“The important thing to forecast is not the television but the soap opera.” – Isaac Asimov
In a relatively short time, CLOs have responded with due diligence and intelligence to the threats to the support, survival and growth systems of thinking, learning and training. But conation and reconfiguration now need to be followed by developing the future agenda of CLOs.
What invests the new role of CLO with puzzling importance is its somewhat unexpected appearance. It has emerged at a time when training generally has been downsized, minimized and, in some companies, trivialized, when many HR departments have been dismantled or outsourced, when the budget line for consultants including IT specialists has been decimated or deleted entirely and when the future of corporate universities as separate entities is being scrutinized.
But desperation sometimes can lead to enlightenment—the glass may be half-full rather than half-empty. CLOs may have emerged precisely because the crisis of training required not management but leadership. Organizations were in the counterproductive stance of cutting themselves off from their future. The baby was in danger of being thrown out with the bathwater. Turnaround required executive-level cost containment, conation and reconfiguration. These are no small achievements, because in tough times, saving money in the present while preserving growth in the future is precisely what top leaders are supposed to do. Due diligence and vision still remain the sign of executive expertise. But where do CLOs go from here? After taking apart and putting Humpty Dumpty back together in a trimmer and more robust e-learning state, what are the future leadership options for CLOs? Following are 10 areas of advocacy rendered in generic terms to accommodate the diversity of organizations to which they can be applied. They also assume the range of the CLO to be the trinity of thinking, learning and training.
The future leadership agenda of CLOs includes:
- Flux Management
It will increasingly become the responsibility and focus of thinking, learning and training to manage the pace and invasiveness of change. The toolkit of CLOs will employ the bridging contributions of blended learning, man-machine hybrids and stretch goals management. Above all, in recognition that transition may be shedding its temporary character and in the process becoming a permanent norm, CLOs will offer transition training. The common goal of managing flux will be to temper future shock.
Learning has to be the agent of integration on multiple levels. Minimally, it should include cross-training and crossover training. The first is divisional, the second interdivisional. In both instances, the direction is horizontal to extend the base of the work culture so that it becomes increasingly reciprocal, proximate and mutual. That also may require that the traditional unidirectional focus of job satisfaction acquire an interpersonal dimension. Securing satisfaction has to involve the obligation to provide satisfaction to others. Such interactive give-and-take behaviors shift the focus from policy to behavioral productivity. The goal of integration throughout is gradually to transform units into communities that face inward to the mutuality of cross-training and outward to the collaborative alignment with company objectives. The glue is provided by the rationale of productivity: More gains are possible through goal alignment and between units rather than within units.
Convergence is a higher-level version of integration. If integration applies mostly to the rank and file, convergence ministers to middle and upper-level managers. Convergence routinely includes the usual deviant and out-of-the-box thinking. But to realize the math of one-plus-one-equaling-three requires positioning in a multidisciplinary range and world of impinging parallels. Convergence requires standing on mountaintops so that apex developments in multiple fields can be perceived as they surprisingly link and converge. Such horizontal coupling has even been given a new name, “the Singularity,” which is projected to bring about the equivalent of 20,000 years of progress over the next 25 years. The pace of convergent change may become so intense that nature and technology may fuse, machine intelligence may rival and even exceed human intelligence, and work, play and thought may be redefined. Science fiction? Perhaps, but reviewing science fiction reveals that two-thirds of its technology forecasts came about, a better batting average than conventional strategic planners and forecasters. Convergence, in short, is always the unexpected next step, the extraterrestrial solution from left field.
Bumper-sticker wisdom is sometimes telling. I saw one that proclaimed, “It is not only the Hole we are in, but the Whole we are not.” The argument is that some measure of relief or remediation comes from seeing the big picture and saying perhaps, “Now I see why we are doing what we are doing!” Increasingly, learning needs to deliver vision and mission. It ultimately should blend the macro and the micro, and be rendered as various mini-wholes of divisions and individuals. Each company has to become its own case study nested within the case studies of its industry and market. The more reflective and self-conscious nature of scenarios has to replace conventional reports and summaries. Narrative has to become the dominant form of holistic communication.
Problem-solving must increasingly factor in the consequences of its solutions. It can no longer function solely in the short term. Like environmental impact statements, it must anticipate the second, third and even fourth level of impact. Employees also need to be invited to speculate on the future nature of their jobs and to get involved in the process to identify what training may be needed to get them from here to there. Aggregated upward, such findings may suggest not only the overall direction of the company’s future, but also its future training agenda. The goal is to shape a workforce that is minimally future-directed and optimally future-driven.
