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ATD Blog

The CLO as Sirdar


Wed May 16 2012


This is the third of four blogs considering some new descriptors of the great CLOs of the future.

In a recent T&D article, the author explored the notion of learning managers as curators. While making some great observations, the author admitted the limitations of the metaphor. At its heart, the job of curator is the acquisition and care of a collection. A curator decides what to collect, oversees and documents the collection, conducts research based on it, and shares that research through exhibitions and publications. Most often, the curator is a subject matter expert.  It’s a tough fit.


My chosen metaphor is, I hope, more apt….but  much more obscure:  The CLO as Sirdar.

There are a number of spellings and meanings of the term sirdar; but I refer to this very specific one.  A Sirdar is a Sherpa mountain guide who manages all the other Sherpas in an expedition or trek. The Sirdar is the most experienced guide and usually speaks the language of the group served. The Sirdar:

•    Determines where the group wants to go

•    Assesses their capabilities and how much help they’ll need

•    Decides on route choices


•    Handles logistics including dealing with government regulations

•    Hires and assigns responsibilities to other porters or guides

•    Obtains supplies during the trek/expedition

•    Records the heights reached by the group

 Sirdars don’t typically carry loads but will help with the pack of a client who is having trouble.


I find this to be a much richer metaphor for the role of the great CLO of the future. The job of the CLO is helping the organization and each person in it to understand where they want to go and how to get there as quickly and safely as possible.

 For decades learning professionals have honed the skills needed to:

-Identify areas of development that are most likely to positively impact individual and organizational performance

-Select from all of the available information and tools those which will have the greatest leverage and are most likely to be learned and used

-Determine optimum ways to organize learning, check progress, test use, and measure results.

Historically, the result of applying all of these skills is the creation of curricula, courseware, programs and schedules.

The sirdar uses these same skills to help individuals and organizations select from among the plethora of available opportunities for learning. He uses assessment to direct those he guides by determining where gaps exists. She understands that knowing where key information resides is more important than possessing the information. And he understands that outcomes are more useful that specific curricula.

The CLO as Sirdar is constantly exploring the changing landscape of learning, finding and/or building pathways that get to the best places. She coaches and guides those who want to be more deliberate in their learning. The job of the CLO as Sirdar is not about curating knowledge and capability, it is about creating access to it wherever it naturally resides.

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