With two decades of experience as a learning leader, Time-Warner Cable CLO Pat Crull has been practicing successful CLO habits even before such terms were coined.
With a background in clinical psychology, including a doctorate from Northwestern University, Crull knew plenty about how people learn but less about how businesses earn.
She soon saw the link between the two and almost immediately began to understand her company’s strategic decisions and how to integrate learning into them.
“I think a really good CLO with business presence influences the direction the business is going,” Crull said. “If we as CLOs are not able to do that, our function becomes only a support group. It is far less effective because it is too reactionary, not strategic and not future-oriented.
“I don’t think anything harms learning programs faster than a leader who thinks exclusively as a learning expert and who is unable to translate the learning benefits into the jargon of the business.”
Simply understanding isn’t enough, however — the ability to translate business speak into terms learning professionals can understand is essential. This is applicable not just for CLOs but for anyone in any learning position in a for-profit company. Quicker mastery of each will result in a deeper understanding between departments.
Crull sees this as a hurdle for future CLOs, especially if they come from a learning background with no experience in business.
“One of the skills that I have consciously developed through the years is the ability to translate the language of training into terms that are understood and valued by executives in the organization, operations persons, marketing persons, etc.,” Crull said. “The skill almost always requires translating learning and development benefits into ROI for the business. It’s fun, of course, when I’m with our learning experts, who are designing or doing the needs analyses, to talk in pure ‘trainer terms,’ but that doesn’t happen once I leave the learning offices.”
Often, knowing each language allows learning professionals to go a step further from translating ideas to selling them. Traditionally, the boardroom discussion is focused on financial strategy, and it can be intimidating for a CLO when constantly asked to show learning’s ROI, an aspect of the business without clear metrics.
If a learning leader can speak both languages, Crull said that individual will have a much better ability to sell ideas to the boardroom.
Besides theoretical changes in the CLO position, technology innovations also have changed the CLO position.
From classroom-based learning to e-learning and instructor-led training to computer-led training, nothing short of a revolution has happened in the field over the past few years. With an increased business sense, nimble language skills and an increased ability to sell ideas, Crull said we haven’t yet begun to see how innovations can change the role of the CLO.
“To have a vision for what learning and development can do in the organization and to passionately articulate that message to one’s team and to the entire organization — that’s vital to be a successful CLO,” she said.
– Ben Warden, email@example.com
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