Innovation fuses the quantitative and the qualitative. The current gradual transformation of work to yield incremental gains of productivity needs the quantum jump of creativity. Innovation is important and different because it not only advances the present, but it also actually creates the future. It suddenly distances companies from one another. It lays down the ultimate gauntlet of competition. But this CLO agenda item requires finding new motivating and incentive mechanisms for stirring innovation across the board. In a recent survey of the mission statements of 301 companies, the favorite operative words were “quality,” “value” and “service.” Only 68, or less than one-fifth, cited “innovation” (“Management First,” 2003).
CLO leaders have to speak out on behalf of leadership sharing. They have to move the knowledge culture of the company beyond the mindsets of centralization and hierarchy. The goal of distributed leadership is to write leadership options into every job description. Fortunately, the current commitment to teaming provides the receptive soil for planting the seeds for building such collaborative leadership. Each team should function as both a profit and quality control center. An interesting variation is Robert Greenleaf’s notion that teams should follow the model of the Roman legion: Team leaders at best are primus inter pares—first among equals. But the position of being first is temporary and rotational. When a different expertise is required, another member of the team who has that expertise becomes first. But throughout, all remain equal.
Control, the chief weapon of middle-level managers, is sometimes overused and often overrated. Benign abandonment also may need to be considered, perhaps even preferred. Research on birds, traffic jams, economic systems and informal organization and communication reveals the extent to which relationships and work are organized without an organizer, and coordinated without a coordinator. The cherished image of the head bird leading his flock south turns out to be a self-selecting process requiring no official intervention. In other words, learning needs to identify and to recognize those unofficial and informal pathways and systems that undergird organizations and provide them with their ongoing and self-organizing power. There is not one but many invisible hands, and they all have to be allowed to work their magic no matter how marginal the role of indispensable control and supervision may become in the process.
Every organization increasingly must become intensely self-evaluating. Whether it is called accountability or post-Enron oversight, work, policy and executive decisions need constant scrutiny and review. The kind of follow-up tracking designed to measure the effective implementation of training has to be applied across the board, throughout the company. In the process, stretch goals have to be disaggregated into rubric levels of accomplishment. They also should be designed so that they become the do-it-yourself focus of self-assessment. Monitoring has to become at least half of every job if corrective self-management is to have its optimum affect.
Cognitive Science Research
Brain research or the science of knowing, thinking and learning has to be folded into the agenda of all CLOs. In fact, cognitive science is becoming as formative to learning as instructional design. Moreover, it is perhaps the supreme area of integrated, holistic and convergent study. It includes computer science, artificial intelligence, behavioral psychology, linguistics and language development, neuroscience, etc. Here is where learning will find its new diagnostics, the sources of its training effectiveness and innovation dynamics. Here is where CLOs will discover the future of the future.
The CLO Agenda Matrix
Perhaps the most comprehensive way to summarize the future agenda of CLOs is in the form of a matrix. (See Figure 1.) One value the matrix may offer is being turned back on itself to help define what CLOs have to be in order to implement such modes and achieve such ends. Any composite profile of the position would likely have to include minimally the following characteristics:
- Learning Experts: Whatever their original area of specialization, learning has to become not only the new discipline of CLOs, but also their compulsive analytical perspective. Everything must become grist for the mill and be converted into learning challenge and opportunity.
- Managers of Cost-Effective Performance Improvement: CLOs have to be supreme resource managers. Like the organizations that employ them, they have to do more with less, not just maximize but optimize programs, and constantly save money as their way of making money.
- Documenters of Effectiveness: CLOs have to document not so much the training but its implementation, and even then they must show not only that it has been wired in place, but also that it has made a measurable difference. Data must become the ultimate persuader. The CLO mantra should be DDD—data-documented difference.
- Organizational Broker: The integration of employee and division goals with company objectives should also include the convergence of learning and performance goals. CLOs should be the constant advocates for learning linkages as ways of bringing greater coherence and interdependence to discrete and often disparate parts. In effect, CLOs are the guardians and articulators of the big picture—of vision and mission.
- New Knowledge Officers: CLOs have to model the cutting edge. They constantly have to be alert to and knowledgeable about impactful research breakthroughs, and above all they must be open to future-driven innovations emerging unexpectedly from convergent disciplines. As such they have to become the information officers of future knowledge and innovation. Ideally, they should build a research-driven base into to their own operations of documentation and instructional design. In short, CLOs have to function as resident futurists.
Figure 1: CLO Agenda Matrix
Cross- and Crossover Training
Vision and Mission
First Among Equals
Data Tracking Follow-Up
The lists above are obviously neither definitive nor prescriptive. They also are not accompanied with timetables, although clearly some might be immediate, others ongoing, and one or two long-term. Their singular and/or combined value is to stir proactive debate as to what should be the future agenda of thinking, learning and training as perceived, developed and implemented by CLOs—the new learning leaders and managers of the 21st century.
Irving Buchen is vice president of academic affairs at Aspen University. He can be reached at email@example.com.