Our role has expanded—and continues to evolve—to fulfill more complex talent development needs.
After nearly 25 years of experience as a chief learning officer, I've heard, experienced, and talked about the critical skills needed to become a successful learning executive numerous times. When I first began my career in this field, the learning (or at that time, what was called the "training") organization existed to provide skill-based training to employees. My role was primarily focused on providing employees with classroom-based training courses and structured training programs. There was no Internet, no e-learning, no alternative delivery methods, no mobile learning, and no learning management system. It's hard today to imagine a world with no LMSs, isn't it?
As the first training coordinator for Qualcomm, I "owned" training content and offered classroom instruction, conducted needs assessments, purchased training content, bought training materials, collated training binders, used training instructors, had sign-in sheets for class attendance, and ensured there were training evaluation forms in every classroom. I was living the training department dream. However, today's learning organization—and what has become the role of the chief talent development officer or chief learning officer—has changed dramatically.
Then and now
Initially, the title training manager was used to reflect the person in charge of training employees across the company. This position eventually evolved into the training and development manager, with management recognizing that this person was not just responsible for job-related skill training, but many critical employee development areas, including leadership development, management development, and executive development. As the status of the function grew and the learning leaders who were in these roles added more value to their organizations, the importance of learning, training, and development increased.
Based on their expanded impact and contributions, these training and development managers were promoted to vice presidents of training and development or learning and development. The role became more significant and the responsibilities continued to grow. This recognition positioned these top learning leaders into senior-level executive roles in the organization, aligning them equally with other functional and business vice presidents.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the term chief training officer emerged, and this new C-level job positioned the training executive at the same level as other members of the C-suite. Because of the limitations of the word "training" and the responsibilities reaching far beyond just job-related skill training, the chief training officer changed to the chief learning officer, retaining the C-level designation, but focusing on overall learning and development and reflecting a broader context and scope of responsibilities. The vast number of opportunities, initiatives, and programs both on and off the job, available 24/7 to satisfy employee needs and improve the performance of the business elevated the visibility of the role. As the CLO's title and role advanced, so did the learning enterprise's impact on the organization.
The inception of the CLO title began with Steve Kerr, who directed the Management Development Center at GE. He explains: "I originally came up with the name chief education officer, but [CEO] Jack Welch said there was only room for one CEO and that title was already taken. Jack thought the title should be reflective of what people do (learning is a verb) in the organization instead of what they are (chief human capital officer is a noun). Hence, the title CLO."
Increased visibility and significance
During the past several years, the CLO's role has expanded rapidly, becoming more complex and much broader in impact. Today's CLOs are integral business leaders who have become trusted business advisers to executive teams and are critical to overall company success.
Learning is everywhere, and CLOs don't own or manage learning anymore. User-generated content, online and mobile learning, social collaboration, and peer learning has changed the learning game. CLOs no longer are just in the learning business; we now also are focused on critical areas such as talent management, organization culture, talent acquisition, diversity, performance management, coaching, employee engagement, and building successful learning environments.
Our work isn't solely to train people to do their jobs or expand their careers, we are affecting company sales, performance, revenue, and productivity. We are an essential part of the business and the executive leadership team. Economically, the value that people contribute, and their fully loaded cost, make up the majority of organizational value today. People are the business asset that matters most, and CLOs are the people developing those assets.
Industry shifts, technology disruption, government intervention, market consolidation, and the continued war for talent has made executive management well aware that the key differentiator in any organization is its people. People drive innovation. People improve company performance. People are the levers that build successful companies. Talent is central to the success of any business.
The role of the CLO has become that of an executive talent leader. Many people are now calling this leader the chief talent officer or chief talent development officer, a role that has become a vital part of global organizations in managing all talent and talent-related initiatives.
Recent trends and developments show that the chief talent officer has gained the attention, visibility, and respect at executive levels in many organizations. Today, most companies have an executive talent leader who is focused on employee development and is responsible for creating and implementing a comprehensive talent strategy and plan across the company. In fact, many of the top executive recruiters are conducting external searches for chief talent officers, which now comprise more than 20 percent of all external HR executive searches. According to these experts, these are critical C-level roles that need to be filled by talent executives who have deep knowledge and expertise in the learning and organization development field.
