The successful modern L&D leader

In the first article of a series aimed at those aspiring to senior roles in L&D, Cathy Hoy looks at the evolving role of the chief learning officer

In recent years the role of the chief learning officer (CLO) has emerged as an important position, and its critical role within organisations is becoming increasingly valued.

As the workplace evolves to meet more complex skills requirements, and companies move towards more strategic training initiatives, the scope of responsibilities for a CLO have significantly changed.

What exactly is a CLO?

While the concept of a ‘chief learning officer’ within a company’s C-suite is relatively new, it had its beginnings almost three decades ago. In 1994, GE (General Electric) was the first company to pioneer this role and create the title when Steve Kerr stepped into that position. Since then, CLOs have become increasingly important in other large organisations, offering comprehensive insights into strategic objectives while remaining focused on learning and development initiatives.

Whether they are forming business cases or exploring innovative methods to improve employee effectiveness, CLOs provide invaluable guidance to their organisations, both in terms of streamlining operational efficiency and increasing employee engagement levels.  They also play an essential role in helping organisations foster a culture of lifelong learning and continuous growth.

CLOs provide invaluable guidance to their organisations, both in terms of streamlining operational efficiency and increasing employee engagement levels

In addition to these traditional responsibilities, modern CLOs are expected to think strategically about how best to use technology to effectively deliver training interventions. Today’s CLOs must stay abreast of industry trends to create innovative solutions that meet the changing needs of organisations as they strive for success.

The term CLO is currently more widely used in America than the UK and whilst there are several organisations in the UK that have a CLO at the executive table, more often the term is used as a generic term for a senior learning leader, the person who has accountability for employee development. This role often goes by different names, Head of Learning, L&D director and so forth but essentially, they own the organisational learning strategy.

Sadly, this role rarely has a ‘seat at the table’ in the true executive sense, this is an area L&D have battled with for years, although it’s starting to change.

Growing importance of the role

As the complexity of the business environment continues to evolve, the role of a CLO is expected to become increasingly important in helping organisations achieve their goals. With the right support and resources, CLOs can create meaningful learning experiences that benefit both employees and employers alike.

To ensure success, it is important that companies invest in proper development and support for their CLOs. This includes providing them with access to the latest industry trends and technologies, as well as giving them the resources they need to stay up to date on best practices.  

By investing in a capable CLO and providing them with the necessary tools and resources, organisations will be well positioned to unlock the potential of their employees and reach higher levels of success to stay competitive in today’s highly evolving business environment.

What are the skills?

Aside from a background in L&D and an understanding of adult learning, an effective CLO must have a wide range of skills to successfully lead their team and ensure that the company’s learning initiatives are successful. Here are my top 10:

1. Business acumen

A senior leader in learning must have a deep understanding of their business’s objectives and be able to align the learning strategy with those goals. They should also understand the technical capabilities of their organisation and how best to leverage them.

2. Strategic thinking

A CLO must be able to think strategically and predict the long-term impact of their learning initiatives. They should be able to anticipate future trends and develop strategies that can help their organisation stay ahead of the competition.

3. Growth mindset

This is essential for anyone working within learning and development, but especially for the CLO. You need to be able to lead by example when it comes to developing yourself, be open to feedback and not be afraid to try new skills and learn from the process.

4. Leadership

A leader in learning must be able to inspire, motivate, and lead their L&D team. They should be able to create an atmosphere where employees feel empowered to reach their goals.

5. Communication

An impactful CLO must be able to communicate effectively and efficiently with stakeholders, team members, and vendors. They should also be able to explain the importance of an initiative and its impact on the business, to ensure that employees understand its value. They also need to be able to market learning initiatives effectively to maintain learner engagement.

6. Relationship building

Effective CLOs must be able to build strong relationships with stakeholders, team members, and vendors. They should also have a deep understanding of their company’s culture to effectively manage external partnerships and ensure the right external providers compliment the organisations way of working.

7. Problem solving

An increasingly important skill is to be able to anticipate potential problems and develop strategies to prevent them. Senior learning leaders should also be able to think on their feet and come up with creative solutions when unexpected issues arise.

8. Change management

An effective CLO must be able to manage change in an organisation, from developing a plan for implementation to ensuring that the changes are adopted by employees.

9. Data analysis

An ability to analyse data from many different sources and use it to inform decisions about learning initiatives is a vital attribute for the new learning leader. They should also be able to use data effectively to evaluate the success of their initiatives.

10. Innovation

An effective CLO must be able to identify new trends in the industry and develop innovative initiatives that will help their organisation stay ahead of the competition. They should also be able to evaluate different technologies and determine which are best suited for their organisation’s learning objectives.

Looking forward

The future of the role is closely linked to the use of technology in learning. They must continue to develop a deep understanding of emerging trends and technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality. Through their knowledge they can create powerful experiences that offer significant benefits to learners and to the organisation.

The CLOs of the future must also become agile leaders who can quickly identify and solve problems, anticipate risks, and develop strategies for continuous improvement. 

Ultimately, learning leaders are poised to become indispensable players in developing well-trained, highly engaged, and knowledgeable employees. With the right tools, knowledge and vision, CLOs can have a lasting impact on an organisation’s success.

Cathy Hoy is co-founder and CEO of CLO100

In her second article of this series, Cathy will be examining the importance of mindset for the modern learning leader.

Cathy Hoy

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