Over the past 18 months, businesses have pivoted to meet unprecedented challenges.
As a result, the role of the chief learning officer (CLO) has dramatically transformed to more closely reflect the wider influence and importance of learning as a whole.
For instance, CLOs are fast becoming both the voice of the workforce and the architect of company culture. In practical terms, this means they are focused on systems, processes, and people to support and enable diversity, equity, inclusion, and empowerment.
To achieve this, the learning and development (L&D) teams they lead must build an ethos based around continuous learning and growth mindsets.
As many organizations are discovering, there is now a generation of people who place huge value on employers who can democratize the full learning experience to deliver training just-in-time and precisely geared toward their short and long-term needs.
In today’s competitive economies where the search for talent is becoming more challenging all the time, learning is more mission-critical than ever.
Seismic shifts in the workplace
Within this shifting landscape, CLOs have new opportunities to transform learning by refocusing organizational priorities and building organizations that are committed to creating a positive future, both for themselves and the wider community.
For many CLOs and their teams, getting to this point has been a truly unique career and personal journey.
When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in March last year, that his business had “seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” that trend was certainly reflected in, and to an extent driven by, the pace of change seen across many L&D organizations.
In the early stages of remote working and lockdown, Skillsoft’s studies have shown that there were massive spikes in the completion of training courses relating to Microsoft Teams (up by x189 pre-pandemic levels, for instance), virtual working, collaboration, and organizing a physical and digital workplace.
While much of this was geared towards helping people adjust to new circumstances and working practices, learners were also increasingly drawn toward content that would advance their emotional and communication skills.
For example, data also shows a huge increase in people looking to develop their emotional intelligence, strategies for encouraging team communication and collaboration, and also around building trust.
Indeed, Skillsoft’s course ‘Become a Great Listener’ grew to be the number one completed business skills training of the remote working era thus far.
Delivering on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
In many organizations, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives were also impacted by the change in working cultures and processes.
Delivering against priorities such as compliance training, bias awareness, and broader efforts to develop inclusive leaders also had to be reconsidered.
Many teams took the opportunity to redefine how they could better focus on sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion across both remote and office-based ecosystems.
For CLOs in particular, there has perhaps never been a better time to draw on the momentum behind achieving equality across the whole of society to accelerate the pace of positive change in the workplace.
This means moving beyond a training-led strategy with a holistic assessment of the systems and processes provided to people that help them eliminate bias and inequities.
Instead, the focus should be on the promotion and provision of learning content and resources that remove barriers between leaders and employees.
CLOs should support this approach by acting as champions of D,E&I, including how organizational leadership is supported and developed.
For example, teams can benefit from the availability of just-in-time, open-access learning and self-assessment opportunities that can be accessed at a time and place that suits each individual learner.
In a wider sense, CLOs can also play a key role in DE&I strategies by actively supporting initiatives such as leader-led groups, discussion forums, and employee resource groups-led workshops and panels.
How today’s CLOs excel
The first is that they set up an L&D organization that is scalable, federated, and highly skilled.
He says: “A great ‘high impact learning organization’ brings all this together, and clearly balances the value of centralized and standardized infrastructure against the need for each geography or business unit to do their own thing.”
Next is a focus on studying and understanding the world.
Not only do CLOs have to constantly take on board changing economic trends, employment patterns, and the impact of technology on how learning is delivered, but they have to apply them to their unique organizational culture.
“Great CLOs,” Bersin says, “are very worldly people, and they work both in and outside of HR and spend lots of time in the external market.”
And finally, CLOs excel by delivering great learning experiences. They should be prepared to “always challenge leaders and L&D staff to innovate, adapt, and improve.
To understand the importance of these capabilities, organizations must never lose sight of the fact that business success is hugely dependent on their ability to learn.
Bersin argues that “whenever a company loses its market to a competitor or finds itself in financial difficulties, it’s always driven by the company’s inability to see what has changed, learn from its mistakes, and reinvent itself for the future.”
For CLOs with a vision for the leadership element of their role, these issues offer a compelling argument for maintaining the pace of positive change that has developed since early last year.
Today, CLOs are evolving from a place where the focus was squarely on what to learn, to an approach that prioritizes how to learn it.
This means moving beyond training rooms and the boundaries imposed by legacy learning management systems, to building powerful experiences that enable learning to happen alongside working and living.