As the CLO profession matures, sustaining strategic learning grows in importance. The initial battles to define the profession and wrestle with the training versus learning dialogue are giving way to a new conversation on sustaining business alignment. Aligning learning with business is at the core of strategic learning and requires a business-first mindset. In 2008, former Shell Oil CEO John Hofmeister articulated this requirement. “Anyone working in a business is a businessperson, so human resources people, for example, are businesspeople with a specialty in human resources,” he said.
The global recession heightened CEO expectations for business-savvy learning professionals. The resulting challenge for CLOs is to ensure their learning organizations have a sustainable pipeline of learning professionals who think and act with a business-first mindset.
How confident are CLOs that their teams can successfully answer these business-first questions?
• How does the business make money?
• Is the business profitable?
• How does the business compare to competitors on key business metrics?
• How effectively is the business using its assets?
• What is the cash flow position of the business?
These questions prompt a call to action for CLOs to examine three key areas affecting their learning organizations: clarifying their expectations on business-first performance, assessing development of business capability and evaluating business rigor in daily learning operations. Continual attention to the following areas drives sustainable business capability within learning organizations.
Performance expectations: Has the CLO clarified and communicated to the learning organization specific expectations of business-first thinking and actions? Do the annual goals and metrics of learning teams reflect accountability for business-first performance? Does the CLO model knowledge of the business? Does the CLO require the learning team to perform with a high level of business rigor, using the same language, processes and tools of the business?
Development: What percentage of the learning team’s development focuses on building business competency? Are there business mentor relationships in place? What percentage of the learning team’s time is spent working directly in the business? Are the finance team and other business leaders fully leveraged to demystify business results with the learning team?
Business rigor: Is a business case required for all requests for learning investments? Are there regular feedback systems in place to assess the learning organization’s solutions and operations? Is there an annual learning plan in place tying actions to business strategy? To what extent are learning solutions co-designed with business leaders? What percentage of learning metrics reflect business impact?
Daisy Ng, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Darden Restaurants Inc., applies many of these practices within her learning organization. “Understanding business is core to creating and delivering valued learning and development solutions to enable our business success,” she said. “Learning professionals need to understand the business strategy, how the business makes money, key business metrics, industry dynamics, workforce dynamics and how people play in the equation of business success.”
CLOs who create sustainable business capability in their learning organizations, deliver business impact. A review of award-winning, strategically aligned learning organizations typically correlates to positive business performance. One example is BB&T regional bank, a three-time American Society for Training and Development BEST award winner for its alignment of learning with strategic business goals.
In October, Jim Cramer of CNBC’s “Mad Money” highlighted BB&T’s profitable growth. According to Cramer, BB&T is one of only three regional banks growing profits during the banking recession. When other banks were lowering dividends, BB&T boosted its shareholder dividends.
Today’s CLOs should be proud of the progress made during the past 20 years in the institutionalization of strategic learning. Businesses see the value and require strategically aligned learning that is sustainable. With the recession as a catalyst, CLOs are increasingly accountable to ensure strategically aligned learning is sustained through a business-first mindset.
Rita Mehegan Smith is vice president of enterprise learning for Ingersoll Rand and dean of Ingersoll Rand University. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.