DiscoveredLOGIC, LLC

Management Consulting & Training


10 Insights from the 2019 Chief Learning Officer (CLO) Exchange

Posted on January 19, 2020 at 2:55 PM

Last month, I attended the CLO Exchange in San Diego, a conference of the top learning and development (L&D) leaders from about 50 companies in the United States. Together, these companies employ about 2.3 million employees in the US and 3.8 million globally. It was an intense three days of information-sharing, brainstorming, and networking. While the companies represented were not a random, perfectly-representative sample of CLOs, they still offer a useful snapshot of the demographics and interests of the senior-most learning executives in the USA. Here are the biggest 10 insights I gleaned from the meeting.


1 - "Leadership / Executive Development" is the Clear #1 Focus - When asked a free-form question about their top priorities for the coming year, 40 percent of the group mentioned leadership or executive development as one of their top priorities. This was far and away the top area mentioned. The need was described several different ways, such as: "elevate leadership capabilities at all levels," "roll out tiered leadership learning journeys, customized to the experience/leadership maturity level of the individual," "bridge leadership skill gaps," and "build the leadership bench."


Recommendation -> If you don't have leadership development as one of your priorities, reconsider your priorities. Leadership is like air and water - you don't appreciate how important it is until it isn't there. Leadership takes continual development to keep pace in the face of organization growth and executive attrition. If you haven't added or refreshed your leadership development in a while, start looking for good training and other programs now.


2 - Developing a "Learning & Development Culture" is the #2 Focus - The second most prevalent priority mentioned was to develop a learning and development culture in their organization. This builds on the momentum that has re-labeled the field from "training" to "learning and development." L&D leaders want to weave continuous learning and people development into the fabric of their organizations' cultures as an everyday value, not just as a task that has to be done.


Recommendation -> Recruit your senior-most executives to talk about the importance of continual learning as the key to organizational success. Arm them with some data and stories of how successful leaders in your organization grew from L&D efforts. Ask them to think about how training and development efforts personally helped them on their own career and leadership journeys.


3 - E-Learning is Everywhere - The third most mentioned priority was the need to offer learning through new digital channels to meet clients needs in more flexible ways. Sometimes this means having a blended approach to training, where an e-learning channel complements other traditional channels, like instructor-led training. Sometimes it means offering e-learning as an alternative or replacement.


Recommendation -> Review your existing programs to see where e-learning could be a valuable addition, replacement, or complement to your existing inventory. Explore growing e-learning channels, such as LinkedIN Learning, as an additional channel to spur learning and development. Often, LinkedIN Learning is already available to your users but they are not aware it is there and they can access it.


4 - On-Boarding is Core - Fifteen percent of attendees said working on their on-boarding/orientation process was a priority. On-boarding and new employee orientation are often a core responsibility of L&D teams. Since it touches every employee and creates a first impression, it is kind of like the base of the hierarchy of needs. You have to make sure your L&D team consistently excels in its role in on-boarding and new employee orientation.


Recommendation -> Before you ask to grow your L&D footprint, make sure you are crushing the basics. Delivering great on-boarding/orientation can be the table stakes your top executives will want to see before you ask for their support to expand and innovate your L&D efforts.


5 - Asked for L&D's ROI? You're Not Alone - Fifteen percent of these L&D leaders said finding a way to measure the return on investment (ROI) in training was a priority for them in the coming year. There doesn't seem to be a one-sized-fits-all silver bullet for measuring the value and outcomes from training.


Recommendation -> This is a tough one, as it's hard to argue against knowing your efforts' ROI. As data continues to get more accessible to measure the effectiveness of programs like online marketing, expect the demands to quantify the ROI of L&D to increase. Think through a high-level approach and philosophy to responding to the question to avoid getting dragged down a data wormhole. With leadership development, for example, start by painting a picture of what happens if you make no investment there. Your best strategy may be to focus on delivering great learning and development results and stand by your overall record as proof of your worth.


6 - LMS/LXPs are Still Rolling - Fifteen percent of the L&D leaders mentioned something with their Learning Management/Experience System as being a priority for the year. For some, it was getting the most out of their existing system. For others, it was rolling out a new system. The vast majority of L&D leaders didn't mention their LMS/LXS as a priority though.


Recommendation -> Before making a big investment in upgrading or getting a new LMS/LXS, make sure you are getting the full use of what you already have. Because they can be complex, included features in LMS systems can often be untapped.


7 - "Microlearning" is the new "Gamification" - The word "gamification" was only mentioned once with the L&D leaders, while "microlearning" came up with about ten percent of them. The biggest interest was in delivering training in small bites to workers on the front line (e.g., retail, food service) when they had time, and the need, to consume it.


Recommendation -> Read up on "microlearning." It will probably be the next learning buzzword that makes it into the management mainstream. Get smart about it before your boss does.


8 - L&D Leader Job Titles Center on "Director" - "Director" was the most prevalent job title at 37 percent, with "Senior Director" at 12 percent, "Assistant/Associate Vice President" at 12 percent, "Vice President / Senior Vice President" at 8 percent, and "Head of" at 10 percent. Four percent were "Assistant / Associate Director" and another 10 percent were "Manager" or "Lead." Only 6 percent had the title "Chief Learning Officer."


Recommendation -> If the leader of your L&D efforts has a title below "Director," consider upgrading it to align with their peers in other organizations and demonstrate that you value the role.


9 - "Learning" and "Development" Have Replaced "Training" - Only 15 percent of attendees had the word "training" in their title, while the word "learning" was in 53 percent and "development" was in 47 percent.


Recommendation -> If you still have the word "training" in your team and job titles, consider updating it to "learning" or "development." "Training" is an input. "Learning" and "Development" are the desired outcomes of training.


10 - Women are Well-Represented in L&D Leadership - Two-thirds of the representatives were women, and one-third were men. In other words, women outnumbered men two to one in this group of leaders.


Recommendation -> Look to your L&D team as a center of excellence in developing women leaders. Consider L&D leaders as you look to fill executive roles outside L&D. Look to L&D for mentors to help grow women leaders in other areas of your organization.


There were many other issues that were also shared as top priorities by at least a few of these L&D leaders, such as employee engagement, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, diversity and inclusion, and succession planning. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned at this conference is how strong the L&D community is. Because L&D doesn't typically center around trade secrets, L&D leaders are open to talking and helping their peers in different organizations. Conferences like the CLO Exchange can be a great way to connect with your L&D peers to share best practices and realize you are not alone in the challenges you are facing.

Photo courtesy of Rene Asmussen on



Categories: People Leadership, Organizational Design, Training