Corporate boards of directors and CEOs are very interested in talent issues and rely on their chief talent executives to provide critical data, analysis, and insights about the talent opportunities and challenges in their organizations. They are looking to these leaders to build a strong talent pipeline and develop a global workforce who can solve problems and innovate quickly. Forget having a seat at the table; today's executive talent officers are leading the C-level meetings.
Remain up to speed
The executive talent officer's job is to attract, develop, and retain highly skilled, productive, and engaged employees. CTDOs have to fully understand the global workforce and know where and how to move employees and their work. At the top of their agenda is creating a comprehensive talent strategy and a talent ecosystem to assess and continuously develop people to fill jobs that don't even exist yet. All that, plus implementing robust learning and development opportunities to leverage the potential of all employees.
The opportunities for an executive talent officer to add value and influence the business are endless. Being savvy, strategic, and influential, as well as an expert in the field of learning and development, talent management, organization development, and company culture, is essential for success in 2017 and beyond.
Fortunately today there are some excellent developmental opportunities that can assist these leaders with gaining the skills needed to become effective talent executives:
- The Wharton Graduate School of Education CLO doctoral program. This executive program draws faculty from the world-renowned Wharton business school. The comprehensive curriculum covers leadership, learning, business acumen, technology, evidence-based decision making, as well as a doctoral dissertation.
- The University of Southern Mississippi doctoral program in human capital development. As part of the Jack and Patti Phillips Workplace Learning and Performance Institute, this PhD program focuses on real-world experiences and research on driving a successful talent strategy.
- Bellevue University's online PhD in human capital management. This program focuses on building organizational performance skills in finance, accounting, learning, leadership, knowledge management, and business strategy.
- University of Pennsylvania Executive Doctoral CLO Program. This university program prepares chief learning officers and other learning executives for success in their role as learning and talent development leaders. The program helps participants build the skills necessary to ensure successful learning initiatives that will align with their organization's strategy.
In addition to those academic degree programs, there are several developmental programs available for gaining the skills needed to become a world-class talent executive.
The ROI Institute offers a robust program on becoming a CLO. It was created for both new and current CLOs and focuses on managing the learning function, the latest trends, and strategies for elevating the role of the learning organization and linking learning to the business.
Of course, ATD also has an extensive number of learning experiences for seasoned learning executives. It provides various books, online publications, conferences, and certification programs for talent executives around the world.
The Executive Talent Officer's Top 10 Responsibilities
- Talent investment and pipeline. Determining the optimum level of investment on all talent and talent-related initiatives. Building a pipeline of solid talent across the organization, including developing an agile workforce ready to leverage market opportunities.
- Business alignment. Connecting all talent initiatives and major talent efforts directly to the business.
- Talent acquisition and management. Attracting, developing, managing, and retaining talent throughout the organization.
- Employee engagement and satisfaction. Engaging employees to reach maximum productivity, performance, and efficiency. Providing a compelling environment for employees to work, collaborate, and thrive.
- Performance and innovation. Developing a performance culture to drive business success, including performance management, feedback, and coaching. Encouraging innovation and facilitating large-scale organizational change.
- Demographics and diversity. Encouraging and building a diverse workforce. Facilitating four generations to work together in the same organization.
- Technology. Leveraging technology to enhance employee collaboration and learning, ultimately increasing company productivity and performance.
- Global leadership. Building a pool of effective leaders to successfully lead complex, global businesses and functions.
- Analytics and big data. Analyzing and communicating talent data and providing insights and recommendations for action. Organizational culture and communication. Creating a company culture that aligns the values, norms, attitudes, and behaviors of the organization. Ensuring communication, transparency, and knowledge is shared throughout the company.
Source: The Chief Talent Officer: The Evolving Role of the Chief Learning Officer
Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.