Does your organization need a Chief Learning Officer?

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Upside Learning sponsored the inaugural CLO Summit India at the end of last week. My partner Amit Gautam and I attended the summit and came back satisfied with the level of participation seen at this inaugural summit. Overall we felt it was a great inaugural event that pulled in some respected names to speak. There were some equally respected names in the audience too. We feel the CLO Summit has the potential to grow into a premier HR event in India focused around L&D. If the organizers can build a community around this , it will be even more wonderful. We of course, are happy to have assisted the first edition in our little way.

There were several really interesting sessions. We plan to put up a series of posts that recap some of the thoughts shared in those sessions. This is the first post in that series.

Do you need a CLO?

The first session (titled: Organizational Learning: Views from the Leadership) of the Summit was a panel discussion where senior executives from HPCL, Tata Teleservices, & Aditya Birla Group and the Director of TISS constituted the panel. The panel shared some useful insights about the unique situations they face and how L&D happens in their organizations. The key question put up to the panel by the moderator was – Do you need a CLO in your organization? To which, sadly, the majority response was on these lines – The department/division heads already perform that role so we probably don’t need a CLO. That’s definitely not what we were expecting to hear!

Thankfully, when the discussion was thrown open to the audience, the audience seemed to think quite the opposite. Several people from the audience (from companies like Dow Chemicals, Reliance Capital, Raymond, & Lupin) shared their thoughts in favor of having a CLO. The nail was precisely hit on its head when Susan Bloch (CLO at Aditya Birla Group) asked the panel this: “would you replace your CFO with COO tomorrow?”

The answer is NO. The jobs of a CFO and COO need specialized skills and experience and it is impossible to replace one with another just like that. Similarly a CLO needs specialized skills and experience and that cannot be performed by any division/department manager. They (department managers) simply don’t have grounding on how learning takes place or which learning interventions work in which situations. They don’t really know how to keep pace with ever changing landscape of learning theories, models, & technology. Most importantly they don’t have the focus that needs to be brought to organizational learning. They are just too occupied with their other KRAs and learning will simply be the last one they would want to focus on. I think everyone in the audience got this pretty straight. A show of strength later on saw more than 90% people in audience going with YES to having a CLO in organizations.

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