Last year our CEO trusted me with a brand new “CLO” role. Since I updated my profile, it has been a never-ending source of questions. This post is as much an attempt to explain what this role is & what I am doing, than it is a chance for me to sort my thoughts and see where I'm at in my own understanding.

The starting point

Our company is currently facing an interesting challenge. We enjoy a good reputation. We have a good customer base. We have more projects than we actually can handle. Last but not least, we are growing fast. Business is good. But business could be better. We are playing catch up with some key topics of our industry. As an example, we offer excellent architecture consulting in the Java Enterprise world, but we lack the know-how to reach the same level with Cloud-Technologies.

That’s why we decided to put “learning” on a pedestal. The “Chief Learning Officer” role was born. Since then, I’ve been trying to discover what it could be, what I could do, what I should do and what I want to do with it.

The CLO Role

Chances are you never heard of such a role. The role was first given by Jack Welsch, former CEO of GE in the 90s, to Steve Kerr. Here’s the definition of the CLO Role on Wikipedia:

A chief learning officer (CLO) is [...] in charge of learning management. [...] Qualified CLOs should be able to drive the corporate strategy and align the development of people with the business goals of the organization.

In other words, as organizations learn and evolve over time, their goals tend to move. At the same time the skill-sets of the people must remain aligned with those goals. There is thus a need for a strategical effort to keep goals & skills in sync.

To give an extreme example. Twitter started as a side project for a podcasting company called Odeo. But as this new product emerged, came a set of new goals for Odeo. At some point, they must have asked themselves the question: among our IT and audio skill-set, do we have the competency to achieve those new goals? And if not, how do we acquire them?

My mission

So I created my own mission. I promote learning in all its forms, fostering and nurturing our talent pool in general. I work with the extroverts jumping around at our clients. I take care of the introverts happy to act behind the curtains. I interact with the multi-decade experts and the newbies alike. I play at the junction of the following fields:

  • The talent pool provided by our HR department
  • The technological vision of our CTO
  • The financial means of the company
  • The strategic goals of our CEO

Note 1: As CLO, I am not in the direct management line. When I approach someone, it is as a peer-that-has-leverage and not as a boss. I don’t want to promote one-time-learning and obedience. Instead I strive for continuous learning and autonomy. This would be ambiguous if I was talking to a subordinate.

Note 2: the CLO Role in a corporate organisation would be more a human resources (HR) role than an engineering effort. But as stated in this HR-Technologist Article, the CLO plays at the junction of the core of your business, the business itself, the processes and HR. In a small company like ours, it makes sense that it came from the Agile evangelists.

That said, we are not Twitter. I work for a Software company that mixes a lot of activities. We consult, from short term advising to longer body- or team-leasing contracts. We develop part-of or even entire projects for our clients. We support a few projects (3rd Level Support). And we finally have a couple products that we develop on our own.

To make this work, we have a very colorful mix of profiles. Our colleagues cover a broad diversity of skills and competencies. We come from various origins/countries. We have different interests, desires and dreams. We each want to learn a different way.

Everybody is different, especially me

I had a big "A-ha!" moment this year. I realized that the technology adoption lifecycle also applies to learning.

This life-cycle specifies that a very few amount of us like risk and innovation. Then come the early adopters, those tend to be community leaders and drive adoption of an idea. Then comes the early majority, which is open to new ideas, but more conservative. Then in the second half you find late majority and the laggards.

Picture of the Technology Adoption Curve
(Image Source: Wikipedia)

Why is this important? Because it explains why the way we do things now, don't appeal to everyone. Our company gives us the incredible freedom to travel and speak at as many conferences as I can manage. For someone on the left side of the curve, this is the best learning opportunity ever. But this learning doesn’t appeal to everyone. What I find fantastic is a source of disgust or even threat to some other colleagues. Likewise, the kind of learning process and framework colleagues on the right side of the curve prefer, make me shake my head in wonder.

The Buffet

A colleague, coach and friend of mine introduced me to the “Buffet Metaphor”:

Not everyone like the same kind of food. That’s why we have buffets. Those increase the likelihood for everyone to find something to their taste.

This metaphor makes a lot of sense in this context. Not everyone like the same way of learning. A learning buffet would increase the likelihood for everyone to find something to their taste. And of course, people need to be hungry.

So that’s what I have been doing as a CLO ever since. Building a buffet, and making people hungry.

Building the buffet means bringing new and diverse dishes to the table. Making sure those can work within our company boundaries. And finally creating precedence with a few successful iterations. All that while involving as many colleagues as possible as multipliers, “starting from the left side of the curve” with the innovators & early adopters...

Making people hungry on the other side, is a continuous personal coaching and mentoring effort. That is the part of my job that I could not fulfill to my liking until now. See the closing words below for more about this.

Here are the tools/dishes that we already use or are almost in use:

  • MATHEMA Friday (Monthly Event for all our employees with talks, discussions & hands-ons etc.)
  • Tribes (a small group of colleagues working on a topic of their chosing, currently the afternoon part of our MATHEMA Fridays)
  • Articles, Talks, Workshops
  • Retrospectives
  • Future of MATHEMA (Think Tank)
  • EDF ("Entdecke Deine Firma", questions sent to the whole company and publishing the responses publicly for all the participants to see - inspired from Know Your Company)
  • Career Radar (guideline to help you reflect on yourself, where you currently are at and where you could go)
  • Make Me Better Session (MMBS - self-reflection meeting with 2 chosen colleagues and a facilitator)
  • Godfather (a colleague that will help you get up to speed with the specifics of our company)
  • Mentor (a colleague that will help you on your personal journey)
  • Coach (a colleague that will help you with a specific topic on your professional journey)
  • Hackathons, Events, Conferences, Code-Retreats, Coding Dojos...
  • Lunch & Learn & Friday at the Movies (Brown bag sessions)

Here are the ones that fill my current pipeline:

  • Community of practice (CoP - Interest groups around one topic)
  • Mastermind (a group of like-minded people that help each other and keep each other accountable)
  • Working out loud (Self reflection group)
  • On-boarding Boot-camp
  • 360 Feedback
  • Futurespectives (Projections in the future)
  • Employee Canvas (parallel to the "Business Model Canvas" but for a person)

I will go over those more in details in following posts.

Closing words

This snapshot will evolve over time. Which direction is it going to take? I don’t know. Will it be different in 6 or 12 months from now? I sure hope so! My understanding of what a CLO actually does is changing on an almost daily basis.

One thing needs to change: my time-investment. Since September, I’ve invested only about 6% of my billable-hours in my CLO role (plus a lot of asynchronous work in the evenings). But I’m still a consultant and Agile coach first and spend most of my time with my clients. I spent most of those 6% laying down process groundwork. I did a lot of lobbying and challenged point of views per Email. This is the "buffet" part.

The second part, the "hungry" one still falls too short. I would like to get in touch with more colleagues. I would like to coach and be more involved in the daily life of the company. I would like to evangelize learning in person on a day to day basis.

Our company is relocating waaaaay closer to my home this summer. That will at least make it easier for me to connect with the colleagues working in our headquarters. So who knows? It might even work out :D

In the meantime, I would love to hear what you think.

  • Is this what you expected when you heard about a CLO Role?
  • Have you seen such a role before? If so, what did those persons do? How did it go?
  • What do you think about this buffet? What is missing? Would you like to know more? About what exactly?
  • Any other ideas or comments?

PS: the CLO role has also been an un-extinguishing source of German jokes... check the meaning of “Klo” to understand why ;)

Photo by Gabor Monori on Unsplash