Even chief learning officers need stretch experiences, and there are a lot of ideas — some of which are fairly outside of the box — for CLO and learning leader experiences that will provide fresh professional, personal and organizational perspectives. Here are some stretch examples for CLOs.
Shadow a high school principal for a day. While on the surface this job is quite different, take a closer look. The principal is both the academic lead for a school and its strategic driver, responsive to the needs of the school board, facilities, teachers, students and their parents. Take a whole day to watch, learn and reflect.
Be an undercover CLO. Pick a site away from headquarters and consider spending a day or two replicating the TV show “Undercover Boss.” Pretend to be a new hire in a front-line position — make coffee, stack shirts or answer customer questions on the phone. Dress and act in ways different from your normal behavior. Unlike the show, you don’t have to find a deserving employee and give him or her $10,000, but you do need to see what new hires experience in your culture from their perspective.
Map your work mixture for a week. Use your calendar, mobile phone or even your assistant to get a very accurate reading on how many minutes you spend on various tasks — such as reading email, conversations, walking around — for five workdays.
Join a corporate or nonprofit board. Join a board of directors in a corporation that is neither a competitor nor a supplier to your company. Or, join the board of a major nonprofit organization like a hospital. Ask to be on the finance or strategic planning committee. One of the most powerful experiences a CLO can have is to sit at the table in a different organization. Sadly, you will note how rarely the word “learning” will be used.
Conduct exit interviews for a week. Ask to be the person who conducts the exit interviews for departing or fired employees, and be joined by an HR representative. Listen carefully to the key reasons for departure and bring back to your team anonymous stories of potential gaps within the corporate culture.
Stop a course. Choose a course that is a regular part of your organizational culture and stop or pause it. Don’t deliver the course, but let employees learn without a formal curriculum. Or ask line managers for their thoughts about alternative approaches. One company found that a selection of six TED Talk videos and a one-hour video webinar was a great substitute for a full-day delegation class.
Hold cafeteria and yellow pad hours. Schedule a regular time when you will take a yellow pad of paper to the cafeteria and work or hang out there. At Texas Instruments, one of their most famous scientists spent a few hours a week in the cafeteria in conversations with colleagues. No appointments were needed. This time will become some of the most powerful in all of your collaboration with employees. Trust the social network. Word will get around about being able to access you.
Find a challenger. Coaches are great. Challengers are even cooler. Find people who deeply disagree with you on some key points and learn why. They may hate e-learning, big data, development or other big passions of yours. The challenger will make you a much better professional and person. While not easy to find, you will come to cherish your challenger.
Be the chief learning officer. Start a blog about your own learning: reactions to books that you read, movies that move you, confusing news stories you’ve encountered, questions that keep you up at night. You might even share a “Question of the Month” such as, how many introverts work at our company? Make your CLO brand about the learning — more than the “Chief” or “Officer” parts of your title.
When CLOs ask about development options, they are often provided with a selection of conferences, courses and degrees to consider. Let’s add a few stretch experiences to the mix as well.