comprehensive enterprise human capital growth agenda that cultivates organizational capability for sustainable business success.
Invitation for a Continuing Conversation
We have only begun to scratch the surface of the most fascinating job in the world. Web 2.0 is dramatically changing the environment in which CLOs will operate. Although the future is unknowable, we are certainly able and obligated to try and discern what it might mean for our organizations.
You chose this profession because you share the belief that it is the most exciting, fulfilling and worthwhile position you can imagine. Now, we ask you to take this conversation deeper with us.
Send me an e-mail with your reaction, response, additions and insights to the challenges and opportunities for the CLO of the future. Help us all shape our understanding of what this role can offer future generations. Make a contribution to the blog conversation at http://fredharburg.squarespace.com/.
Fred Harburg is a private consultant, writer and speaker in the disciplines of leadership, strategy and performance coaching. He has held numerous international leadership roles at IBM, GM, Motorola and Fidelity Investments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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