Does Your Company Need a Chief Learning Officer (CLO)?

By: Neil Grant

“The right people, at the right time, and in the right place” makes a big difference.

Most of us are aware of the massive losses incurred by BP following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – running into the billions. And we can probably refer to fabulous entrepreneurs who have generated billions in corporate value. But on a more day-today basis, individual mangers can motivate great levels of performance from employees, and those employees can choose to build value through their commitment to high productivity. The opposite is of course also true, where organizations lack high calibre leadership, don’t invest in the development of their management, and underestimate employee engagement.

Getting the “people” bit of any organization right is essential for immediate and long term gain.

I’m always fascinated by the habit of many organizations to cut the development of their people during times of crisis, as though this cost is the most expendable. In the short term, a reduction in training costs is understandable. But an investment in the analysis and assessment of critical resources is also required to pull out of a crisis and map a way forward.

An organization’s Learning & Development function should not be a money pit, but a money payer: it should tangibly and financially show pay-back in the results that it achieves. Any learning curriculum must be aligned to organizational strategic priorities, any leadership development intervention must build the benchstrength and raise stockholder confidence, and any organizational development process must deliver performance improvements.

So, when does an organization need a CLO to support the Board in ensuring that the right leaders are in place to develop and execute strategy, build leadership pipelines and succession plans, and raise leadership performance to deliver stockholder value? When does an organization need a CLO to build a framework for raising management competence to get the best out of the employee base? When does an organization need a CLO to create an employee capability and performance infrastructure to ensure everyone is aligned to deliver against the same set of strategic goals?

The answer to these questions is never precise, but in my estimation, as soon as an organization tips over 1,000 employees, the value of a CLO becomes a critical addition to the Board. In some organizations the CLO might report to the Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO), in others it might report to the Chief Operating Officer (COO), or even the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Whatever the reporting line, the responsibility of the CLO is to ensure that the organization has the right architecture and processes to assess, develop, and promote employees / leaders to deliver and maintain stockholder value and organizational effectiveness.

In-house or Outsource?

Where an organization is young enough to search for the best CLO available, or is able to develop a future CLO through excellent development and succession planning, then a permanent, in-house resource makes sense. However, there are many organizations which have dropped off the pace of having effective, high-calibre processes to expedite results that are usually the responsibility of the CLO. Or it may be that organizations are going through major changes as a result of a merger, acquisition, strategy shift, change of leadership or right-sizing. In these cases, the in-house CLO resource may not be adequately experienced to deliver the fast change required.

Outsourcing CLO responsibility can inject a major advance in the building of organizational capability.

Consultant or Interim?

Although Consultancies provide highly-qualified individuals to develop solutions for clients, they often apply standard methodologies and proposals that have a “text book value” exceeding “experiential value.” Making an assumption that “best practice solutions” will always be straightforward to recommend and apply in all circumstances is folly. Likewise, consultants don’t often have a vested interest in the implementation and execution of solutions, nor in the impact on in-house employees.

The benefit of an interim CLO is that they have often done this role in previous organizations – sometimes many. So they are used to the complexities of organization design, strategy and politics. They have not just been trained in the profession, but they are serious practitioners as well. This makes their impact more innovative, pragmatic, and mature. They deliver solutions fast because of their experience and they are also used to developing in-house individuals and teams so that the value of their tenure will be felt long after they move on. They are often great coaches as well as subject matter experts, making an interim CLO preferable to lead organizations through transition.

Measuring the success of a CLO

A great CLO will often be adopted as a “trusted adviser” to senior leaders and contribute to business strategy. This is because their insight and savvy in organization and leadership capability naturally lends itself to their grasp of strategic imperatives and business development.

They deliver focus to a learning & development infrastructure, often discarding redundant programs as much as transforming and introducing new, more effective ones. They also create leadership and talent development frameworks that reflect their expertise in effective design and deployment of these initiatives.

In summary, an interim CLO provides an organization with an experienced, passionate thought-leader, capable of delivering integrated, organization building and impactful solutions.

About the Author

Neil Grant is a globally experienced Interim Executive CLO. Over the past 20 years he has delivered major change programs for companies such as BAE Systems, Unilever, British Gas, Lucent Technologies, Marconi, BG Group, Aegon Asset Management and AXA. He is an expert in leadership & talent development, learning & development architecture and organizational development.