The Business-Driven CLO

This week we talked with five top Chief Learning Officers representing training leadership at EMC, Extra Space Storage, MetLife, Textron, and Trinity Health. This group of learning leaders will be discussing their L&D strategies and solutions at our upcoming research conference.

One of the biggest topics we discussed was how to build a corporate training organization which is highly aligned with the business’s most urgent needs. In each case, these individuals told us about how they stay business-driven and well aligned. A few key findings:

  • These high-impact learning leaders all have direct line-of-business business backgrounds.  D’Anne Carpenter from Trinity Health worked in operations;  Tom Clancy (EMC) was a leader in sales and customer solutions;  Doris Fritz worked in the line operations at MetLife;  Karen Langham from ExtraSpace Storage works directly for operations;  Gwen Callas-Miller is directly responsible for the transformational leadership team at Textron.  These individuals are not “training executives” — the are “business executives” given the responsibility for managing the corporate learning function.
  • The Learning & Development function in these organizations has a strong business reporting structure.  At Trinity Health, ExtraSpace Storage, and EMC the L&D function reports directly into an operational function.  At both MetLife and Textron the L&D team has direct responsibility for business-level learning leaders who reside in the various global businesses.  These organizations are not at all hidden within HR – rather they are highly integrated into the business fabric of their organizations.
  • Planning and alignment are top priorities in their organizations.  At EMC training is a profit center, and the organization hires senior managers from the line organizations (sales, support, professional services, engineering) as leaders in the training team, representing the needs of these businesses.  This type of structure creates high levels of respect and credibility among the business leaders.
  • These learning leaders have deep expertise in building the “right” L&D solutions.  At Extra Space Storage, for example, the employee audience is largely regional operations people working at the storage locations.  The training programs being developed are highly focused on action, they are easy to understand, and they include many on-the-job exercises and activities to drive behavior change.  (The Extra Space Storage training program to develop sales skills for insurance plans won a Bersin & Associates Learning Leaders® award.)  EMC has an entire team of learning experts who apply the latest technologies and approaches to problems facing the business.
  • These leaders are very well aligned and involved in the organization’s broader talent management needs.  At Textron, for example, the corporate university function also runs leadership development, career development, change management, and succession management.  At MetLife the learning organization is tightly integrated with the company’s integrated talent management process.
  • These organizations use e-learning extensively, but not as an end in itself.  Textron, MetLife, Trinity Health, and Extra Space Storage all have some online content, but much of their training is still done in face-to-face format.  Our research continues to show that while most companies today have a tremendous amount of e-learning available, the high-impact organizations work very hard to find just the “right blend” of online and instructor-led training which drives the desired outcome.

As we prepare to publish our brand new High Impact Learning Organization research we are finding that corporate training is going through many changes:  increased focus on talent management, heavy focus on multi-generational learning programs, tremendous need for globalization, and a lot of focus and experimentation with what we call “learning on-demand” — the integration of online learning with performance support and social networking.

But the bottom line is in the title of this posting:  a business-driven approach to corporate learning is perhaps the most important theme of all.  These high-impact learning organizations continuously find ways to organize, structure, and deliver their programs in ways that get them closer and closer to the business needs of their companies. 

PS:  Join us for further discussion on these and other topics during the session “The High Impact Learning Organization,” scheduled for Wednesday April 23 at IMPACT 2008:  The Business of Talent®.