What’s a Chief Learning Officer and How do They Drive Change?

Knowledge-ManagementThe job title “chief learning officer” (CLO) came on the scene in the 1990s and is becoming even more mainstream today. With the need to globalize organizations, embrace smaller budgets, and adjust to new technology, CLOs are crucial for long-term success.

So, what exactly does a CLO do?  Perhaps the most well known aspect of the CLO’s job description is managing their organization’s training and development programs.  The CLO will also think about long-term strategy, corporate culture, recruiting and retaining the best talent.  Their role doesn’t stop there.

As IBM’s recent CEO study points out, one of the biggest differentiators between high performing organizations and their peers is their ability to drive change.  Therefore, as the owner of organizational change, the CLO has a big job.

3 Ways CLO’s Drive Change

 1. Learn by Observing Competitors

This tactic is most popular with pharmaceutical companies but the principle can be applied to just about any industry or situation.  Some drug companies choose not to bring new products to market until a competing company releases their drug first. This gives them a chance to observe their competitor’s customer feedback and marketing messages. Once customers start to buy in to the competitor’s drug, the original company will launch their drug at a lower price.  At this point they can guarantee success, make tweaks to their marketing messages and perhaps even charge a higher price.  Observing other organizations before making large business decisions allows CLO’s to ensure they are pushing change in the right direction.

2. Acknowledge Employees’ Fear of Change

Let’s face it: most people prefer predictability and stability in their lives and therefore avoid situations that upset the order of things, increase stress, or involve risks. Overcoming this “fear of change” can feel insurmountable for a CLO to overcome.  Rather than ignore it or force authority, great CLO’s will first understand the real reasons behind their employees’ fears and then acknowledge those reasons.  For example, this article outlines 12 reasons employees resist change in the workplace.  Job loss, loss of control and “the unknown” rank high on the list – all understandable fears that, when addressed, will lead to a much smoother transition into new territory.

3. Influence the Influencers

While observing others and acknowledging your employees’ fears is any CLO’s first choice, time and resources don’t always permit for such strategies.

When in a resources “crunch” the best thing a CLO can do is influence the influencers.  We found an example via business2community.com that illustrates this point perfectly.

“Ralph Heath at Lockheed Martin had to get the F-22 Raptor from design to production in record time—or risk losing a multibillion dollar program. To do so, he had to influence the behavior of 5,000 engineers and skilled craftspeople who had a slow-paced, prototype-forever culture.

Heath knew he didn’t have time to develop the rapport and relationships he’d need to lead change with all 5,000 of his people. So he did what all effective influencers do: he focused on influencing the influencers. He spent a disproportionate amount of time with both the organization’s formal leaders and opinion leaders—those who may not be bosses but are highly respected by the rank-and-file workers. Heath proved that you don’t have to have relationships with everyone in order to influence change, you just need to have relationships with those who do!”

In recent years, many businesses have learned the hard way that change is here to stay. Therefore, Chief Learning Officers are largely responsible for taking a company “from good to great.”

How do you feel about the rise of the “Chief Learning Officer?”  Do you think the title deserves to be in the c-suite?

In your opinion, what are companies that flourish doing differently when it comes to implementing change?




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