The “chief” designation in the chief learning officer title often doesn’t amount to much.
Learning professionals are frequently criticized for not understanding the business and not getting strategy. To be truly effective and authentic CLOs, learning leaders must develop a broad understanding of the organizational context and act as business advisors.
In the fourth part of a wide-ranging discussion on enterprise learning, we asked industry leaders and Chief Learning Officer columnists Josh Bersin and Elliott Masie to share their thoughts on the perceptions of learning leaders and what those leaders can do to tackle the challenges ahead.
Masie, the chair and CLO of the the Masie Center’s Learning Consortium, offered three pieces of advice for learning leaders looking to improve their strategic influence in the organization:
1) Avoid using learning terms and rhetoric. Instead, use the terms of your business. “A lot of the learning world and learning leaders, their language is way off,” he said.
2) Understand business levers. Those levers include getting talent in place and ensuring employees and their organizations have the skills and processes needed to be agile and ready for change. “If you don’t have that laser-like focus as to what you are about, you lose some credibility,” he said.
3) Broaden career expectations and experience. Masie said most recent big hires for CLO positions were people who were not career learning professionals. “They were people who were business professionals and along the way got interested and fell in love with learning,” he said.
Bersin, principal and founder of industry analyst firm Bersin & Associates, suggested CLOs focus on business strategy and organizational change. Specifically,:
1) Be laser-focused on a small number of key business issues. “Companies are not going to be tolerant of grandiose plans and strategies for the next year,” he said.
2) Be a change agent. Many companies are restructuring, downsizing and shifting their business models at a rapid rate. “How can you facilitate that change?” Bersin said.
3) Assume fewer resources. “Don’t put together a plan or a strategy or a proposal that involves spending a lot more money,” Bersin said. “Figure out how to do it with the resources you have or maybe a little less.”
Learning leaders who maintain and build this strategic focus improve their standing and influence, and live up to the promise and intention of the chief learning officer title.
“They are business advisors and internal coaches and the people with the portfolio [on how] the organization is truly going to learn, recover and adapt,” Masie said. “They reduce the conversation about learning, but build up the business context where learning, where appropriate, is the perfect solution regardless of how it’s being delivered.”
Masie said it’s important for people in the industry to maintain the integrity of the CLO title as the “internal wisdom point for a broad spectrum of business knowledge, human behavior, talent, competency and agility.”
“We’ve got to be careful not to devalue that title by giving it to the vice president for training,” he continued. “If the CLO reports to the vice president for HR, I would argue that it’s not a CLO job. It really needs to be one that is impacting the ultimate business.”
Listen in to a recording of Bersin and Masie’s full conversation in the latest Chief Learning Officer podcast at www.clomedia.com/podcast.
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