The role of chief learning officer (CLO) isn’t new—by some accounts, Jack Welch was the first CEO to appoint one during his tenure at General Electric (GE) during the 1990s. Yet it is gaining prominence as organisations grapple with the challenges of driving skills development and learning in a digital age. Today’s CLOs are not just training directors—they are agents of change and transformation.

blog post from US learning agency, Elm, says that the CLO is the person in charge of employee training and development—they formulate strategies to drive corporate learning direction, goals, and policies. The post also notes the CLO has a heavily tech-driven role, with a heavy emphasis on partnering with the CIO to use tech to disseminate knowledge and information through technology.

Given the pace of change today, the CLO has a vital role to play in helping the organisation’s talent to keep with evolving technologies, regulations and business practices. It’s not just a matter of driving training and development, but also supporting organisational change and creating a culture of constant, in-the-moment learning.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Abbie Lundberg and George Westerman describe the role of what they call a ‘transformer CLO’:

“They’re embracing a more powerful role in which they reshape capabilities and organisational culture… Transformer CLOs are strong senior managers whose mission is to help their companies and their employees thrive, even as technologies, business practices, and whole industries undergo rapid change.”

Lundberg and Westerman’s research shows that transformer CLOs are shifting focus from the development of skills to the development of mindsets and capabilities that will help workers perform well now and adapt smoothly in the future. These CLOs are transforming their learning methods to be more experiential, immediate, and componentised. They’re also making learning departments leaner, more agile, and more strategic.

As Westerman notes in a different article, technology really does nothing for the business unless the organisation changes. “Employees matter as much as customers in many cases, and you need to create a digital-ready culture to be fast enough to compete in this world,” he says. To succeed, it’s essential to inspire people to embrace the change that goes hand-in-hand with transformation.

While the name of the role doesn’t matter, what is becoming clear is that old approaches to learning and development are not going to be good enough for businesses that want to thrive in a fast-changing world. Digital channels, work-from-home and hyper-automation are all reshaping the ways we work and how organisations operate.

As such, senior leaders with responsibility for training budgets and strategies increasingly need to focus on how they can support people in embracing digital mindsets and developing the agility to learn, unlearn and relearn as well as the adaptability to cope with constant change. Their role is about culture today as much as content—and it’s a role that will only grow in importance.


[Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels]