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CLOs get physical!

This post was written by John Helmer and first appeared on the LINE blog on 30th May 2013.

John Helmer reports from Day One of iVentiv’s 4th Learning Technologies, Executive Knowledge Exchange in London.

‘Get up on your tippy-toes …’

I’m in an event suite at a Bloomsbury hotel, surrounded by heads of learning and development from some of Europe’s largest multi-nationals, doing stretching exercises. Craig Yetter, Director of Global Learning Strategy for GlaxoSmithKline is putting us through our paces.

‘Now raise your arms above your heads …’

This slightly unexpected PE session is presumably Craig’s way of dispelling the torpor that grips corporate events in the post-lunch energy dip. And it seems to work. The breakout session that follows – on the role and responsibilities of a Chief Learning Officer (CLO) – is a lively one. More of which later.

I’m beginning to realise that iVentiv doesn’t do events in quite the same way as everybody else. It must be a winning formula, because they’re celebrating five years in existence, with LINE as sponsors from the beginning. Breakouts are plentiful and drive the agenda; exploring issues around the main theme of how technology has changed the way we work, interact, access knowledge and learn in 2013. There is PowerPoint: there are presentations – although questions are not required to wait respectfully until the speaker has finished, but get dealt with and debated as they come up. And it’s lucky there are some presentations, otherwise what would I write up?

A unique feature of iVentiv events, from my point of view at least, is the continuity of the discussion from one event to the next. It’s less a series of discrete conferences, more an ongoing conversation. This became clear with the first talk, a ‘summarising reflection’ on the findings from three previous events, in Copenhagen, Cologne and New York.

What we have learned so far

Bjorn Atterstam
Author & Thought Leader former: Group Head, Talent & Senior Management Development, Prudential

Bjorn summarised the points that stood out for him under four headings.

1. Role

Today’s group head of L&D has to engage with a VUCA world. That’s not something nasty growing on the bottom of your foot, but stands for:

  • Volatility
  • Uncertainty
  • Complexity
  • Ambiguity

These are characteristics of the world we live in now. To illustrate the point, Bjorn showed an image of a flooded market – a scene from the chaos that engulfed New York and the Eastern Seaboard of the US last year due to Hurricane Sandy. This pre-eminent ‘command center’ of the world economy, probably the most technologically advanced city on Earth, was suddenly without power, without a cellphone service – and brought to its knees.

Turns of fate in this uncertain world can be very sudden. In a climate of tumultuous and rapid change on so many fronts, today’s CLOs (And putative CLOs) are very often called upon ‘to hit a moving target’.

2. Process

On a related subject: if it is difficult sometimes in this VUCA environment for L&D to stay abreast, what kind of processes are needed? Is it perhaps the case that the stuff learning departments usually do – e.g. competency mapping, rigorous processes, annual review cycles, etc. – are no longer relevant?

The question follows of how we embed learning in different ways. Can we get learners to stand up and teach others? Can they take more responsibility so that official learning programmes are no longer the be all and end all? Technology enabled learning can no doubt help in this quest for a more organic type of talent management.

3. Channels

Anytime, anywhere, anything: is that good for us? Is that what we want? There were a lot of discussions around the ‘noble aspiration’ of offering staff the ability to learn whatever it is they need, on the go and wherever they need to learn. But how do you strike the right balance between virtual technology and face-to-face, especially with the cost considerations involved? Balancing online and offline is not something we seem to have worked out fully yet.

4. Content & method

This category of issues is about what learners are actually given to learn, and how that gets done.

A common theme was the ‘cosmic clash’ between the needs of individuals for purpose and meaning in their working lives, against the demands of the organisation for lower costs, increased productivity and ever better performance.

In meeting its needs, the organisation is also in danger of crushing the talent diversity it knows it needs. Even with a diverse intake, training all its executives in too similar a way risks producing ‘MacXecutives’. As they say on the BBC, other hamburgers are available.

