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Today, a new corporate career path is on the rise. For professionals passionate about teaching and resource development, the Chief Learning Officer makes for an exciting opportunity and is slowly becoming a necessary addition to most large companies.
It is a well-known fact that current employees of any organization are its strongest collective resource. For an organization to grow and realize success, it is essential this resource is strengthened with expert knowledge and development. Thus, more and more companies are starting to realize the value of investing in their employees. Here’s where a Chief Learning Officer (CLO) comes in.
As stated by Bradley University, the Chief Learning Officer’s role “involves overseeing and determining training and employee education approaches and priorities for the business, as well as bringing those concepts into line with overall company goals.” While this may sound easy, being an effective CLO takes much experience, knowledge, and dedication. In fact, most of the individuals who move on to being CLO have amassed years of experience in Human Resources and Management. CLOs are usually found in big companies where the HR department is divided into various areas of focus. As a C-Level executive, a CLO is most likely to report directly to the CEO.
The first recorded Chief Learning Officer was Steve Kerr, hired by the CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch in 1989. Kerr was initially hired as a consultant to oversee employee training and development. Eventually, he ended up managing GE’s entire management training center. While the nuances of the CLO role may have changed since the late 80s, the general duties and responsibilities of the Chief Learning Officer have stayed the same.
In this article, we will explore exactly what a Chief Learning Officer can do for an organization.
Employee Wellness and Retention
A major issue faced by large corporations involves the mental health and well being of their employees. Optimum employee mental health is beneficial to both the company and the employees themselves. Poor mental health — anxiety in particular — can negatively affect a company’s bottom line. In fact, studies show that anxiety disorders contribute to the loss of 4.6 workdays due to disability, and 5.5 workdays of reduced productivity every month. Additionally, constant stress over time can lead to employee dissatisfaction and subsequently, employee burnout.
The CLO of an organization can help bring awareness to common mental health issues that employees face. As a senior member of the Human Resources Department, it is the CLO’s responsibility to either create and implement an employee wellness program or delegate this responsibility to someone else. One alternative is to create a dedicated employee wellness position within the HR department and hire someone to fulfill this role. Some of the things to include within a wellness program are fitness activities and goals, social activities, stress-release activities, team building activities, and community service options.
Employee wellness and health are key to productivity and retention, and thus, essential for company growth. In fact, one study showed that 77% of employees think that wellness programs impact company culture in a positive manner. A second study found that in companies with wellness programs, only 25% of employees are likely to leave, showing the positive correlation between wellness programs and retention. These findings fall in line with the CLO’s primary responsibility of promoting a nurturing culture within the company, as well as advancing company growth.
Employee Communication and Collaboration
The workplace of today relies on collaboration more than ever before. As stated in an article on Harvard Business Review, “With the proliferation of collaborative problem-solving platforms and digital ‘adhocracies’ that emphasize individual initiative, employees across the board are increasingly expected to make consequential decisions that align with corporate strategy and culture. It’s important, therefore, that they are equipped with the relevant technical, relational, and communication skills.”
Unfortunately, the soft skills gap is a very real one, and many employees lack necessary communication skills. It is crucial that employees know how to communicate not only with one another but also with clients should they ever need to. Employees should learn about different communication styles as well as which one style to use in any given scenario, and the CLO can contribute to this training.
When it comes to developing soft skills like communication and collaboration, continuous training and practice are necessary to transform skills into ingrained habits. Kerr himself is a great example here — according to Training Industry’s article on perspectives from the first CLO, Kerr managed to successfully introduce widespread collaboration to GE at a time when this was very rare. Initially, Kerr held training sessions in regards to “information sharing” aka collaboration at various locations off-site, like at a pizza parlor or at a hotel. Over time and with constant practice, Kerr found that as his instruction became more ingrained, there was a visible behavioral shift in GE’s employees — they were communicating better, and thus, collaborating better.
Once this behavioral change was complete, he moved training sessions back to the office and found that employees could easily transfer these changes over to work-related matters, creating an entirely new collaborative framework at GE. In this framework, employees were additionally rewarded for their collaborative efforts with “honor”. To quote the article, “It became a badge of honor for those whose shared information benefited the organization and got face time with the senior GE leaders, which was a powerful incentive to keep sharing the information.”
Employee Education and Skill
While promoting soft skills like communication and boosting employee wellness are important duties, these are not where the work of a Chief Learning Officer ends. Perhaps the most important part of the CLO’s work is to further education and learning for existing employees through relevant skills training initiatives.
From creating opportunities for employees to get external training to mentoring programs and in-house training opportunities, skills training can be carried out in many ways. For instance, The CLO can even act as an executive coach — coaching has been proven to work when it comes to “hard-to-teach” skills. Skills training is crucial as it allows employees to stay current, take up more varied tasks, and also helps them understand different sectors of their industry as opposed to working in silos.
The CLO is also responsible for creating training programs that groom the leaders of the future. As stated in the Harvard Business Review article, leadership qualities are no longer restricted to top-level employees. Most companies now know that leadership qualities help enormously at any rung on the corporate ladder. Therefore, it is imperative to inculcate leadership qualities amongst employees for further business growth.
This is something the CLO of an organization must actively work towards through dedicated leadership development programs. In fact, for example, leadership programs have recently become a priority for many companies, including Texas Health Resources, the largest nonprofit healthcare system in the US. Under CLO Jim Dunn, the nonprofit identified six essential leadership behaviors. Based on these, Dunn developed a leadership continuity program that flows down from senior executives to front-line managers.
The CLO as a Pillar for the Company
For large companies especially, the Chief Learning Officer becomes a pillar of strength. He/she trains employees with the latest skills and technology while simultaneously aiding the development of soft skills. The CLO also creates a healthy work environment allowing employees to give their best to the company, and remain satisfied. Ultimately the CLO’s education efforts lead to increased productivity and higher profits for the business.