11 Ways to Happy Learning and Development (L&D) for Real Performance. The Chief Learning Officer (CLO)


Two decades of insights into many organizations, looking at current literature and trends, and most importantly my ‘Happy Colorful Growth’ spirit let me think beyond present common practices. For every organization (cooperatives may be already a step ahead) willing to take a quantum leap in the happier workforce revolution: These are my key objectives for a today’s transcending Chief Learning Officer role:

  • 1 Commitment to the Unity of Leadership and Learning
  • 2 Understanding Learning as a Strategic Asset
  • 3 Outperforming through L&D Investment
  • 4 Realizing Intangible Benefits
  • 5 Allowing for Diverse Ways of (Learning) Performance
  • 6 Bridging the Execution Gap
  • 7 Having a Seat at the Board Table
  • 8 Rewarding Intrapreneurship
  • 9 Directly Reporting to CEO
  • 10 Focusing on Strategy Enablement as a Business Partner
  • 11 Educating for Change for the Better

1 Committing to the Unity of Leadership and Learning

Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy

An organization’s ability to grow and compete is wholly dependent on the knowledge and skills of its people. Performance is the outcome of learning on individual, group, and organizational level.

There are two common recipes for success.

  1. Passion for improvement and therefore continuous learning and learning improvement on individual, group, and organizational level.
  2. Willingness to be uncomfortable. Expanding the horizon by letting go old concepts and courageously and energetically embrace new ideas. Push yourself or be willing to be pushed!

Success is about being great (in relative to one’s potential); it is not about being average.

2 Understanding Learning as a Strategic Asset

When talking about learning, I am talking about people. If Learning & Development (L&D) is just in the backseat of the Process Improvement Department, employees feel justifiably as “tools”.

So, I’m not talking about the various business challenges and the need to learn technical skills only here. Rather it is about creativity, innovation, and sustainability too. If this is not the business culture in today’s knowledge and people economy, the future of the organization should be re-written, led by the L&D function. Great companies don’t have a great culture because they are great, but they are great because they have a great culture.

3 Outperforming through L&D Investment

Companies investing in L&D outperform others by in minimum double-digit percentages. L&D functions that made the transition from a cost center to strategic enabler increased employee productivity, engagement, retention, reduced risk and increased speed to market.

4 Realizing Intangible Benefits

It is empirically proven that financial targets are less effective than emotional targets. Further, there are so many intangible benefits from well led L&D. It is that simple: learning and developing employees inspired by purpose and emotions are happier and willing/able to continuously engage and perform better.

5 Allowing for Diverse Ways of (Learning) Performance

Like knowing what we are good in, it is important to understand the organization’s and individuals’ unique way of learning and performance. To consider how we learn is important. Some are rather readers, others are listeners. Such preferences cannot be changed completely. Are you learning by writing, by talking, or by doing? Do you learn better together with other people? In what relationship? Possibly it is the first time that you are asked these questions…

Training can even be contra productive when it reinforces undesired patterns and therefore is disabling openness to and co-existence of possible better ways.

6 Bridging the Execution Gap

Even if there is a strategy, the biggest gap in organizations is the gap between goals and their execution. Goals may be unknown or unclear, or it is unclear what has to be done to achieve a goal. L&D shall support holding people accountable for achieving the goals; correctly done this is motivating, not intimidating … by providing training and coaching.

A common behavior that L&D could help better address is the fact that often people are busy without being productive. Unfortunately, urgency of a task almost always wins over importance.

7 Having a Seat at the Board Table

Learning executives should have a seat at the board table for enabling new strategies, leveraging new (learning) technologies, realizing new visions in education, reaping cost savings, reaping productivity surges, and engaging workers in building their employers’ businesses.

8 Rewarding Intrapreneurship

Entrepreneurial employees may be business transforming and rule breaking. But this exactly the kind of employee engagement that brings the organization finally a competitive edge.

9 Directly Reporting to CEO

Today’s CLOs often take responsibility for all development and effectiveness functions including recruitment, training, succession planning, retention, and enterprise wide process improvement, technology and performance improvement experience to add value.

Ideally the CLO is reporting directly to the CEO. The reporting line to the COO would be second choice. Most organizations’ CLO’s (if there are any at all), are reporting to Chief HR Officer.

10 Focusing on Strategy Enablement as a Business Partner

A CLO should demonstrate how the L&D function is an important and influencing part of overall strategy. The evolution of the learning function can be described as having shifted from product focused, to services focused, to strategy focused.

If the L&D function wants to increase its impact on the bottom line, it has to develop operationally from a solution provider to a problem solver, and strategically from being a strategic advisor to become a business partner.

11 Educating for Change for the Better

Companies will (need to) find new ways to increase competitiveness. In the information age / knowledge economy, L&D is key. The evolution of the CLO is a happy revolution as the learning function is empowering and inspiring the workforce, advancing the business of business (Learn to learn, respectively teaching how to learn). The CLO’s mission is to transcend corporate competitiveness by a paradigm shift in Learning: From activity (input) based to result (output, performance) based

Change is the one constant in life; change for the better is the mantra of corporate education.


In the CxO Series coming soon: Chief Spirit Officer, and Chief Heart Officer

See also ‘Coaching’, and ‘Resources