The Role of the Chief Learning Officer in the Digital Era

The year was 1989 and Jack Welch, the CEO of GE decided to create a permanent position for the Consultant Steve Kerr- Chief Learning Officer or the CLO. It was the first time a company recognized learning as an integral part of business and since then the role of a CLO has gone through tremendous transition and evolution.

A Business Partner

With everything going digital, it is obvious that learning and development cannot be a lone island. If you go by the words of Dr. Sydney Savion, The CLO of Air New Zealand, the role of chief learning officer has evolved from organizing learning and training programs to a business partner who is responsible for coming up with learning solutions that is in sync with organizational aim.

Return on Investment

Traditionally a CLO was responsible for arranging, learning or training sessions. These sessions were on a fixed interval, in form of seminars or workshops. Employees or learners will get an email regarding the timings and they joined the session. Once over, no one measured the take away or return on Investment for the same. However, data analysis has created a ripple in the learning and development space. Pat Lynch, The VP Enablement excellence and innovation Mindtickle concurs that companies now ask for return on investment from chief learning officer.

Automation has enabled companies to have a clear picture of the impact each business vertical makes. Take the example of the role shift in chief marketing officer as soon as automation enabled an objective measurement of marketing strategy’s impact on success of business. Lynch believes that with marketing automation software, CMO’s position in the hallowed C-Suite turned out to be more strategic. The same automation when applied on learning enables a strategic shift to chief learning officer responsibilities that is now more on the lines of a business partner.

Purpose Oriented and Integrated to Overall Strategy

The avenue of learning and development is not a standalone segment anymore, but it is more goal driven and meshed in business fabric. Companies like GE are understanding the significance of a robust learning framework. Digitization means chief learning officer responsibilities are more strategic and they partner important organizational goals and milestones. It is prudent for a CLO to see the organization as a client and frame a learning program keeping in mind the tangible value it can add as an efficient client servicing.

In a dynamic workforce that is technologically driven, a CLO requires flexible learning curve to understand the learning needs along with a cross-cultural empathy and high levels of emotional intelligence. Add to it, sharp technical knowhow to create the perfect training module that appeals and adds value to all its stakeholders. As CLO, there should be an out and out understanding of company power and relationship dynamics. You need to understand how C-Suite communicates with Managers, how employees react to the top ranks’ communication. You do not just frame disconnected training programs anymore, but act as an analyzer of human resources in the organization.

The Current Workforce

Millennials form the core of any organization and the generation before it, the Generation Z are fast moving up the corporate ladder. As a Chief Learning Officer you need to understand the way these people function. They need on-the-job crisp and dynamic learning. Attention spans are decreasing and dependency on technology is increasing. Creating intuitive training module that is on-the-go and almost a daily exercise gets the attention of the workforce.

As a CLO you need to align your goals with that of the CEO and deliver learning solutions that form a part of business strategy with a measurable return on investment. You design a strategy that is driven by technology and is customized to understand the gaps in learning and scale up as the learning strategy moves ahead.

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