Explore the pivotal roles and responsibilities of a Chief Learning Officer (CLO) in shaping organizational learning and driving performance.
No organization wants to lose its best employees. And one of the main reasons workers quit is due to lack of advancement.
In fact, a survey by Robert Half found a strong learning culture led to a 30 to 50 percent higher retention rate in companies. That’s why it’s important to look at developing your key employees so they remain engaged and give your company an edge over the competition.
So how do you ensure learning takes center stage within your organization? You hire an individual who oversees this process, a Chief Learning Officer (CLO).
Chief Learning Officer (CLO) job description
As a Chief Learning Officer (CLO), your key responsibilities include designing and implementing learning programs, overseeing training initiatives, assessing learning needs, managing budgets, collaborating with stakeholders, leveraging technology for learning solutions, and measuring the impact of learning initiatives. You are responsible for fostering a culture of continuous learning, talent development, and driving organizational growth through effective learning strategies.
This job role was first started in 1989 by then CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch. He hired Steve Kerr, then a consultant for the company, to be the Chief Learning Officer overseeing employee development. This led to Kerr running GE’s 59-acre management training center. Since this time, the role has evolved but the core definition remains the same.
Some of the core responsibilities of a Chief Learning Officer (CLO) include:
1. Align with organizational goals
A Chief Learning Officer is a C-suite employee so they need to be steering the learning of the organization in the same direction as the overall goals of the corporation. One of the CLO’s main goals is to develop key skills of the employees, but also to advance the company as a whole.
2. Create a learning strategy
Next, the CLO needs to create a learning strategy based on the company’s goals. Each employee needs to be assessed as to their roles within the organization and how best to strengthen their skill sets to meet those outlined goals. On the flip side, it’s important to discuss individual learning goals with each core team member so they remain fulfilled and engaged on the job.
3. Assess current employees
After outlining a companywide learning program, a Chief Learning Officer needs to assess if they have the right team members to properly execute the strategy. If there are holes within the organization, the CLO will need to hire these individuals. This may also mean shuffling around responsibilities within the organization to the strongest members. And if anyone is unwilling or unmotivated to execute this new learning strategy, they may need to be let go.
4. Evaluate and make changes
A Chief Learning Officer needs to be flexible and creative. Since he or she will be implementing a new learning platform, they can’t be rigid. The program they put in place also can not be static. Tweaks and changes need to be made often based on employee feedback. Plus, this person needs to stay on top of trends within the industry in terms of online learning platforms, training design, and technological advancements.
5. Analyze results
Lastly, it’s important for the Chief Learning Officer to analyze how the program is progressing in order to convince the organization that its plan is effective. This needs to be both on a personal level and the level of a number. This person needs to ask themselves some key questions:
- How are my employees responding to our new learning culture?
- Are my learning objectives translating into business metrics?
- How is the new learning culture adding value to the employees?
- How is the increased learning culture helping our customers?
Hiring a Chief Learning Officer
Now that you know some of the responsibilities you want in a Chief Learning Officer, the next question you may ask is do I really need one? If so, where do I find one? And how much will this cost my organization?
Does my company need this position?
First, let’s discuss does your organization really need one. Here are a few questions to answer:
- Do I have the budget to hire one? Really, the number one question is do you have room in the budget to hire for a new position. If you are a start-up or a smaller organization, this may be a position to consider down the road. However, if you are a larger organization with a robust human resources department, this may be a vital position to help retain your top talent.
- How is my employee turnover? Do you have a high attrition rate? If so a Chief Learning Officer could help keep these top employees from heading to your competition. And as we stated before, it costs a lot more to hire new talent than to keep the talent you already have. Plus, if you are in a competitive business, you don’t want your top talent leaving for the competition.
- What do I currently offer onboarding new employees? When you are recruiting for top talent, you need a package that appeals to the best prospects available. What does your employee welcome packet look like? Employees--especially millennials--are looking for companies where they can advance their skills. Offering an entire learning and development program upfront will help attract and nurture the best people for your team.
- Is there an age gap between top management and their teams? If your company has a lot of senior management that are close to retiring, have you thought ahead about who will take their place down the road? If not, a Chief Learning Officer can help bring juniors up to speed faster, advancing their skills, and preparing them to fill these senior-level gaps. And it’s a lot easier and less costly to hire within.
