Posted on: January 8, 2021

The ‘Predicted’ Evolution of the Chief Learning Officer

The ‘Predicted’ Evolution of the Chief Learning Officer


The recent CLO video, “Who is the Chief Learning Officer,” highlights the historic evolution of this senior level leadership position from a pure learning and development resource to an individual who now helps plan corporate strategy with the other C-suite executives. But has this role peaked with its possible contributions to the corporate world? Arguably, the CLO can evolve to a more vaulted level of organizational predictability as technologies, operational techniques and, yes, evolved human behavior creates a template for possible enhancements in personnel contributions that we, corporate executives, have never dared imagine.

Case in point: COVID has, for many businesses, irreparably damaged both organizational dynamics and overall productivity. Forced to face a new “next normal,” businesses are struggling to define their overall operating environments and, with it, the roles that employees and corporate leaders should play. For many businesses, the prospect of holding fast to the pre-COVID days, has produced a game of holding one’s breath – hoping against all hope that the former paradigm is “just around the corner.” But it is the enlightened businesses that have realized that there will be no returning to any past frameworks and, instead, must begin to imagine a completely different organizational and operational horizon. This is where the CLO can be at their very best – setting the new paradigm for business.

As a comparison, legitimate Chief Technology Officers (not, glorified systems administrators!) are used by organizations to predict the future of the technology spectrum. They make assumptions as to where technologies will evolve to create opportunities – or market gaps – that can be capitalized on by nimble and proactive companies. Now, with the unexpected and abrupt realization that businesses will not be returning to their past organizational expectations provides that “leverageable gap” for CLOs to help craft a nimble and proactive business for the future.

In recent discussions with workplace strategists, three key concepts have come forward:

  1. There is no basis for maintaining a traditional workday as most employee levels of productivity are counter to the traditional 9 5 workday cycle.
  2. There is no basis to maintain an office space where the primary activity is interacting with your computer.
  3. There is a need to develop face-to-face cultural interaction events with employee teams to foster the development of team dynamics and overall corporate trust.

The takeaways for corporate planners is to immediately reassess the importance of a traditional workday in-line with overall expected employee contributions. Further, since the aspects of employee initiative now reign as a highly desirable “power skill,” does it continue to make sense to teach employees the processes to maintain the old organizational and operational models? Of course, the answer is “no.”

This is where the CLO can move from a typical C-suite contributor to a more far-reaching scribe that is a builder of the new “next normal.” Certainly, the current CLO role is focused on skill gap analysis and developing standards in terms of corporate culture and process – all aspects that follow a linear representation of corporate growth. But, now, with a disruption in overall corporate life, a linear answer no longer seems sufficient. Where filling “gaps” may have been the easy learning solution, now CLOs are faced with creating a new environment bereft of traditional organizational confines.

In a recent survey that we conducted for Fairfax University of America (FXUA), we found that the majority of corporate executives were focused on finding ways to lead and collaborate in a new remote environment. This need was followed closely by the desire to find employees who were willing to take initiative for those processes that were under their operational purview. These findings pointed to a very new discussion around risk management and the potential losses from both action and inaction. In a very real sense, organizational learning objectives moved from building future leaders to assimilating individuals who were resilient and productive contributors. 

So, what are the steps that CLOs can use to move from C-suite participant to overall corporate visionary?

  1. Realize that the organizational dynamics have changed completely and will never be coming back. Understanding that COVID has created new opportunities for increasing overall employee productivity and, finally, has been a catalyst for clearly identifying those individuals who will move you into the new “next normal.”
  2. Move away from classrooms full of employees where the concept is to develop a single mindset of predictable outcomes and focus, instead, on identifying and fostering the development of those high-potential employees who are predisposed to taking initiative and fully-assessing and acting upon any perceived risk,
  3. Re-focus your definition of organizational culture. Gone are the days where “drinking the kool-aid” makes sense for corporate alignment. Realize that disruption, even within your organizational ranks, may be a catalyst for positive change – especially in these time of turmoil,
  4. Look to work with universities to develop effective onboarding strategies that allow for students to learn these various “power skills” long before you hope to bring them into your productive workforce. The current philosophy of having to wait six months to a year for a newly-graduated student to be productive is both absurd and wasteful!

The future is very bright for those CLOs who realize that their own evolution has not ended. In fact, it is blossoming with the advent of the new “next normal.” The key will be to realize that the traditional parameters of operations have been obliterated and, in its stead, a new set of frameworks must be developed – with you, the CLO, can be one of the prime architects.

About Brad Dawson

Brad DawsonBrad Dawson is the Chief Student Experience Officer at Fairfax University of America (FXUA) and author of “The Disruptive Warrior – The Hero’s Journey to Corporate Actualization”. He has nearly four decades of management consulting success with over a decade of that time working with colleges and universities to build relevant and measurable programs. He is a frequent presenter to national and international audiences and has been published in over 100 different periodicals on a variety of management, strategy and operational business topics.
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