What does it take to be a Chief Learning Officer?

by Brett Henebery20 Apr 2017
What does it take to be a Chief Learning Officer?

This crucial role – often referred to by its acronym CLO – exists across multiple organisations, helping to deliver enhanced learning outcomes – yet this is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to Bruce Tulgan, founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, told L&D Professional that the CLO role began to emerge in the late 1990s.

“I believe Jack Welch at GE was among the first to elevate the position to a C-level role,” he said.

“Historically, this dovetailed with Peter Senge’s extensive research and writing on “the learning organization” and his seminal book, titled: The Fifth Discipline’.”

Tulgan pointed out that cutting edge leaders in the 90s began to realise that with technology acceleration and the information tidal wave, smart organisations would need to help employees learn knowledge and skills fast enough to stay ahead of the obsolescence curve.

“Learning new technical skills and deepening non-technical skills would be a lifelong enterprise for more and more workers, and so organisations would need to help promote and support and facilitate that process,” he said.

“The strategic importance of learning was also fuelled by the increasing fluidity of the labour market and the need to capture knowledge on an ongoing basis so that it doesn’t leave when employees leave; as well as the need to be able to get new employees up to speed more quickly.”

Tulgan added that the increasing focus on innovation contributed to the increased importance of learning.
“For all of these reasons, ‘learning’ became more and more of a strategic level imperative in more and more organisations.”

Given the rapid pace of change since this time, it’s perhaps not surprising that this role has become more complex. As a result, organisations require any applicants for this role to have a high level of qualifications and expertise.

“Educational credentials are not standard for such a role, but advanced degrees would be preferable, especially in an organisation with many highly educated employees,” Tulgan said.

“In particular, degrees in education or related fields might be preferable, although any doctoral level degree, especially combined with academic teaching and research, would be sufficient.”

More important, says Tulgan, is experience and skill in a business setting sufficient to craft and sell and implement a learning and development strategy company wide, as well as the ability to interface with other executive level counterparts.

“The CLO must be an internal spokesperson for learning initiatives, and lead and manage a training and development team including assessment functions, training functions, technology support, and so on,” Tulgan explained.

“As a C-level role, an appropriate level of overall business experience and sophistication is necessary. To have a seat at C-level table, one must know how to operate as a high level executive."

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