Where do I find a Chief Learning Officer and how do I write the job description?
Once you’ve determined you need a Chief Learning Officer, the next question is where do you find the best talent to fill this position. Whether you have in-house recruiters or you rely on an outside recruiting website like LinkedIn, you’ll find several qualified candidates to fill the position. But the most important part is nailing the job description if you have never hired a Chief Learning Officer before. Here are the skills to add to your job description and look for during the interview process.
This person should not only have a background in training and development but be an innovative thinker. You want to build a culture of learning and this takes a person that can think outside the box. Plus, a candidate needs to be on top of the latest training trends like gamification and simulation. Lastly, but most importantly a potential Chief Learning Officer must understand your company vision and how a learning program can strengthen your underlying goals.
Since you are hiring for a C-suite position, this candidate needs to be a natural leader. This includes being a teacher to everyone in your organization whether a junior employee or a fellow C-suite manager. Plus, this person needs to understand that everyone learns in a different way and tailor a learning program that is effective across different personalities.
If your organization has been doing training and development a certain way for years, some of your employees are going to be reluctant to change. It’s important that you choose a candidate that can implement change and get every employee to buy into a new system. And once a new system is established be able to grow this system over time and maintain employee engagement across the organization.
Even though this person is not your human resource manager or your in-house recruiter, they need to be an extension of both these positions. A good Chief Learning Officer after initializing training will have a pulse on everyone. This may lead to suggesting a member move to a different team more deserving of their skill sets or hiring for a new position where there is a hole in production.
Your new Chief Learning Officer will wear several hats, but most importantly, they need to communicate at every level in this new role. This person needs to have buy-in from management, stakeholders, and employees on the new company learning program. This includes not only verbalizing the new direction, but backing up decisions with analysis, case studies, and available data. That way every person connected to your company understands why this new learning initiative is launching and how it impacts them.
How much does a CLO earn?
After you draft the job description and either post or have your in-house recruiter start searching for candidates, you need to know how much a Chief Learning Officer makes. According to Payscale, a CLO makes on average $152,820 annually. However, with other bonuses and other pay added in, like profit sharing, the pay range is anywhere from $97.018 to $219,500 per year. Here are a few other statistics from Payscale’s survey that may aid in your search for the ideal candidate:
- 48 percent surveyed had 20-plus years of experience
- 54 percent were women and 46 percent were male
- Bonus pay ranged from $5,000 - $50,000
- Profit sharing averaged $16,250
- All CLOs surveyed said they were extremely satisfied with the job
- The majority had on-the-job health coverage
Becoming a Chief Learning Officer
Even though we’ve discussed looking outside your organization to find a CLO, you may want to look at your current employees. Since it is less expensive to hire from within, there may be a great employee who could become a Chief Learning Officer with some training. Current CLOs have started as Human Resource Directors, Chief Information Officers, and even Chief Executive Officers.
Some of this training should include:
- Earning an advanced degree like an MBA that focuses on becoming a Chief Learning Officer. There are also several online and in-person courses that focus on this subject matter which may make more sense for juggling a full-time job and school.
- Obtaining professional certifications from industry organizations like The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). They offer a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) certification. The test consists of a multiple choice exam and submissions of current work samples in order to earn it.
- Reading up on successful CLOs. Managers can take note of what programs these individuals implemented and why they were successful. Plus this person can even research when these managers are speaking and attend conferences to gain further insight.
- Outlining change for your organization with executive presence. Although a potential manager may not have the title of Chief Learning Officer, it doesn’t mean they can’t act the part. One of the main responsibilities of a CLO is formulating a learning platform and then getting buy-in from the entire company. So create a plan, present it to the C-Suite team, and get feedback.
The future of Chief Learning Officers
The role of a Chief Learning Officer is growing as more organizations recognize the need for learning and development to be central to their success. It’s important to remember the key skills that are needed to become a successful CLO, such as aligning learning with the goals of the organization and the personality traits that will command buy-in from the entire organization. Then whether you search in-house or externally, finding this individual will help sharpen your employees’ skills across your company.
This will make your employees better at their jobs and more engaged. And in return, highly skilled employees will keep your customers happier and give you an edge over your competition.