The Death of the CLO

I recently had a conversation with the CLO of one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies, who told me that “The CLO Role as we know it is dead.”

I have to somewhat agree.  Over the last two years some very interesting shifts have taken place in the corporate training market:  more and more companies are waking up to the fact that corporate training (or “learning & development”) does not and cannot stand alone.  In fact, in this tightened talent environment, the concept of the “chief learning officer” is quickly morphing into one of “chief talent officer” or “vice president of talent management.”

Consider a few important trends from our research:

1.  Today the single greatest talent challenge facing organizations is gaps in the leadership pipeline (60% of organizations rated as #1, in January of 2008), caused by the demographic shifts in our workforce.

2.  The second greatest talent challenge is creating a performance-driven culture (46% of organizations in our January 2008 research).

3.  And the third greatest talent challenge is filling key positions, coupled with improving employee retention (38% and 31% in our January 2008 research).

None of these three business challenges relates specifically to training.  They are problems solved through integrated talent management solutions – incorporating sourcing, recruiting, career development, performance management, and coaching in a completely integrated solution.

Who takes responsibility for dealing with these problems?  Ideally our research clearly shows that such talent-management problems must be owned by business leaders, with strong support from HR and L&D practitioners.  But if you want to find a single talent or HR executive that owns these problems, who should it be?  Not the CLO, but rather the head of Talent management.

Evidence of this is the rapid shift in job opportunities for CLOs.  One of the corporate headhunters I talked with recently told me that most of the CLO or Head of Learning roles they were looking for in 2006 and 2007 are gone, now being replaced by a tremendous demand for expertise in end-to-end talent management.  Chief learning officers are still important, but if you aspire to such a leadership position, it is now time for you to gain valuable experience and expertise in sourcing, recruiting, performance management, compensation, and business measurement. 

I’ve written about the CLO role before – today’s CLO must go far beyond the management of the L&D function, he or she must take on an even broader responsibility – building not only the right learning programs, but building career models, succession plans, complete talent plans, and building an organizational culture of development which infiltrates business plans and the day-to-day life of line managers.

Enduring organizations learn.  Yahoo lost the search business to Google because Google “learned faster” than Yahoo.  Apple and Samsung took the lead in mobile phones because Motorola couldnt “learn fast enough.”  As we prepare for our big research conference this spring (IMPACT 2008:  The Business of Talent, April 22-24 in St. Petersburg, Florida), we are preparing some groundbreaking discussions about what organizational learning really means in the next decade.

There is no question that 2008 will bring many changes:  political changes, economic changes, and demographic changes.  If you want to be considered a CLO, you must help your organization “learn” to adapt to such changes, and this type of learning takes place in the business, in the board room, in the executive suite, and in the line management teams of your organization.

Is the CLO dead?  Not yet.  But the “chief of the corporate university” as we know it is dying.  Consider these trends and let us know how we can help you transform your learning organization into one which drives business impact into the next decade.