Lastly under this heading is the question of finding new ways of learning that go beyond sitting people down in classrooms and showing them slides; more experiential learning, action learning, learning on the job, etc.

Chair’s opening remarks

Nick van Dam
Chief Learning Officer, Global Talent, Deloitte

Leadership development is of growing importance in business. Leaders are so busy and the pace of change is so intense, that it is tempting to continue in the track of ‘how, how, how?’ without every reflecting on the ‘why?’ With so much happening in learning technologies, events such iVentiv’s Knowledge Exchanges give an opportunity for leaders in learning to address such questions and to change best practices.

In this reflective space, Nick counsels taking an evidence-based approach. L&D needs to avoid fads such as learning styles – which in his view turned out to be ‘based on nothing’. Deloitte’s recent acquisition of Bersin can be seen to bear directly on the ‘why’ question – signaling the importance of basing learning strategy on evidence and research data.

More and more people in learning today realise that the CLO role is not about finding better ways to do what we did yesterday, but about taking a different view – a view that must be research-based and evidence-based.

Leaders in learning have struggled with the lack of empirical research data available, even when it comes to adoption of what Nick prefers to call ‘digital learning’; but one piece of data was presented as being of particular interest: the best, award-winning companies, according to ASTD’s definition, now deliver close to 50% of their formal learning hours using technology (ASTD 2012).

Nick highlighted some important focus areas in digital learning.

Personalisation

It is more and more important to have a personalised approach in learning. Everything we buy today is customised – from physical consumer products such as sportswear (Nike) and coffee (Starbucks), to digital information products such as Zite, which personalises the news for you.

Personalisation is important within organisations, so many of which face challenges with information overload. With the proliferation of portals and channels it is hard for people to figure out what they need to do. It has been popularly supposed that Generation Y is better equipped to deal with this profusion, and has sharper self-directed learning skills built in, purely by virtue of having grown up with digital media.

However this is not necessarily the case, and in certain territories has proved quite the opposite of reality, with new hires needing more direction than their seniors and actively wanting to be told where to go and what to do there.

Some examples of how personalisation can help are personal learning portals, and a global app portal Deloitte has recently launched. The app portal does not only cover learning apps, but does carry some very specific applications, such as apps for people working with particular clients.

While this example would tend to highlight the performance support end of the digital spectrum, at the same time it is important not to forget about high-end web-based training, and the very sophisticated, more immersive, solutions that are available nowadays, particularly in 3D simulations and games-based approaches.

Blending

In the past, ‘traditional’ blends were quite limited. They might involve some web-based pre-learning before a classroom event – or a virtual classroom after one. That was basically it. Now there are many different ways of blending classroom learning with all kinds of different experiences including shadowing leaders, action-based learning exercises – and all the different types of digital learning solutions available.

However, this wealth of options also provides a challenge. It is not easy to design blended programmes. It involves a tricky mix of art and science, with little to go on in terms of established practice or pedagogy.

(At LINE we are well aware of this difficulty and have responded to it with events and resources on the subject of Learning Architectures.)

MOOCs

2012 was undoubtedly the year of the MOOC. Nick showed a video from EdX – and in case anyone was having trouble seeing the relevance of this phenomenon in Higher Education to the organisational context, offered us this statistic: 40% of EdX attendees are employees in the workforce.

MOOCs of course come in various flavours, with xMOOCs and cMOOCs being the two categories mentioned here. Without getting into the finer details here, however, it is enough to note that MOOCs need to be firmly on the CLO radar.

The 70:20:10 Framework

Charles Jennings
Informal Learning Guru, Chairman of iVentiv Advisory Board & Director, Duntroon Associates

Charles Jennings is sceptical about learning metrics. Not just about Kirkpatrick levels one and two, which he says ‘tell us nothing at all’, but in a broader sense whether they really exist. We should measure performance, he implies, and nothing else is really of any value. (This sentiment was picked up in rather plainer terms by one quote on Stefan von Hoodoynk’s deck: ‘I don’t care what people know. I care how people perform in their job.’)

