First, the chief learning officer must understand the perspective of senior management, who usually are alumni of a school system that tolerates the bell-curve/social-promotion paradigm rather than the mastery-of-learning-and-performance paradigm. Because of their school experience, executives often view education and training as “nice to do” programs if the organization is having a good year. In fact, in years of prosperity, the training function may receive a budget increase, but in a year of stagnant or declining revenues and profits, there usually is a significant reduction in funding.
Senior and line executives want a competitive workforce that knows more and does more, providing a strategic advantage for the organization. They want maximum productivity from their workforce. That is why a number of organizations are appointing an executive to the new position of chief learning officer. But how does a CLO meet the high expectations of this new position?
One of the prime responsibilities of a chief learning officer is to educate the senior management team on why training and performance systems are a “must do” investment of resources that can increase revenues, decrease operating expenses, enhance earnings and increase market share. The training and performance function is just as important as finance, marketing, product development, customer service, human resources, information technology, etc. The suggested messages in this article must be relayed within 30 minutes at key executive meetings.
Key Messages for the CEO and Senior Executive Team
It is important to remind the executive team that the “cost of people” (payroll, benefits and support systems) is probably the number-one expense within an organization. It certainly will be at least the number-two expense. The “cost of people” does not appear on the profit or loss statement or on the balance sheet. Therefore, the chief learning officer needs to work with the chief financial officer to obtain this key figure. At the same meeting, the CLO must find out the average cost to hire an employee and the average cost (payroll and benefits) of every new employee. In challenging economic times, it is important that all tasks are accomplished with a minimum of personnel. This only happens when there is an outstanding training and performance department. In too many organizations, there are personnel who are not focused on the key tasks of their job, and there are other employees who have an unreasonable workload. They simply do not have an embraceable responsibility, resulting in poor performance.
Using a few key examples, the chief learning officer should also remind the senior management team that new strategic directions and major tactical decisions are only successfully implemented by a well-trained and supported workforce of employees and managers. The poor performance of implementing quality programs in past years as a new strategic direction by most organizations is an example of inadequate training, as well as not knowing how to create and manage change.
To be competitive, every organization must focus on the quality and cost of each product and service that it offers. An untrained workforce results in low quality and higher costs, as well as declining market share. Be sure to have a few examples of low-performing companies.
For example, no matter how good the products or services are, increased sales only occur with a well-trained marketing organization and sales force. There are numerous examples of bankrupt companies that made the mistake of having low-cost “order takers” rather than well-trained sales personnel who create new and additional business. Cost containment is one of the great benefits achieved by adequate training and support programs.
Many people believe that chief executive officers and senior vice presidents know all this. Not true. If you were to ask a group of CEOs and senior vice presidents why they invest in a training organization, you would be shocked at the weak answers they provide. It is a rare member of the senior management team who understands the true value of a training and performance department.
Systems Approach for Workforce Performance
Less than 1 percent of senior and line executives realize that there is a proven methodology to develop a competitive workforce that knows more and does more. The Systems Approach for Workforce Performance was developed over a period of years with 15 major corporations and government agencies, and it was endorsed by the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD). How many executives know that their training organization should include performance consultants that are knowledgeable about the major areas of the organizations that implement the Systems Approach for Workforce Performance? Again, less than 1 percent. That is why millions of employees go to work each day not properly trained or supported to do their job.
The CLO must be able to explain the Systems Approach for Workforce Performance.
In Step One, the chief learning officer and the personnel within the training and performance department must understand all the factors that impact the objectives of the corporation or government agency. The CLO must educate line management in Step Two on why it is important to review the basic processes within an organization when a new strategic direction is implemented or a major new tactical decision is approved to ensure that the major processes are being performed in the most cost-effective manner. Performance consultants can help line management in this task, but Step Two is primarily the responsibility of line executives.
In Step Three, the performance consultants identify the performance requirements for all key jobs by documenting what employees must know and be able to do. In Step Four, performance consultants work with instructional designers on developing and enhancing the training and support systems that create a performance system for each major job category. The performance system consists of:
- Personal development activities.
