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What Is a CLO and Why Should I Care?

  1. Can your employees individually relate their job to your mission statement?

  1. Do your consider knowledge critical to your success?

  1. Do you offer employees a career plan that includes learning or growing new skills?

  1. Will your product or service be leapfrogged by competitive technology advances?

  1. If your employees don’t have an answer to a problem, do they know what to do?

If your answer to all these questions is absolutely, then you don’t need to read any further. If not, a CLO may be the answer you need.

A year ago a CEO of a large medical company dropped a phrase that changed my thinking. While discussing personality types and the use of DISC assessments, he mentioned that at many planning meetings, his CLO would elbow him to remind him he was displaying typical D style behavior when presenters were indirect and rambling.

He happened to be my oldest friend, and I laughed picturing him losing interest and growing irritated. The term CLO was new to me. I feigned knowledge but immediately “googled” CLO after our conversation. What I discovered changed how I approach my work. I also found that I am not alone in my ignorance. That gets me excited!

A Chief Learning Officer, “CLO”, links development of people to corporate goals. The position exists in larger organizations and has increasingly become a driver of corporate strategy. The position reports to the CEO or with a lesser title, may be found in HR or IT. The position is often linked to the administration of Learning Management Systems (“LMS”) or Workforce Planning in organizations. 

Most organizations are challenged to do planning, let alone link it to training. Many successful companies struggle to get a budget done before the year begins. Strategic Planning is given lip service. Training is usually focused on specific job skills and rarely tied to any strategic plan. I know because I routinely ask employees, “What is the company strategy and how does your job fit into it?” Very few, if any, can explain. Clearly a need exists for someone to focus on linking training to business objectives. My practice is evolving into a “Rent-a-CLO.” I have found a way to describe myself thanks to my conversation a year ago.

But here’s the challenging part: what to learn? If linking training to static plans was enough, workshops and metric development would be fine. Increasing knowledge would raise productivity and profitability. Here’s the rub: knowledge is changing so quickly that a LMS focused on knowledge transmission is becoming obsolete before it can become fully implemented. Product life cycles are shorter, competition is global, and innovation has immediate coverage through the web. With such rapid change, training must focus not only on content, but also developing continuous learning strategies as a core value. And changing core values takes leadership. And that is why the CLO has risen in prominence in the “C” suites of large companies. 

Asking those questions at the top of this post, usually results in some project for my firm. Of course, knowing how much I have to learn to assist organizations with these questions keeps me learning and growing. What could be better?

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