Chief Learning Officer


Closing the top skill and competency gaps that exist today relies on providing learning within the context of employees’ daily work. To close these kinds of gaps, tacit knowledge, craft know-how and relational strategies have to increase dramatically.

The quote above comes from a mentoring article in Chief Learning Officer magazine.  The author cites a variety of sources that to point out that employees lack the skills and experience to build sustainable team performance.  He goes on to point out that traditional and e-learning are not as effective as mentoring.  One of his sources says their mentoring program emphasizes “how leaders can have the most business impact and personal satisfaction by making explicit connections between their talents, values and motivations and the kind of work they do.”

The author provides five types of mentoring that can be used alternately to improve performance, topical, situational, peer, reverse, and open.  The article provides explanations of each.  It is likely that a blend of these types will be required to create the best experience and improve the outcomes.

As with any learning endeavor it is best to work with a learning professional to document clear goals and specific outcomes.  This will help to identify the right mentor(s) and mentoring strategy.

According to research cited in an article published in Chief Learning Officer magazine 80% of learners do not apply learning successfully.  The author of the article calls this scrap learning.  In other words a waste of organizational resources.

What is the key to getting results from training?  Manager engagement.  The author of the study provides tips for managers to turn training into learning and thus have a positive impact on performance.

Before training, it is helpful for the manager to assess the business case. Is the employee the right person to attend training? Is it the right time? Are the costs appropriate? Additionally, the manager should meet with the learner pre-event to set learning and performance expectations, and they should create an action plan together. These managerial actions help to ensure that training is valuable to the learner and is fully aligned with business goals. Further, the conversation and expectation setting prepares the learner for the actual training event.

After training, the manager should review the action plan with the learner to determine if it still aligns with what was taught. As the learner applies training on the job, the manager must supervise and provide meaningful praise and feedback to reinforce success and correct mistakes. It is also the manager’s responsibility to seek projects, events or situations where the learner can hone new skills.  (emphasis mine)

According to David Ballard, head of APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, having opportunities for growth and development in an organization can build employees’ knowledge, skills and abilities. In turn, this can be applied to new situations that can increase motivation, job satisfaction and the ability to manage job stress, because employees have the necessary resources to do their jobs.

“All this can translate again for the organization as well. It improves organizational effectiveness [and] work quality, and the organization also can be positioned as an employer of choice,” Ballard said. “It can attract and retain the best employees and that’s what it takes to have a competitive advantage today.”

I am encouraged by two things in this article from Chief Learning Officer magazine.  First, it focuses on learning instead of training.  Organizations do not get the most of their “training” team if their responsibilities are limited to training.
Training is reactive.
Training is compliance-focused.
Training meets the minimum requirements.

Learning is proactive.
Learning is empowering.
Learning is growth oriented.

The second point I find encouraging is the link between learning and business results.  This is an extension of the first point.  Employees who are given opportunities to grow professionally (learn new things) are more likely to enjoy their work, are more motivated, and have a higher level of engagement.  That sounds happy doesn’t it?  Happy employees want to improve their business results.  Unhappy employees are apathetic.  Unhappy employees aren’t excited about their work.  Unhappy employees are looking for a new job.  How can you grow your business with this kind of employee?

The article provides four best practices for providing a healthy work environment: good assessment, tailoring, strategic implementation, and evaluation.  Interestingly, they reflect at a high level the phases of performance improvement.  Coincidence?

There is one point in the quote above I want to touch on.  Mr. Ballard references “knowledge, skills, and abilities.”  Skills are abilities.  This is a common error made in learning circles so I am not surprised to see this perpetuated by someone who is not a learning professional.  There are three aspects to learning: knowledge, skills, and attitudes.  This is interesting because the whole point of this article is the positive impact learning has on employee attitudes.

While I don’t agree with everything in this article the basic point is noteworthy, “creating and maintaining an effective culture of commitment and engagement takes effort from leaders who work closely with employees.”  While supporting this point, the author makes some other points I agree with.

Here is an example, “Leaders need to work on creating excitement and enthusiasm,” Hunter said. “Be clear about the future you want to create. Be clear about what’s in it for everybody in the company. Build a sense of team. Have people feel like they’re a part of what’s going on; include them; have them feel acknowledged and appreciated. When you do that, that’s the formula for success.”

One of the most precious organizational assets is knowledge.  How well leaders optimize and convert knowledge to sustained employee performance is one measure of success, reflected by employees’ knowledge management capabilities, their ability to learn, support of their own performance and collaboration with experts.

The quote above is from an article in the current edition of Chief Learning Officer titled The Learning Ecosystem.  I recommend reading the entire article.  It is  thorough, well thought out and provides real-world examples of organizations who overcame obstacles to implement a learning ecosystem that meets their organization’s needs.

The challenge to organizational leaders is fostering a culture that empowers individuals, rewards sharing, and encourages transparency.  There is no recipe to do this.  The first step is for leaders to recognize the needs of organization, how it could work better and the benefits of greater collaboration.

Throughout the article the author sprinkles references to ISPI standards.  If you find one mention it in the Comments.