- On-the-job training.
- Performance-based training.
- Basic support systems.
- Electronic performance support system (although not every job requires an EPSS).
As you can tell, training is a major part of a performance system, but training alone will not achieve maximum productivity from the workforce.
In Step Five, performance consultants work with the human resources department on reward and recognition systems that motivate employees and managers to aim for optimum performance. In Step Six, line management must do the coaching task as well as the performance appraisal tasks. Feedback from the performance management system enables performance consultants to enhance the performance systems. Finally, performance consultants and line management should benchmark the performance of key jobs against the performance of competitors.
This simple six-step Systems Approach for Workforce Performance works in organizations that have 100 to 1 million employees. When a CEO and the senior executives understand this methodology, they quickly realize that the training and performance department is as important as the finance, information technology and human resources departments. The CLO will know that he has developed a working partnership with the CEO and senior vice presidents when they believe that the CLO is as important as the CIO.
To be the leader within an industry, an organization must have outstanding performers in both the CLO and CIO positions because these two departments enable employees and managers to become a competitive workforce and achieve the goals of the organization. When this happens, a senior management team will want to ensure that line management has both outstanding performance systems and information systems to achieve optimum performance.
Key Questions for a CEO to Ask Line Management
One of the most important responsibilities of a senior executive and a CEO is to ask the right questions of line management. For example, Jack Welch, the world-famous CEO of GE, always asked a general manager of an operating unit, “What technology or invention by a competitor would greatly erode your market share, and what are you doing to avoid such a debacle?”
Here is a list of questions that every CEO or senior vice president should be asking their line management about workforce performance:
- Have you communicated your new strategic directions and major tactical decisions to the training and performance department?
- Working with the training department, have you identified the key jobs that have a major impact on increasing revenues and containing costs?
- Have performance requirements been developed for each key job within your organization?
- Are the training and support systems for each major job adequate in order to achieve maximum performance and productivity from the workforce?
- Are we using instructional design methods to ensure over 99 percent success in learning and performance and to minimize time away from the job?
- Do we use cost-effective delivery systems to minimize expenses?
- Does each performance system utilize the four levels of quality measurements to ensure that our training and support systems have a positive impact and that employees and managers actually implement the lessons and support systems?
- Are you allocating sufficient resources to train and support the key jobs within your area of responsibility?
How different these questions are from the typical ones that senior executives ask when they have not been educated on the value of a competitive workforce:
- Is all the training and education necessary during this difficult economic period?
- What would happen to our organization if we reduced the training budget by 10 percent or 25 percent?
- What quality measurements do we have in these training programs, and are the lessons applied to the job?
- How can we have our employees attending training classes when everyone must be focused on the objectives for the current month?
Now is the time to take some bold steps to develop a working partnership with the CEO and the senior executives. Do not wait for the next budget cycle.
This is a giant step forward from being a manager of training who merely publishes a catalog of “nice to do” courses while the executive team tries to achieve better performance through out-of-date shame-and-fear tactics. A top-performing chief learning officer moves the training department from the bell-curve paradigm to the mastery-of-training-and-performance paradigm. The focus is on job performance that translates into increased revenues, lower operating expenses and enhanced earnings.
To play in the major league with the CEO and senior management team, the CLO must adopt a proven methodology to achieve dramatic breakthroughs in workforce performance. The Systems Approach for Workforce Performance is available today. It does not have to be invented—just implemented. Yes, it requires leadership skills, which every chief learning officer must have to be successful in this new executive position. A CLO becomes a full member of the executive team when senior and line executives include the CLO in meetings where new strategic directions are developed and new tactical decisions are made because the entire management team realizes that the performance of the workforce is essential to the success of these decisions.
Jack Bowsher is the former chief learning officer of IBM and an education consultant who has consulted with more than 30 major corporations and government agencies. His book, “Revolutionizing Workforce Performance,” was published by Jossey-Bass and endorsed by ASTD. For more information, e-mail Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org.