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Should organisations have a Chief Learning Officer?


Over the past few years there has been a continual stream of acronyms – CEO, CTO, CFO – and each, in turn, has been identified as a key position required for the development of a successful company. So is there room for another - the CLO (Chief Learning Officer)? Would this role offer any real benefit or is it just another trendy new term? Karina Ward, Marketing Communications Manager of NETg, looks at the argument for Board representation of the training department.

Today's competitive environment demands that organisations are consistently flexible, adaptive and productive in order to succeed. This means making sure individuals within organisations are continually growing and developing at the same pace as changes and advances are occurring in the workplace. To ensure that you need an innovative and dynamic learning programme so staff are always on top of their skills and can respond quickly to change. It is critical that knowledge management is tied into this learning programme so that employers can make use of the often untapped source of knowledge within their company. The learning programme must also be designed to help employees drive towards accomplishing not just their individual goals, but also those of the business.

All this means that rather than periodically training staff in the latest Microsoft applications or the latest business development skills, organisations must carefully target learning to plug individual skill gaps. They must link learning closely to business strategy, and must also effectively manage knowledge internally so that it can be used to improve people performance.

Such a strategic approach to learning, however, means training and HR departments need to be fully aware of and up-to-date with their organisation’s business strategies. But with many organisations still under-representing these departments at Board level, this can be a difficult task. If you want your learning programme to work and to yield a high return on investment (and let’s face it who doesn’t?), it has to be a fundamental part of your company’s strategy and must link in closely with business goals, as well as the individual goals of your staff.

Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed the rise of the IT department from a humble behind-the-scenes helpdesk to a key function in business strategy. Most large organisations now have a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) representing the IT department at Board level in recognition that the right technology strategy is a critical part of a successful business.

So why is it that for many organisations, training and HR is not given the same status? A recent survey carried out independently by NETg, showed that more than half of the organisations asked do not place enough value in their staff to represent their HR department at Board level. It would be interesting to hear just how many readers say their company’s training or HR department is represented at Board level. From my experience it is not enough but I would love to be proved wrong!

As part of the training industry we all know, and most company leaders will agree, that employees are the most important assets to any business. So why is the training department so undervalued and why is the representation of training at Board level not taken more seriously? How can organisations maximise the potential of their human capital if they don't have a top down strategy for managing knowledge and information internally, auditing skills and then delivering the right training to drive productivity and business performance?

Too often learning is seen as a low priority, especially at times when the economy isn’t buoyant but analysis shows that higher spend on training is directly linked to higher business productivity.

Forward thinking companies which take learning seriously recognise that learning is not a cost, but an employee motivational tool and self-confidence and productivity booster, which all help to build a strong and successful business. These are organisations where lifelong learning is embedded in the company culture, where learning and knowledge management are closely matched to business strategies, and where the role of a Chief Learning Officer would not be an alien concept.

In my opinion, staff development, whether led by the training or the HR department, deserves and needs Boardroom status. A CLO, or someone in an equivalent senior position, would ensure that learning and knowledge management are successfully linked to staff performance and are seen as an integral part of the company strategy. A learning programme should be flexible enough to move dynamically with rapid changes in the economic environment and business goals, and should ensure that staff are focused and have all the knowledge they need at their fingertips to perform to the maximum.

But this can only be achieved if senior learning professionals are able to play a key part in contributing to the strategic direction of their organisation through critical areas such as succession planning, recruitment competencies and knowledge management. Organisations which have approached technology in a similar way and have linked the use of IT to business goals through Board level representation of the IT department have reaped the rewards. It is high time we saw the same done for learning.

Do you see the need for Chief Learning Officers? Post your opinion below.

And you can access the digest of this month's articles on Adding Value in Training.


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