Spring 2017
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CTDO Magazine

Infinite Evolution

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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.

We've evolved.

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

  1. 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.
  2. Business alignment. Connecting all talent initiatives and major talent efforts directly to the business.
  3. Talent acquisition and management. Attracting, developing, managing, and retaining talent throughout the organization.
  4. Employee engagement and satisfaction. Engaging employees to reach maximum productivity, performance, and efficiency. Providing a compelling environment for employees to work, collaborate, and thrive.
  5. 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.
  6. Demographics and diversity. Encouraging and building a diverse workforce. Facilitating four generations to work together in the same organization.
  7. Technology. Leveraging technology to enhance employee collaboration and learning, ultimately increasing company productivity and performance.
  8. Global leadership. Building a pool of effective leaders to successfully lead complex, global businesses and functions.
  9. 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.

About the Author

Tamar Elkeles is an experienced chief learning & talent officer, chief human resources officer, and thought leader in the talent, learning, HR, and organization development field. Throughout her nearly 30-year career, she has had unique experiences with entrepreneurs and executives in startups as well as large enterprises. She has expertise managing global growth, scaling businesses, and leading international teams as well as an extensive background implementing best-in-class practices within technology companies.

Tamar was most recently the CHRO for XCOM Labs, a wireless technology company propelling the next mobile technology revolution. Previously, she was chief talent executive at Atlantic Bridge Capital, a global venture capital fund focused on technology investments. Prior to this role, Tamar was the chief people officer for Quixey, a Silicon Valley tech startup, and before that spent 25 years as the chief learning and talent officer at Qualcomm.

In her roles as CHRO, Tamar led all HR globally, including talent acquisition, talent development, compensation, benefits, HR systems, organization design, employee communications, and worldwide HR operations. In her long tenure as chief learning and talent officer, she helped grow Qualcomm into one of the most successful companies in the world. There she led the development of Qualcomm’s workforce, scaling the employee base from 700 to over 31,000 employees worldwide. Her scope of leadership included talent strategy, global learning, executive/leadership development, technical development, employee communications, change management, organization development, acquisition integration, organizational transformation, talent management, culture & engagement, emerging technologies, and mobile learning for Qualcomm’s global workforce. The Qualcomm Learning Center operated as a unique internal consulting function to the business, which provided innovative solutions that enabled business growth and strong financial results.

Under Tamar’s leadership, Qualcomm’s Learning Center consistently ranked in Training magazine’s list of Top Training Organizations. In 2002, they were best in class in telecommunications. In both 2000 and 1994, they were awarded the Organization of the Year Award from the Association for Talent Development for exceptional employee development programs. During Tamar’s nearly 25-year tenure at Qualcomm, The Qualcomm Learning Center earned several awards from ATD and was regularly named to the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) Magazine “Learning Elite”. In 2015, the Qualcomm Learning Center was named “Learning & Development Organization of the Year” by CLO Magazine.

Tamar has been featured in several publications including CLO magazine, Training magazine, HR Executive Magazine and T&D magazine for her outstanding leadership and innovative contributions. Throughout her career she has earned numerous awards, including the “Learning Elite Trailblazer” Award (2014), the prestigious “San Diego Women Who Mean Business” Award (1998) and the “Tribute to Women in Industry” Award (2004). In 2010 she was named “CLO of the Year” by CLO magazine and in 2014 was named “Top Influential” by the San Diego Daily Transcript for her significant impact and leadership in the technology industry.

In addition to her executive leadership positions, Tamar is also an accomplished author. She authored the first book on the CLO’s role: The Chief Learning Officer (2011) and, in 2013, co-authored the book Measuring the Success of Learning Through Technology. Her book, The Chief Talent Officer, was released in 2017, and her most recent book Forward Focused Learning was released in December 2020.

Tamar is currently on the board of directors of G3VRM Acquisition Corp and also served on the board of directors of GP Strategies Corporation until its sale in October 2021 to Learning Technologies Group. She has public company board experience with Governance, Compensation and Government Security Committees. Tamar also serves on the Forbes School of Business & Technology Board at the University of Arizona, The CLO magazine editorial board, and the ATD Chief Talent Development Officer (CTDO Next) Board. She was a member of The Conference Board’s Executive Council on Talent and Organizational Development and also served on the ATD board of directors. Tamar holds both a Master of Science and doctorate in organizational psychology. www.tamarelkeles.com

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