So, You Aren't a CLO - Do You Deserve to Be

So, You Aren't a CLO - Do You Deserve to Be

So, You Aren't a CLO - Do You Deserve to Be?

Written exclusively for Training Industry, Inc.

By Doug Harward
February 2008

Chief Learning Officer - CLO. An impressive title, isn't it? It speaks volumes about an organization's respect for the importance of training, and for the individual who oversees this critical business function. It also implies that the top training executive has ascended to the coveted executive "C-Suite," where he or she enjoys unfiltered access to all other department heads, the CEO, and occasionally even the Board of Directors. In short, it signals that training has arrived.

But alas, there's a problem. The title hasn't exactly swept the corporate world since it was first introduced in the 1990's. We have magazines that promote the idea. We now have emerging certifications to help with training on how to be a CLO. So why is it that only eight percent of Fortune 1000 companies currently employ a C-level executive directly responsible for training, according to our research at Training Industry, Inc.? Nor is it a fast-growing club, expanding at a slim two percent each year.

Could it be that the lion's share of corporate chieftains lack confidence in training professionals? Do they doubt that we are first rate strategic thinkers who fully comprehend and embrace their business plans, and thus are not qualified for membership in the Executive Club? Do they think that we are great at spending the company's money, but lack strategic understanding of how to contribute to the long term success of the business? The sad answer, it appears, is that for the most part they do.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I think they're right.

The simple fact is that within many companies, there are profound disconnects between training departments and top tier executives. For starters, it often seems that we don't all speak the same language - the language of business. Trainers are largely unfamiliar with the profit-and-loss calculations used to justify most departments, and the return-on-investment concepts spoken in the boardroom. As a result, senior executives do the logical thing. They appoint someone else to interface with us - the senior HR Executive, the CFO, or the COO. Whose fault is that? I believe it's ours!

Secondly, training departments typically don't follow a business model to justify their existence. They follow an academic one in which success is defined by the number of students who enroll for a portfolio of available courses. Talk about "old school!" Most cannot articulate their value contribution. How much money did they make the company by having better trained employees? How much money did they save the company by having sufficiently trained customers?

Yet, when I asked three different Training Directors (not CLOs) to identify their single biggest challenge, their answers were very similar: All are being pressed to demonstrate how their organizations contribute value to their companies.

A more businesslike approach would be to provide training based entirely on the business's needs, using Pareto analysis and other organizational input. I like to call this on-demand, or needs-based learning. It is the opposite of supply-based training curriculums. We measure the success on how the business improves, and then we move onto the next business issue.

Now I know you are thinking, what about courses that develop well rounded employees? My answer is that if we can't justify the value of having well rounded employees, then who says we should be doing it? And, if you believe it's your responsibility to provide training courses that don't contribute financial value to the business, then how do you know how much money you should spend on the training?

This brings me to the venerable main stay of many workforce training organizations, the university model. Under this academic model, training managers develop and/or procure courses, create a curriculum to market available programs, and allow open enrollment for employees who feel they "need" the training. They create a business for learning inside the company. This model is endorsed by many training managers and corporate leaders who believe that training is a "right" of every employee. It's provided as a benefit, like 401k plans.

Trust me on this point: Corporate executives believe exactly the opposite. If they can reduce the overall cost of training they provide, they will. Who would argue that many executives still view training as a cost to the business as opposed to an investment?

This is why virtually every training leader is under ongoing pressure to reduce the costs of learning. Few are being asked to spend more on training. When executives provide a directive to do more training, it is in response to solving a business problem. Executives do not want to add more titles to the curriculum portfolio.

So, if you want to be considered an asset to the corporation and you seek the title of CLO, then start looking for ways to positively contribute to the corporation's bottom line. Justify the next training program based on how it contributes to the profitability of the company. Use the language that the CFO uses. Only when the top training executive truly deserves the title of CLO will he or she gain respect for ensuring that training becomes a full partner committed to helping the company meet its business goals.

So, is all this just radical thinking? Is it realistic to think that you can reduce the amount of courses your organization delivers and still create great value for the company? I have two suggestions for you.

First, sit down with the executives and ask them what they think about the state of your training programs. I'm willing to bet they have an opinion. And, they will respect you for initiating the conversation.

Second, stop relying solely on the evaluation results of your students. Sure, their view of the quality of your training is important. And, I'm not suggesting that you don't measure their views at all - just don't rely on it alone. Most training organizations only conduct level one evaluations. If the courses you are offering are requested by the students but you can't answer how it helps the business, then asking students to tell you how wonderful it is - well it's a self fulfilling prophecy. Start surveying the executives to find out how they value the job the training department is doing.

And, let me know what you think. I'm always interested in receiving your emails and learning from you. You can reach me at . And, if you are interested in reading more articles about this topic, I highly recommend you read the latest white paper by Chris Moore at Zeroed-In Technologies, "Getting and Keeping a Seat at the Table".