According to Larry Israelite, author of “Lies About Learning: Leading Executives Separate Truth from Fiction in a $100 Billion Industry,” there might be some, shall we say, untruths floating about in the learning and development realm.
The first and perhaps most obvious of these is that because you have a “C” in front of your title, you automatically are invited to a seat at the executive round table. Terence Traut, Israelite’s peer, as well as president and COO of training company Entelechy Inc., said that’s a lie.
“There has been recognition of the importance of learning in the organization, and that can be attributed to the ‘C’ in CLO,” he explained. “But in some organizations, that C-level title is title only, and training is still looked at as a support function or a stepchild.”
This isn’t exactly news to senior-level learning practitioners, but Traut said to consider this particular “lie” as it relates to credibility — it’s challenging for CLOs to create the same or a similar level of credibility other C-level executives enjoy.
“Nobody questions COOs, CFOs or CIOs at the table because they have proven themselves over the years,” Traut said. “We in learning tend to generate a lot of hype for ourselves. For example, in the book, Larry refers to the hype around e-learning — E-learning is basically going to save the organization. It’s going to cut costs, save travel time and, basically, everybody’s going to love it. ‘Build it, and they will come.’ We can build it, but often we’re building something that doesn’t really support the organization. CLOs sometimes hitch their wagon to that e-learning or some other learning star, and it results in a huge outlay of cash, a huge upset of infrastructure and little results. This isn’t the way to build credibility.”
Another lie is that having a CLO means the organization understands the value of learning. Not so, Traut said.
In many cases, the “C” is attached to the CLO, and organizations still don’t understand how learning contributes to the bottom line. “CLOs need to continually evaluate how they’re positioning the value of their suggestions in operational, business or return-on-investment terms — act like the other C-levels,” Traut said. “What you’re positioning to the organization should be some sort of solution to a business, efficiency customer satisfaction or other kind of problem. Chief learning officers can do well by mimicking what their fellow C-levels are talking about.”
Israelite, who is also vice president and manager of human resource development at Liberty Mutual Group, said that in reality, there is no executive table. Further, CLOs spend far too much time looking for it, let alone trying to get a seat at it.
“We should look down more than we look up,” Israelite said. “If the goal for a learning person, CLO, vice president of human resource development, training manager, is to somehow add value, we ought to spend our time trying to find the people for whom there is value to be added. Find people who have business challenges and help address them. Rarely is this at the executive level.
“If you have to work a few layers down in the organization to do work that matters, you ought to do that. Work across the business to gain credibility as someone whose knowledge, skill, insight and resources can help business units do better business.”
Another common lie, Traut said, is the notion of the CLO position as the learning and development nirvana. In other words, grow and strive in your learning and development career, and at the end of said career, if you’ve reached the pinnacle (that mythical seat at the executive table), you will be CLO.
Israelite suggests something else: Rather than focus on CLO as the end, find something that really plays to your strengths.
“Whether that’s in instructional design and delivery, leading teams or the technology portion of learning, find something that fits you,” Traut said. “And find something that fits the organization because I would guess only 25 percent of the organizations that we deal with specifically have a CLO. That means 75 percent are perfectly happy not having a CLO.”
“This table thing is as much about us trying to feel like our work is valued as it is about anything else,” he said. “It has become such a big thing that it has become distracting, a self-image thing.”
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