And yet a lot of training is still stuck in the same old model: classroom-based courses, with evaluation (where it happens) focused on attendance, and testing nothing much more than short-term memory recall. That is not learning, he says; learning is behaviour change.

70:20:10 challenges the traditional model. Charles prefers to call it a ‘framework’, and says it is a reference model, not a recipe.

LINE has written a great deal about 70:20:10 on this blog and in its white papers here, so we should keep repetition to a minimum. But Charles gave a highly cogent description of its origins in the work of McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger, and supporting evidence offered by other studies. Proportions vary in the numbers different researchers have found, but fundamentally it is not about the numbers. 70:20:10 represents a broad truth that has been observed about the way adults learn.

The framework is borne out by looking at the characteristics of high-performing experts such as, for instance, tennis pros. Charles offered five of these characteristics, showing which category of 70:20:10 each might be said to fit in to.

  1. They have mastered the basics through formal means (10)
  2. They have had hundreds of hours of simulation, trial and error and self-testing (10)
  3. They are embedded in a professional community (20)
  4. They have on-the-job performance support at their fingertips (70)
  5. They have had thousands of hours of experience and practice (70)

The nub of all this observation seems to be this. The figures seem to show that high performers learn a lot of what they need as part of their workflow.

Coming at things from a different end, Charles showed some research into the efficacy and impact of workplace learning from the Corporate Executive Board. On-the-job learning was found to have three times the impact of formal training programmes on employee performance, while more than doubling employee engagement.

70:20:10 has been around for a while – Charles used it with Reuters in the mid-noughties – so why is it becoming so important now?

Perhaps the most important reason lies in the global business drivers. Research shows widespread agreement that organisations need breakthrough performance in order to meet their current business goals. To put that simply, you can drive growth by adding more people to your workforce or by getting more productivity from the people you have. In the current climate, with adding headcount rarely an option, corporate growth targets are predicated on a major productivity hike – a performance uptick that traditional training methods will not be able to achieve.

Because while training effectiveness has increased in recent years – improving by 12% between 2009 and 2012 through means such as improving training materials, facilities and facilitator skills, and by introducing learning technologies into the classroom – analysts see the trend leveling off. Doing what we’ve always done is not going to get us there.

Meanwhile learning with each other on the job is what is showing the biggest uplift in workplace performance. According to Bersin & Associates (in its pre-takeover days) organisations with strong informal capability and tools do 300% better at talent management.

This necessarily short summary does scant justice to an extremely interesting session with an extended Q&A, but the case for change in the way L&D operates was forcefully made, and Charles’s evidence base was strong enough to see off any potential accusations that 70:20:10 is no more than the latest piece of HR ju-ju.

Technology Enabled Futures

Steve Ash
Director, LINE Communications

LINE’s own Steve Ash gave a case-study-driven presentation focusing on two groundbreaking and award-winning pieces of work.

British Airways: Outstanding Leaders

This was part of BA’s global leadership framework ‘Behaviours for Success’ developed for BA’s first level leaders. This involved around 5,000 employees globally, who are the direct and matrix managers of those who ‘touch’ the aircraft and the customers.

The programme was part of an overall regeneration of existing leadership development work which had been in place to train the employees of these particular managers.

LINE worked in partnership with ORConsulting and BA to design a blended programme which includes in a two day workshop and range of other learning inventions including elearning, printed learning packs, quizzes, face-to-face coaching and a video scenario; all centered around an online portal. These aimed to create a learner journey that would help to embed the learning more effectively into the manager’s behaviour.

The fictional video scenario used in the programme was not specific to the airline industry but drew its lessons from another industry – car manufacturing – to avoid the ‘baggage’ (no pun attended) that might come with something closer to home.

