As organizations grapple with the challenges of a dynamic global economy, digital disruption and the constant need for upskilling and reskilling their workforces, Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) have become pivotal figures in shaping the future of modern businesses. Executive leaders are moving past outdated practices that kept employee learning in a silo and recognizing that it plays a crucial role in achieving their broader business goals.
Let’s discuss how the CLO role has evolved to go beyond traditional training and development to become a strategic position that drives innovation and cultivates talent to drive long-term business growth.
The modern Chief Learning Officer
Functioning primarily as a training director, the responsibilities of a traditional CLO typically included to design and implement:
In prior decades, a typical CLO’s objective was to bring the workforce up to speed with current organizational standards. Now, businesses have realized the potential for learning to contribute to a company’s competitive evolution, so the role of a CLO is less about compliance, and more about breaking current molds to launch a business into its next phase.
- Designing educational resources that prioritize accessibility and equity at all levels
- Thinking beyond short-term skills training to include other credentials such as degrees, high school diplomas and professional certifications
- Aligning employee learning objectives with organizational goals
- Implementing modern and accessible learning tools
- Facilitating an organizational culture shift to make learning a foundational aspect of day-to-day life
While every company is different, it’s common to see learning and development (L&D) – the CLO’s primary domain – as part of a broader Human Resources (HR) department. The CLO is rarely the same person as the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). The latter oversees a wider scope of responsibilities whereas the former focuses on learning, development and education. The two executives can function as invaluable partners and allies, working together to strategize L&D with other elements of HR to foster a more impactful employee experience. In many cases, the CLO reports to the CHRO, whereas the CHRO reports to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Challenges facing learning & development teams right now
The modern workplace is continuously changing. This means that the learning and resources required to remain adaptable and competitive have to keep pace as well.
Presently, L&D teams are not only encouraged to revamp existing programs but also to undertake complete overhauls on how learning is delivered to employees. This is due to:
- Rapid technological advancements, such as automation and artificial intelligence
- Growing skills gaps between employee skill sets and organizational needs
- Shortages of skilled talent across all industries
- A growing need for workforces to be more agile and prepared for unforeseen disruptions
- Cultural shifts and prioritizing diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives
It’s the responsibility of a Chief Learning Officer to liaise with the rest of the C-suite to understand what these shifts mean for the business and work with their team to strategize how to address them.
What makes a successful CLO in 2024 and beyond
Evolution is a constant in the world of a Chief Learning Officer. Consequently, it’s crucial for an individual in this role to embrace habits and behaviors that fortify their individual position and overall team, today and for the future.
Challenging the status quo
Don’t continue to rely on learning strategies that are difficult to measure or don’t positively contribute to business goals. The path of least resistance may be easy to fall back on, but that’s not going to drive long-term organizational change. Successful CLOs can take a critical look at current initiatives and restructure where necessary to make the most of their L&D dollars and be able to point to measurable impact.
Align employee learning to business goals
On the subject of impact, a modern CLO also needs to be able to look beyond talent goals and showcase how L&D impacts the greater goals of the business. For example, if the company needs to grow by a certain percentage each year, how will learning and development contribute to this? For stakeholders outside of HR, understanding how individual employee learning folds into company growth may be difficult to conceptualize. The CLO should be able to paint a clear picture of this.
Lean into data-driven insights to inform decision-making
Being data-driven is not just a trend, it’s a necessity. It ensures that L&D performance is measurable in order to maximize cost-effectiveness. While it’s unlikely that a CLO is involved in the day-to-day of data collection and analytics, they are the one who needs to lead the push for investing in L&D programs that are measurable. Being able to quantify the impact of these initiatives is what enables L&D leaders to make the case for additional investment year after year.
Build a forward-thinking team
One of the benefits of being a leader is the ability to build like-minded teams. A forward-thinking CLO has the power to populate the team with individuals who have forward-thinking mindsets that can help drive real change within the organization.
Skills are important, but individuals who are also open to change and have a progressive attitude are just as crucial for driving innovative L&D strategies. These professionals should think beyond compliance and role-specific training, and come to the table with ideas to improve accessibility, improve engagement and build a culture of learning within your organization.
Leverage modern solutions that can be tailored to your business needs
Creating a transformational L&D experience isn’t possible if the organization is still using outdated methods and solutions. For a modern CLO, the programs put forth should be accessible, modern and relevant to the goals they are trying to reach. Each organization has different needs, challenges and priorities and as such, relying on one-size-fits-all initiatives isn’t going to serve these needs. Instead, they have to consider solutions that can be tailored to their unique workforce.
For instance, if a company has a large employee population with non-traditional educational backgrounds (no degree, some college, etc.), it’s important to consider what type of learning they need and how to deliver it in an accessible way that enables them to pick up where they left off.
The future of the Chief Learning Officer
In today’s fast-paced, ever-evolving workplace landscape Chief Learning Officers don’t need to be confined to the sidelines. They are emerging as key strategists who are actively driving progress and instrumental in aligning learning objectives with broader business goals, ultimately shaping the future of forward-thinking businesses in a way that ensures adaptability, innovation and continued success.