The Chief Learning Officer, CLO, is one of the newer members of the C-suite, first appearing on org charts in the late ’90s. At the time, the emphasis was on providing traditional forms of learning (initially in the classroom, later adding online or e-learning) to ensure employees had the knowledge, skills, and capabilities to perform their jobs. This rather narrow view of the CLO’s role has steadily broadened over time.
While my own title is CLO, I have seen it characterized as Chief Development Officer, Chief Engagement Officer, Chief Culture Officer, Chief Career Officer, or even Chief Capability Officer. We see many such varied titles reflecting the evolution of the role, the evolution of what organizations need, and the evolution of how people learn and what they expect in today’s fast and fluid work environments.
Companies can no longer expect they will have their employees for decades and be able to foster them to grow and contribute over a long timetable. Today’s employees change jobs more rapidly, meaning employers must provide development more quickly, move people more regularly, and give employees more tools to manage their own careers.
Regardless of our official title, CLOs are charged with thinking beyond the traditional view of learning as a series of planned educational events. It’s really a process of continuous learning, built around four E’s: education, experience, exposure, and environment. We know people learn on the job and from people they interact with every day—research tells us that 70 percent of learning occurs outside of formal programs.1 So, while formal education opportunities still have their place, we need orchestrate experiences on the job, exposures to others via networks and relationships, and the environment or culture of the organization itself2 to accelerate development.
I remember when a business unit CEO asked me, “Eric, how do we develop our practitioners three times faster than our competitors?” His viewpoint was that it wasn’t our content or what we teach or develop in our people that provides a competitive advantage; it’s doing it faster than someone else.
Integrating learning into everyday work life via experiences and exposures and providing just-in-time performance support is particularly important for developing younger generations, who are hard-wired to learn in smaller, bite-size pieces. The fundamental model of hours in the classroom or in e-learning isn’t always the right solution.
Because people (of all generations) only have so much bandwidth to pay attention to all the aspects of their careers and lives, we need to highlight what we want them to pay attention to on the job. That means looking holistically at the organizational capabilities that are needed, rather than focusing purely on competencies, and targeting learning to develop those capabilities.
One of the things we’re doing at Deloitte is to ask our professionals to develop more holistic personal development plans. These plans include not only classes to take and education to complete, but also exposure and experience activities to help them develop in the areas they need to focus on.
To help them develop these plans, we provide structure and guidance and potential road maps, such as drop-down lists and examples of different activities they can do aligned with different capabilities or competencies. So, if someone needs to get better at doing X, we may offer different types of on-the-job activities that correspond to that need. The practitioner commits to doing some number of these, and in the course of his or her regular project engagements, has a conversation with the project manager to make sure that in the context of completing the practitioner’s regular engagement activities, the developmental activities are included as well.
The forces of the 4 E’s are already at play. The CLO’s challenge is to harness these forces—the natural energy that’s already occurring—to help employees to develop in the context of what they do and the people they interact with day to day. Today’s CLO is more strategic, more holistically oriented, and probably shouldn’t be called a Chief “Learning” Officer at all.
1Training Industry, The 70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development
2Continuous Learning Model, Bersin by Deloitte.