What does this trend mean for CLOs? What will be the skills and responsibilities necessary for success? What will be the new measures of success?
First, CLOs will increasingly need to focus on the “business of learning.” The 2004 Accenture Learning Survey of 285 enterprise learning organizations found that CLOs are being measured more and more according to how they run their learning “business unit.” CLOs are focusing more on capabilities such as managing learning budget to plan, and increasing efficiency and effectiveness by focusing on the business impacts of learning. Figure 1 examines the most prevalent performance measures in place.
New alignment processes will also become important to CLOs. These range from managing service-level agreements (i.e., measurements promised by outsourcing partners in the operation of a function) to formally tracking the business value of the investment in learning, ultimately providing business insights.
CLOs will also need to look at more effective governance and accountability structures to align learning to business goals. Establishing a governing board for the learning function is only the first step toward aligning learning with business goals. Governing councils are also vital. These councils–for the senior leadership of the organization as well as for each business unit–provide input into how learning can achieve strategic business priorities. Decision-making councils involve executive and senior management, business unit management and business/learning relationship managers. Governance of the learning function must involve a process for consistently translating business challenges into the performance needs of the workforce.
The difference between being a manager and being a leader may be the greatest challenge CLOs face. As interest in outsourcing increases, CLOs will focus less on managing the day-to-day design, development and delivery of learning, and more on exercising leadership and communicating a vision. CLOs will need to be effective communicators and marketers, and this means more than learning portals, road shows, course catalogs and newsletters. An effective communications plan is vital. Leading learning organizations work with their marketing and communications professionals to plan and execute a blended marketing model that leverages both on-site and online marketing and communications tools. The outcome is that all levels of the organization, as well as the extended value chain, understand that learning is a strategic asset, not simply a cost of doing business.
CLOs who understand the learning and business dimensions of their jobs will prosper. Some companies may fritter away their learning investments on programs that have not changed substantially year-to-year. Successful learning organizations will design and communicate the decision-making parameters and mechanisms that will enable learning investments to fulfill the strategic priorities of the organization. A business-focused CLO will be the difference between success and failure of the function.
Jeanne C. Meister is vice president of market development at Accenture Learning. Comments on this article can be sent to Jeanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.