CLOs Leading Digital Transformation

I have just returned from a couple of CLO Exchange conferences in Chicago and Toronto. It was an eye opener chatting with the many Chief Learning Officers at both events. On the one hand, there are a number of CLOs who have started ‘crossing the chasm’ and have begun to dive right in and embrace the new world of learning at work through design thinking and technology “start-up” like environments. Just do it. Try new things. Fail fast. Create a learning ecosystem through technology. Think about the employee journey as you design programs and learning environments. L&D led the digital transformation and implemented the first organizational global system. These are the Early Adopters/Early Majority.

Many of the rest of the CLOs were simply in a state of shock and were feeling overwhelmed. Even somewhat in a victim state. There’s too much technology out there. What do I choose? I have no budget – you know, as always I need to do more with less. I don’t have leadership support. My headcount was cut again; how can I do new things and keep delivering? My instructors are all retiring and I don’t know how to fill the pipeline. I hate my LMS but I’m not allowed (or too scared) to invest in any more platforms.

Overwhelmed. Yes, that was definitely the feeling.

During a panel discussion about the CLO 2020 role that my colleague, Ken Cheung and I moderated with an amazing panel of forward-thinking CLOs from Vanguard, Walmart, JCPenney, S&P500, and Biogen it was clear that technology played a very large part of their talent development strategy. Ken offered some great insights as he represented the CIO/CTO perspective in our discussions. But what was fascinating, was as this discussion was getting really interesting a question from the audience came. The participant took the roving mic and said, “that’s enough conversation around technology. Can you share with us more of your organizational learning strategy?

And that, my friends, is where the issue lies. Is technology separate from your learning strategy? If your company is going through a transformation, does that not usually mean technology is at the heart of that transformation?

Yes, people are who will make or break your organizational transformation. And giving them the right environment (which is usually built on a platform or digital ecosystem), tools (um isn’t that technology too?) and support (through conversations typically done in person and/or through some form of technology) is really the foundations to a successful transformation (along with leadership).

Best friends with my head of IT!

What thrilled me most at these exchanges was confirming that the organizations who are having the greatest success moving towards a culture of learning, are those where the CLO has taken the lead and/or has at least partnered with the CIO/CTO and even the CMO to build the strategy and the environment that enables a learning culture to thrive. To use technology to bring the brand to life through and by enabling people!

I have strongly believed for many years that the CLO needs to embrace technology as part of their role. Not see it as a necessary evil or something the IT department manages. The marketing world has known for quite some time that the customer journey is underpinned by the digital platform that captures, reports and analyzes every move and decision a customer makes so it can be a continuous cycle of improving that experience and capturing the hearts and minds (and yes, dollars!) of their customers. The employee experience should be no different.

Crossing the chasm

So where do the overwhelmed CLOs go from here? I’d say take a good hard look at your functions business model. The days of being order takers are long over. You are not instructional designers or facilitators. You are business leaders who need to create learning environments to enable learning experiences that support the business and develop your people.

Take inspiration from early adopters

  • Rethink your function’s business model (you’re no different than a business who is being disrupted by the likes of Uber!). Host think tank workshops with business leaders, employees, and maybe even customers so you can truly grasp the landscape in which they work and prioritize what you need to do to move a new strategy forward in your organization.
  • Use design thinking to better define what an amazing development experience might look like for your employees. How do you build personalized learning journeys?
  • Become best friends with your head of IT and IT department (enough said!)
  • Your business “remodeling” will mean you have to rethink the skills you’ll need on your team in order to achieve your goals. These skills might come from partnering externally or might be skills you hadn’t considered before. For example, have you considered having a team of UX designers in your L&D org?

Welcome to the tech startup world of being a CLO! Be brave and take the leap! (And maybe watch a couple of episodes of Silicon Valley for inspiration!)

This piece was originally published by Sue on LinkedIn.

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Sue Easby

Sue is passionate about talent development, technology and leadership – and putting those ingredients together to create an amazing experience for each and every team member.

In her work, she focuses on getting the experience right, so team members can get the customer experience right.


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