An ASTD/i4cp study of the CEO-CLO relationship finds that implementing a learning strategy that supports the business strategy is critical to moving the learning function from the perceived "order taker" to a valued partner.

With the continuous economic upheaval, the speed of technological change, and the ongoing need to deal with uncertainty and complexity, critical thinking skills have risen to the top of the list of competencies needed to lead organizations effectively into the future. And many organizations have little confidence that the next generation of leaders will be ready or even have the skills to lead, according to the 2011/2012 Trends in Executive Development: A Benchmark Report published by Pearson TalentLens and Executive Development Associates Inc. (EDA), which creates custom-designed executive development programs.

The report is based on interviews with 15 CLOs conducted in August and September 2011, and on content from five interviews with CEOs featured in T+D magazine between 2009 and 2011.

Opinions differ on what is more important for organizational impact: is it the relationship with the CEO and the senior team, or is it a strong grasp of the business strategy? "If the learning strategy is aligned with the business, it will be aligned with the CEOs strategy," says Tamar Elkeles, vice president of Qualcomm Learning Center. "Each year, there is a lot of executive turnover. If you're aligned with the CEOs agenda, and that CEO leaves, what do you do then?"

Diane Holman, chief talent development officer for Wolters Kluwer, agrees with Elkeles on this viewpoint, and recommends that processes be put into place so that the connection doesn't wane when the CEO leaves.

In addition, a commitment to business impact must exist in both parties. Each of the CLOs interviewed is working with senior management to make sure the learning programs do one primary thing: impact the business.


To measure this, CEO Bill Sullivan of Agilent consistently looks at metrics such as financial performance, organic growth, and customer loyalty. He acknowledges at the outset that these metrics are linked to leadership development, and therefore provide a good barometer for the success of the learning function.

Although Chick-fil-A can't set goals for each location, it measures success in areas such as usability. CLO Mark Miller has documented that sales and customer satisfaction increases when stores use the training, and as a result the usage rate has grown from about 5 percent to 83 percent.

As with any aspect of the business, the learning function doesn't always succeed 100 percent in remaining cohesive and aligned with the senior executives. Sometimes those misses are a product of misalignment between the learning strategy and the business strategy, and sometimes they are because the CEO and the CLO are not in sync. To help alleviate this, CLOs should get a seat at the table, but use it wisely.

Kevin Wilde says that "part of the role of HR is to get yourself into the meetings you need to be in. Don't wait to be invited. But once you're there, be about learning to help the business, not just about learning." As the report explains, this can help the learning function change from "order takers" to valued participants.

The full report, which includes interviews with successful learning leaders who discuss the relationship and alignment between the CLO and the executive team, is available at the ASTD online store.