The 101 on a Chief Learning Officer

No organization wants to lose their best employees. And one of the main reasons workers quit is due to lack of advancement. In fact a survey by Robert Half found a strong learning culture led to a 30 to 50 percent higher retention rate in companies. That’s why it’s important to look at developing your key employees so they remain engaged and give your company an edge over the competition. So how do you ensure learning takes center stage within your organization? You hire an individual who oversees this process, a Chief Learning Officer (CLO).

There has been a lot written lately on the role of a Chief Learning Officer, so you may be wondering what exactly a Chief Learning Officer is, what purpose they serve, and why they are needed within an organization. And once you have a clear understanding of their role, how do you determine if you should hire one for your company? Let’s start by looking at where this role originated and why it was created.

What is a Chief Learning Officer?

This job role was first started in 1989 by then CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch. He hired Steve Kerr, then a consultant for the company, to be the Chief Learning Officer overseeing employee development. This led to Kerr running GE’s 59-acre management training center. Since this time, the role has evolved but the core definition remains the same.

A Chief Learning Officer is a senior level executive who oversees a company’s learning program and strategy by supporting its overall business goals. Usually larger organizations hire this person as an extension of human resources. Chief Learning Officers report primarily to CEOs or Talent Officers and may be referred to as Chief Knowledge Officers as well.

Roles and responsibilities

A Chief Learning Officer wears many hats within a company. Some of the core responsibilities include:

1. Align with organizational goals

A Chief Learning Officer is a C-suite employee so he or she needs to be steering the learning of the organization in the same direction as the overall goals of the corporation. One of the CLO’s main goals is to develop key skills of the employees, but also to advance the company as a whole.

2. Create a learning strategy

Next the CLO needs to create a learning strategy based on what the company’s goals are. Each employee needs to be assessed as to their roles within the organization and how best to strengthen their skill sets to meet these outlined goals. On the flipside, it’s important to discuss with each core employee their individual learning goals so that they remain fulfilled and engaged on the job.

3. Assess current employees

After outlining a companywide learning program, a Chief Learning Officer needs to assess if they have the right employees to properly execute the strategy. If there are holes within the organization, the CLO will need to hire these individuals. This may also mean shuffling around responsibilities within the organization to the strongest employees. And if there are employees unwilling or unmotivated to execute this new learning strategy, these employees may need to be let go.

4. Evaluate and make changes

A Chief Learning Officer needs to be flexible and creative. Since he or she will be implementing a new learning platform, they can’t be rigid. The program they put in place also can not be static. Tweaks and changes need to be made often based on employee feedback. Plus, this person needs to stay on top of trends within the industry in terms of learning management systems, training design, and technological advancements.

5. Analyze results

Lastly, it’s important for the Chief Learning Officer to analyze how the program is progressing in order to convince their organization that their plan is effective. This needs to be both on a personal level and a numbers level. This person needs to ask themselves some key questions:

  • How are my employees responding to our new learning culture?
  • Are my learning objectives translating into business metrics?
  • How is the new learning culture adding value to the employees?
  • How is the increased learning culture helping our customers?

Hiring a Chief Learning Officer

Now that you know some of the responsibilities you want in a Chief Learning Officer, the next question you may ask is do I really need one? If so, where do I find one? And how much will this cost my organization?

Does my company need this position?

First, let’s discuss does your organization really need one. Here are a few questions to answer:

  • Do I have the budget to hire one? Really, the number one question is do you have room in the budget to hire for a new position. If you are a start-up or a smaller organization, this may be a position to consider down the road. However if you are a larger organization with a robust human resources department, this may be a vital position to help retain your top talent.
  • How is my employee turnover? Do you have a higher employee turnover? If so a Chief Learning Officer could help keep these top employees from heading to your competition. And as we stated before, it costs a lot more to hire new talent than to keep the talent you already have. Plus, if you are in a competitive business, you don’t want your top employees heading to the competition.
  • What do I currently offer onboarding new employees? When you are recruiting for top talent, you need a package that appeals to the best prospects available. What does your employee welcome packet look like? Employees especially millennials are looking for companies where they can advance their skills. Offering an entire learning and development program upfront will help attract the best employees.
  • Is there an age gap between top management and their teams? If your company has a lot of senior management that are close to retiring, have you thought ahead to who will take their place down the road? If not, a Chief Learning Officer can help bring these junior employees up to speed faster, advancing their skills, and preparing them to fill these senior level gaps. And it’s a lot easier and less costly to hire within.

