CLO: What Are New Skills Needed For Future Learning Leaders?

Learning LeadersThe CLO Innovation Network, our group of future focused CLOs who are pursuing an innovation agenda in their respective companies, held its first webinar for 2011 by engaging in a conversation with two partners from Heidrick & Struggles:

Heidrick & Struggles

  • Wendy Murphy, Managing Partner, Chief Human Resources Officers Practice, Heidrick & Struggles
  • Lauren Doliva PhD, Managing Partner, Chief Adviser Network, Heidrick & Struggles and Member of the CHRO Practice

We started 2011 by examining what skills the marketplace currently values in the CLO role. The question that kept us engaged for over one hour was:

What are competencies and skills most valued by a CEO in the CLO?

While we talked about many skills and competencies the six below appeared to generate the most dialogue and we started our discussion by having Lauren and Wendy share what are the key skills & competencies most valued in a CLO by a CEO. The list below is what we discussed as the key “market-driven skills” of a CLO and they include:

1) INNOVATION DRIVER & STRATEGIC BUSINESS LEADER: A focus on “next practices,” rather than copying best practices is key to being thought of as an Innovation Driver for the organization. This is a broad competency incorporating insight and conceptual thinking skills to create  build and strategically link the learning and the development agendas in the context of the talent required to accomplish organizational goals.

2) DIAGNOSTICIAN:  A future focus to both observe and analyze internal and external trends impacting business outcomes and linking these to develop a clear picture of what the organization can do from a talent development perspective in order to better meet its strategic business priorities.

3) RELATIONSHIP BUILDER: An ability to involved stakeholders both internally and externally in a pursuing a business direction. We talked about the growing importance of developing relationship with new  stakeholders such as: Heads of Marketing, Digital Marketing, Internal Communications and/or IT as social media and social learning increase in importance.  Or possibly to include developing a relationships with the head of the corporate Foundation as a growing number of companies are building strategic views to their corporate social responsibility programs and adding leadership development as one component. Consider examples mentioned in the book, The 2020 Workplace such as  IBM Corporate Service Corps, Ernst & Young Corporate Responsibility Fellows,  and Pfizer’s  Global Health Fellows.

4) FLEXIBLE AND FLUID OPERATOR: Be open to changing operating models and organizational design when you consider options for how to expand the scope and style of learning, and how work gets done in the future. Key issues that innovative minded CLO’s will be attuned to include: mobile working & learning, leadership development in a collaborative working environment and manager certifications.

5) INFLUENCER/CHANGE AGENT: Paint a clear picture for changes in strategies and/or organizational models. This means be able  to persuasively align and engage others to take action. This ability to  influence and be a change agent will be viewed as critical as many high profile initiatives undertaken by a CLO will demand the involvement of a cross functional team of C-level players in the organization.

6) BREADTH OF EXPERIENCE : Deep experience across all areas of Talent Management including Leadership Development, Organizational Design, Organizational Effectiveness, Recruiting, Performance Management, Retention Strategies, Compensation, and Succession Planning.

Where does this leave the state of the industry?

According to Heidrick & Struggles, demand for CLO’s continues to be robust, but it is the Chief Talent Officer (CTO) title that is taking on steam. CLOs often report to a Chief Talent Officer who is responsible for end-to-end talent management from recruiting and staffing, performance management and succession planning/lifetime career management, total rewards, and corporate learning & development. So here’s some advice to current CLO’s consider how to broaden your set of experinces and skills so your next position can be one as a CTO.   That is the good news here: the CLO has a career path in an organization from Chief Learning Officer to Chief Talent Officer and perhaps to Chief Human Resource Officer. And as more CLOs gain exposure to the company board of directors as an adviser on talent issues, this will build a case in assuming this boarder role.

We ended our call with a provocative question from one of our members to both Lauren & Wendy: as the job of CLO gains in stature and scope why has the compensation for this role not followed the same trajectory? The answer was not surprising: it is the responsibility of the incumbent CLO to demonstrate that learning & development delivers business impact and is able to communicate this in business terms the CEO will understand like increases in revenue, decreases in cost or gains in market share. They pointed to examples of forward thinking CLO’s that are asking for & gaining exposure to the board of directors and are seen as the company’s expert on talent development.

Think about your current role and the enxt role you want to assume: what new competencies do you want to add to this list? Share with us here!

And if you are interested in learning more about the CLO Innovation Network, a network of practitioners who are pursuing an innovation agenda: send me an email at:

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About Jeanne Meister

Jeanne C. Meister is a best selling author of three books, internationally recognized consultant and keynote speaker. Jeanne is Partner of Future Workplace, a consulting firm dedicated to assisting organizations in re-thinking, re-imagining and re-inventing the workplace. Jeanne was recently voted by her peers as one of the 20 top influential training professionals in the United States. Jeanne’s name is synonymous with the establishment and institutionalization of global corporate universities. Jeanne is the author of three books, Corporate Quality Universities and Corporate Universities. Jeanne’s latest book is, The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today (Harper Collins, 2010) is in its 10th printing.No information is provided by the author.


  1. Barbara Garabedian

    Although INNOVATION DRIVER & STRATEGIC BUSINESS LEADER might imply it, perhaps an ingrained sense of CURIOSITY, could be explicit somewhere. As an innovation driver & strategic business leader, one must be continuously wondering & inquisitive as to what makes things tick, not tick or tick differently within in the context of the development of talent to accomplish organizational goals. It might seem obvious but when was the last time one saw curiosity as a job requirement competency?

  2. I love, “A focus on ‘next practices,’ rather than copying best practices is key to being thought of as an Innovation Driver for the organization.”

    All to often, organizations assume that someone’s “best practice” actually is a best practice. Not only do best practices not work when taken out of context, they often don’t work well in their original environment. Also consider the case where an industry benchmarks others in the same industry, sounds like idea inbreeding. Not much of an innovation.
    Best regards,
    RJ Johnson

  3. Seems to me that when we addressed this topic in the Masie Collaborative in the early 2000s the pattern we saw was that the more ‘successful’ CLOs were those that were emerging out of the Business units who brought with them core operating skills and business leadership as well as a drive to make learning address business outcomes. The CLOs who were getting replaced or slipping into supporting ‘Director’ level roles were those who more often came out of the Training ranks. Typically, they had less business operations experience, including that of managing the training function as a business function, and were less able to drive change in the organization; towards better governance, broader stakeholder alignment and consensus, and operating efficiency. While the topics raised above, ‘Innovator’, ‘Relationship builder’, ‘Change driver’, etc. all carry some element of business leadership, I believe it’s useful to mention ‘Business operations experience’ explicitly and not leave it implied in other definitions. This will help assure that the CLO leadership function IS able to drive the alignment and change necessary for success.

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