More details of the blended programme, together with results, can be read in the case study here. The organisation has done a thorough analysis, and the results are pretty conclusive in proving its success in helping to make the sort of positive behavior and culture change that was aimed at.

Jaguar Landrover: Learning Management for Dealer Network

LINE has worked with this client for the past five years as strategic advisers on things L&D. This programme is probably more performance support than learning –perhaps sign of how things are going generally. LINE helped develop the tools and enabling knowledge so that the client can produce their own, under a federated structure.

Jaguar Land Rover’s product range is huge and complex, especially in the fast-developing area of onboard technology. Buyers of its products are ‘info-passionate’ and can often know more than the dealer about certain specifics. This situation generates a clear need for relevant information delivered fast at the point of need – i.e. in the showroom, and as part of the dealer/customer interaction.

Background to the strategic work and more about Jaguar Landrover mobile apps can be read in case studies on this site.

A notable feature about LINE’s work with this client is this not only has it involved knowledge embedded within workflow to a far greater extent than average training programmes, but it has also been a programme that links closely into business drivers and benefits. Examples of this include:

  • Preventing any break in the customer showroom experience (e.g dealer staff having to walk away from the customer to look something up) has direct positive impact on customer satisfaction ratings
  • Efficiency gains from SMEs creating their own content within a template structure
  • Spend on print manuals saved

The CLO – Evolution of a Role?

Craig Yetter
iVentiv Advisory Board Member & former Director, Global Learning Strategy, GlaxoSmithKline

This is where we came in, with the ebullient Craig Yetter keeping us (literally) on our toes. But his impromptu aerobics session was merely a warm-up for the main workout, a brain-stretching breakout session around what it is to be a strategic leader of learning for a large organisation.

It is hard to write up a breakout session where participants split into four groups, but here are my admittedly subjective reactions (under Chatham House rules) from taking part in this session and the following feedback session with the whole group.

The learning function does not have an automatic right of inclusion to the strategic tier of organisational decision-making in the same way as does Marketing or Finance. It is often seen as a subset of HR, and many heads of L&D report to HR. (Though an example was cited of one company in the US where it is the other way round, and HR reports to the CLO. Gasps all round.)

CLOs might be called in to report on a particular subject, but will very rarely sit at the top table alongside HR, discussing the same issues. CLO strategy is often to educate, inform and influence HR.

Neither can it necessarily be assumed that all CLOs are ready for a seat at that table, although the more ambitious will be lobbying hard for such a voice. One delegate detects an expectation in the C-suite that L&D will become more proactive, but sees a lot of heads of learning spending all their time just ‘keeping the wheels on the road’.

Given the increasing importance of knowledge and skills in helping organisations meet their goals, as highlighted by Charles Jennings, it is clear that learning is achieving increased strategic importance, and this drives a changing perception of what the role of CLO can and should be.

CLOs need to ‘tool up’ for these changes. They may not presently be commercially aware enough. They may need to understand organisational development better; appreciate how to align learning with the business better; how to structure the learning function so as to support the business, rather than create a separate system altogether.

Many questions of governance were thrown up by the discussions. Should the CLO ‘own’ culture within the organisation in the same way that Marketing owns brand? What are the rules of engagement with learning across the organisation? Governance boards were seen as one way of managing the cross-disciplinary job of influencing that learning has to do (although another delegate saw them as evidence of a CLO having failed to forge the right top-team relationships).

So CLOs might need new skills, attitudes and knowledge for this new role, which will see them dealing, as many already do, with strategic issues such as learning across the value chain (ie not only within the organisation but for its suppliers and customers too), and the relationship between the centre and the regions – i.e. is learning devolved, centralised or federated? And what should be the role of technology in all this?

This was a stimulating event that sparked all sorts of further topics for investigation and debate. In particular, that last question about technology – which I left hanging in the air there – is one that LINE intends to explore further in this blog in the coming months.