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5 Biggest Challenges for Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) in 2019

Posted on December 20, 2018 at 10:35 AM


The title of "Chief Learning Officer" reportedly entered the mainstream in the mid-1990s when Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, created the role at GE. Since then, the CLO role has become widespread, particularly in the professional services, health care, government, and financial services sectors, according to a 2015 survey. The challenges for CLOs have evolved along with the role. I recently attended a conference with dozens of CLOs and here are the 5 biggest challenges I heard the CLOs say they will face in 2019, with some suggestions on how to tackle them.


1 - Demonstrating a Return on Investment (ROI) - This challenge never seems to go away in the learning and development space. Business leaders who have clear P&L (profit and loss) metrics and responsibility want to understand the returns they get from the cost, and time required, to train their employees. Smart CLOs seek ways to show bottom line results for their work.


Recommendation -> Identify techniques your business customers use to measure value in their business and see how they can apply to training. A/B Testing, for example, can be a way to prove concrete results in training where there are clear business metrics that can be tracked between those who have received training and those who have not. Different call centers, for example, can make useful A/B testing grounds.


2 - Incorporating Emerging Technology - Artificial intelligence. Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Tantalizing emerging technologies can turn into a swarm of potential, "shiny object" distractions if a CLO lets them. The key is to start with the problems that need to be solved and then think about how the technology can fix those. Problems can often be around cost, availability, and effectiveness of delivering training.

 

Recommendation -> Identify small, concrete ways to apply new technologies that will greatly improve some piece of training. For example, use artificial intelligence to help users get better access to existing content through enhanced searching and retrieval. Instead of just popping up a relevant video to a user query, use artificial intelligence to go to the exact moment in the video where the topic is discussed.


3 - On-boarding Generation Z - While incorporating Millennials into the workforce has been a major focus for the last several years, the nextgeneration is starting to enter the workforce now as well. The oldest members of this "Generation Z" were born in the mid-1990s, meaning the first iPhone came out before they were in high school. They have incorporated, and relied upon, technology like no generation before. While they are app savvy, they can struggle with communicating and interacting in person with older colleagues in the workplace who grew up without having their eyes glued to a smartphone.

 

Recommendations -> Identify the skill gaps Generation Z workers need to fill to succeed in your environment (e.g., getting training in critical thinking and business communications.) Identify how you can expand use of smartphones to deliver training.

 

4 - Making Content Compelling - Corporate training competes against many other stimuli to win mindshare of employees. Attention-challenged trainees are used to short videos and games, often on their smartphones, as a way to consume information. To get employees to consume the training they need, you need to do more than just push it at them - i.e., "Corporate makes me watch this." You should create a "pull" demand as well, where people want to consume the training because it is compelling in delivery and has a clear link to improving job performance.

 

Recommendations -> Continue incorporating 'gamification' and mobile delivery into training. Also start thinking about how you can incorporate storytelling as a vehicle to deliver training content. Consider going all out and incorporating "Hollywood-ification" - where a company creates a television-quality drama to deliver training. (See a 90-second https://vimeo.com/261565733" target="_blank">example.)


5 - Developing Senior-Most Leaders - Much focus in corporate learning has been in how to apply new technology to meet the needs of rank and file employees. The senior-most executives at the VP and C-suite level, however, are often left behind because their learning needs aren't easily met by technology. Old-fashioned, person-to-person channels like mentoring and coaching are often key to developing senior executives but they aren't as scalable or glamorous as technology solutions.


Recommendations -> Dedicate a portion of CLO team resources to serving senior-most executives's needs. Pre-screen and build a catalog of approved executive coaches. Identify and apply best practices in mentoring.


The world continues to change rapidly for Chief Learning Officers. The best CLOs will anticipate and incorporate the changes thrown at them. By doing so, they can become examples of success for other leaders in their organization.

Categories: People Leadership, Operational Excellence, Coaching