Where do I find a Chief Learning Officer and how do I write the job description?

Once you’ve determined you need a Chief Learning Officer, the next question is where do you find the best talent to fill this position. Whether you have in-house recruiters or you rely on an outside recruiting website like LinkedIn, you’ll find several qualified candidates to fill the position. But the most important part is nailing the job description if you have never hired a Chief Learning Officer before.

Here are the skills to add into your job description and look for during the interview process.

  • Innovative thinker

This person should not only have a background in training and development, but be an innovative thinker. You want to build a culture of learning and this takes a person that can think outside the box. Plus, a candidate needs to be on top of the latest training trends like gamification and simulation. Lastly, but most importantly a potential Chief Learning Officer must understand your company vision and how a learning program can strengthen your underlying goals.

  • Natural leader

Since you are hiring for a C-suite position, this candidate needs to be a natural leader. This includes being a teacher to everyone in your organization whether a junior employee or fellow C-suite manager.  Plus, this person needs to understand that everyone learns in a different way and tailor a learning program that is effective across different personalities.

  • Change maker

If your organization has been doing training and development a certain way for years, some of your employees are going to be reluctant to change. It’s important that you choose a candidate that can implement change and get every employee to buy in to a new system. And once a new system is established be able to grow this system over time and maintain employee engagement across the organization.

  • Employee analyzer

Even though this person is not your human resource manager or your in-house recruiter, they need to be an extension of both these positions. A good Chief Learning Officer after initializing training will have a pulse on every employee. This may lead to suggesting an employee be moved to a different team more deserving of their skill sets or hiring for a new position where there is a hole in production.

  • Expert communicator

Your new Chief Learning Officer will wear several hats, but most importantly, they need to communicate at ever level in this new role. This person needs to have buy-in from management, stakeholders, and employees on the new company learning program. This includes not only verbalizing the new direction, but backing up decisions with analysis, case studies, and available data. That way every person connected to your company understands why this new learning initiative is being launched and how it impacts them.

 

How much does a CLO earn?

After you draft the job description and either post or have your in-house recruiter start searching for candidates, you need to know how much a Chief Learning Officer makes. According to Payscale, a CLO makes on average $152,820 annually. However with other bonuses and other pay added in, like profit sharing, the pay range is anywhere from $97.018 to $219,500 per year.

Here are a few other statistics from Payscale’s survey that may aid in your search for the ideal candidate:

  • 48 percent surveyed had 20 plus years of experience
  • 54 percent were women and 46 percent were male
  • Bonus pay ranged from $5,000 – $50,000
  • Profit sharing averaged $16,250
  • All CLOs surveyed said they were extremely satisfied on the job
  • The majority had on-the-job health coverage

Becoming a Chief Learning Officer

Even though we’ve discussed looking outside your organization to find a CLO, you may want to look at your current employees. Since it is less expensive to hire from within, there may be a great employee who could become a Chief Learning Officer with some training. Current CLOs have started as Human Resource Directors, Chief Information Officers, and even Chief Executive Officers.

Some of this training should include:

  • Earning an advanced degree like an MBA that focuses on becoming a Chief Learning Officer. There are also several online and in-person courses that focus on this subject matter which may make more sense for juggling a full-time job and school.
  • Obtaining professional certifications from industry organizations like The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). They offer a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) certification. The test consists of a multiple choice exam and submissions of current work samples in order to earn it.
  • Reading up on successful CLOs. Managers can take note of what programs these individuals implemented and why they were successful. Plus this person can even research when these managers are speaking and attend conferences to gain further insight.
  • Outlining change for your organization with executive presence. Although a potential manager may not have the title of Chief Learning Officer, it doesn’t mean they can’t act the part. One of the main responsibilities of a CLO is formulating a learning platform and then getting buy-in from the entire company. So create a plan, present it to the C-Suite team, and get feedback.

The future of Chief Learning Officers

The role of a Chief Learning Officer is growing as more organizations recognize the need for learning and development to be central to their success. It’s important to remember the key skills that are needed to become a successful CLO, such as aligning learning with the goals of the organization and the personality traits that will command buy-in from the entire organization. Then whether you search in-house or externally, finding this individual will help sharpen your employees’ skills across your company. This will make your employees better at their jobs and more engaged. And in return, highly skilled employees will keep your customers happier and give you an edge on your competition.

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Kristy is a content writer for Continu and marketing freelancer. When she’s not working on her latest blog post, she enjoys tackling new recipes and destressing during yoga sculpt.