Good chief learning officers, like many executives, have a penchant for immediate action. This is especially important when new to the role. We want to demonstrate value to the senior leaders and to the organization. This is a great characteristic, but it could set you back if you act before you have the data.
Understanding the current state of your organization’s learning environment often requires looking beyond what is readily apparent or known. Learning activities are often complex and below the surface. Additionally, an organization’s commitment to learning in reality is often quite different from what the senior team thinks and says it is.
Consequently, a good first step for any CLO new to the role, and especially new to the organization, would be to undertake a comprehensive analysis of all the components of learning and human performance improvement in the organization. Gather everything from the known and obvious to the underlying attitudes and engagement of line management in workforce development.
There is a specific discipline to doing a thorough needs analysis for a learning program, and there are disciplined steps to follow to make sure you get a complete picture of all the contributing elements to organizational learning in your company. This entails interviews, surveys and focus groups. Always consider your source and their interests when evaluating this data.
Of course, there is the ever-exciting documentation review, including recent meeting notes, project reviews and audits, but these will give you data so you can ask better questions and clarify issues. Also, gather available data on training volumes and quality, plus financial, budget, and HR data. Understand the fixed and variable cost structures for learning. What are the indirect costs? How much is spent on tuition reimbursement? Outside conferences? What’s your best estimate of the total learning investment? Note: You may not want to share this just yet.
Ask each leader what their group’s key strengths are and where opportunities lie. Who are the primary audience groups? What is the dominant delivery method? What standard development practices exist? How are executives involved in developing a learning strategy? Are there any governance groups in place?
What is the corporate culture about learning? Is it the same in different groups — hourly, management, executive, sales, engineering, headquarters, field offices, franchisees? Ask for a variety of metrics and ratios from your learning management system and human resource information system — to evaluate how robust it is and how sophisticated your team’s analytical skills are. Ask about the total cycle time from a service request or need assessment to the completion of the delivery and evaluation of a learning project.
While time consuming, this comprehensive analysis can provide you with many benefits in your new role. It gives you a complete current state picture, and helps you uncover what you don’t really know. It helps your learning community understand the reach and effect of their efforts. It can help shape ongoing discussions that you need to have with other members of your organization’s senior team.
Using a common set of data and findings can focus and shape realistically where the organization needs to go to utilize fully learning. Often the discussions with senior people are limited to perceptions. These are important, but real data can help shape the discussion and plan for better results.
So, as CLOs take up their jobs, they can trust what they see and are told, but they should verify what is really happening.
Justin Lombardo is the chief learning officer for Baptist Health. Gerry Hudson-Martin was senior learning officer at Marriott International and John Hancock Financial Services. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.