I attended the Fall 2010 CLO Symposium and saw that you were named CLO of the Year. Congratulations. What are your thoughts about receiving this award? What are some of the key learnings you have gained as a CLO?
Thanks for your note. I am very honored and humbled to have received this award. External recognition of the work we do validates the effort, time and commitment we put into our jobs. As learning professionals, we work hard to align our initiatives with our businesses, create compelling opportunities for employee development and demonstrate the value of our work. Throughout my years in the learning profession, three key learnings stand out.
1. Hire great people. My achievements are the result of an amazing staff. It’s not easy to find resources, budget and head count, but there are many opportunities to add value that don’t cost a lot. Get creative. Find employees who have a passion for learning, enlist their support, and use them to assist you in establishing a learning culture. It’s important for CLOs to have a vision, create a learning strategy and obtain management support, but I don’t do that alone. My staff members are an integral part of all programs, initiatives and deliverables. They are great strategists, leaders, experts and partners. They continue to learn and grow, and they push me to do the same. Their focus on execution, sense of urgency and leading-edge thinking keep my job challenging and rewarding. Surrounding yourself with smart people who have a passion for learning sets great learning organizations apart from good ones.
2. Utilize vendors as partners or adjunct staff. I have built several partnerships with local and global vendors over the years. These trainers, consultants and professors have become invaluable to me and my organization. I can’t hire all of them as employees — nor would all of them want to be hired on — but they act as though they are part of my team. We have the same goals, focus and commitment. Enabling true partnerships with trusted vendors allows me to have a larger staff of talented individuals who can impact on my organization. Use their industry research, obtain good data, and ask vendors to help you learn about what their clients are doing. Vendors offer a wealth of knowledge and can enhance your capabilities. My learning organization’s effectiveness is a result of the highly collaborative partnerships we have with our vendors.
3. Learn from your colleagues. I have learned so much over the years from incredible professionals in the learning space. The collaboration and cooperation we share as learning professionals is truly remarkable. Exchanging best practices and benchmarking is so important in advancing my personal knowledge and growing my staff’s expertise. Participating in conferences, webinars, research and working groups facilitates information sharing and knowledge transfer. Learning from colleagues outside your industry and geography can really enhance your understanding of new practices and approaches. Many people tend to benchmark with organizations that are similar to theirs in size, location and products. It’s best to learn from people who don’t have the same perspective. I find that learning from others who have a different organizational environment and focus broadens my thinking and enables greater innovation. The key is to realize that not every approach, practice or program fits every company. For example, a leadership development program for front-line leaders in a retail organization may have very different content than a leadership development program for engineers in a high-tech organization. Instead of focusing on the differences between these programs, focus on the similarities, and find the best practices that can be implemented in your organization, independent of the industry or audience. The best CLOs are able to take all types of innovative ideas and implement the specific elements that align best within their own organizations.
Tamar Elkeles is chief learning officer and vice president of learning and development at Qualcomm and is the author of The Chief Learning Officer: Driving Value Within a Changing Organization Through Learning and Development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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