The New Role of the CLO

In 1991, when Jack Welch made Steve Kerr GE’s, and possibly the world’s first, Chief Learning Officer the business world and the world of learning looked very different. A quarter of a century later it is time to take a fresh look at the position and the key roles it plays in ensuring that learning is running at maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Once again, we will take our cue from the world of fast growing disruptors.  There are three primary roles for a founder/CEO of one of these organizations.  First, they are tasked with keeping the vision and focus on the customer value proposition.  Second, they must attract and retain the best talent for the team. Finally, they have to keep money in the bank (investment). We believe that these same roles must be the focus of the new CLO.

Role 1: Keeper of the Vision and Value Proposition 

For our purpose, we see vision as a longer term, change the world flag.  For example, Uber’s could be “world’s largest logistics company”. By contrast the value proposition has a more near-term focus.  In this case Uber’s could be “making it easy for people to get from point A to point B.  The key is that the value proposition earns you the right to progress towards the vision.  How are we helping today? How is that advancing us towards where we want to be tomorrow?

Both are the vision and the value proposition are critical. Clarity on these two flags makes it clear to all why decisions are made and how priorities get set.  They also provide a roadmap to mark progress against.  Finally focusing on both “making our sales training the best in the industry” and “helping our salespeople close more deals’ shows a commitment to delivering unmistakable value by showing not telling.

Role 2: Talent

There are three parts to the CLO’s role with talent; building the team, deciding who to hire and managing them. The first role requires the CLO to recruit with enthusiasm for the vision, the value proposition and the opportunity to work with other “A” players. But who are you recruiting? In the book, we presented the “Camel Diagram” as a way of focusing resources on high value-added activities in the learning supply chain. For all activities, the CLO must ensure the highest level of professionalism.  This standard and the vetting required is not just for those solutions that are being bought from providers, it must also apply to the CLO’s internal team.

In building this team, CLO’s need to ensure they are hiring two types of people. The first are “Swiss army knives”. These are multiple position players but not “do a little of everything” people.  These are people that have the ability to add deep value in a variety of situations.  These are connectors, coordinators and team players that have the awareness to know what is needed, how to do it or where to get it. The second role is the specialist.  These members should be expert in key high value adding activities that provides competitive advantage to the organization. Undifferentiated expertise can be almost always bought; as needed, at higher quality, for lower cost.

Management of this A-team is not about telling them what to do but rather the CLO must identify the goal and allowing the team to experiment and discover solutions. A mix of empowerment, support and development is crucial.  The CLO must focus on resource management, ensuring that the team is deployed to best deliver the value proposition and achieve its longer-term vision.

A CLO that recruits, builds and manages their team in this way benefits is multiple ways. Enthusiasm creates engaged “co-owners” of the vision and value proposition. Multi-faceted talent allows for highly flexible teams making resourcing easier. And building a culture of problem solvers not solution builders drives innovation from all directions.

Role 3: Keep Money in the Bank

For CLO’s money in the bank means looking at your budget as an investment in your organization’s ability to deliver a return not a savings account to be drawn upon. And your investors are the business executives that control directly or indirectly where the company’s investment dollars should be placed. There are many places that investment can be made and a CLO must be able to show that the investment is best placed with them based on returns not goodwill. CLO’s must be able to clearly pitch for both funding and support.  And beyond the periodic pitch CLO’s must keep their investors informed throughout the year.  These communications should, among other things, demonstrate progress, highlight challenges, and showcase new learnings that will help improve the path forward.

A CLO who can enthusiastically pitch rapidly develops a new relationship with their investors. Communications such as those described above enroll and engages executives differently.  Changing the executive’s perspective and moving the discussion from one of cost to investment. Done properly and consistently it also focuses the discussion not on activity but on value and return.

How do you see your role as CLO?

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