What’s really on the minds of CLOs today? Where do they believe they can make the biggest impact? I recently convened a group of global learning executives for presentations and discussions on the future of learning. There were many points of agreement and some points of dissent, but a number of important themes emerged.
Create a Proactive Learning Organization
We all want to align learning with the business, but does that mean doing the will of the organization or helping create that will? Learning needs to do more of the latter, said the group. As Bob Fryer of the National Health Service University in the U.K. summed up, the kind of alignment needed from learning is a “planned irreverence.” But learning executives must earn their seat at the table by enhancing their credibility. How? Start with the basics: Read trade journals, as well as articles on your company and its top competitors. Attend trade conferences (not just training conferences) to learn more about your industry’s dynamics. Network inside the company to learn each division’s top strategic priorities. This will prepare you to develop the processes, tools and governing structures to align learning to help shape business goals.
Establish Hard Measures of Success
Remember the saying, “If you’re not keeping score, it’s just practice”? Let’s face it, learning organizations mostly track the easy-to-find inputs to learning: number of enrollments, hours delivered, certifications or student scores. But it’s the outputs that turn a good CLO into a great one: how learning improves time to competency, greater involvement of leaders as teachers, and increases in sales, productivity and customer retention. Then comes the even harder part: correlating enterprise-wide data to learning data to identify insights that can have enormous value for the business.
Re-Skill Your Learning Staff
CLOs are only successful when their staffs are successful, and that means focusing on the skills they need (and you need) for the entire learning organization to succeed. As Rob Campbell of the Cerner Corp. summarized, “Winning programs create winning teams,” not the other way around. Building a winning program means creating the conditions whereby a staff moves beyond focusing only on the learning skill set to consider things like business acumen, strategic planning, financial management, project management and account management. In other words, you and your staff must be able to define the hard outcomes of an investment in learning to management, while still exceeding their expectations.
Communicate Your Value
If there is one common mistake among learning executives, it’s the belief that organizations will naturally notice their good work. In fact, moving from good to great doesn’t happen without self-promotion. You can put the best processes and scorecards into place, but if you do not have a communications plan for showcasing your value, you still will not reach the next level. Here are a few things to consider:
- Draft your own “Learning Annual Report.” (See “In Conclusion” in the March 2004 issue, www.clomedia.com/0304inconclusion.)
- Write the script for the business value the learning organization is creating. Work with the director of investor relations to see if it can be included in the company’s annual report.
- Develop a stretch goal for your learning organization to apply for and win awards, considering associations outside of the learning space.
- Convene a series of outreach stakeholder meetings with each business unit to review the past year’s contribution of learning to the success of the business.
- Create a series of “approved credentials” for how your learning organization played a role in achieving hard business measures such as increased sales, increased customer retention and increased time to competency.
The CLOs I am working with are energized about the untapped potential represented by the difference between a good learning organization and a great one. Do these themes resonate with you? What others are on your mind?
Jeanne C. Meister is vice president of market development at Accenture Learning. Comments on this article can be sent to Jeanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.