Editor’s Letter


Business Is Learning

D

on’t take this wrong but you’re not doing it right. It’s not the outcomes of what you do that are most important. It’s the process.

Now before we go too far, I am not saying corporate learning should ignore the business outcomes of what you do. I’m all for a healthy and growing bottom line. You don’t have a job if what you do doesn’t help your organization in some meaningful way. I don’t have a job if you don’t have a job.

So by all means, continue to collect data on learning’s effect on sales growth, cost savings and risk aversion. Make clear the link between the development of people and more engaged workers and higher workforce productivity. Perform sophisticated statistical modeling, use a regression analysis and continue to do all the things a modern data-driven business function should be expected to do.

Learning is not the means, it’s the end.

Furthermore, I am not arguing you should ignore traditional learning metrics like completion and satisfaction. By all means, track how many people are taking your courses and consuming your content. Analyze where they wander off and when they lose interest. Butts in seats and smiles on sheets are A-OK with me.

Learning is not the means, it’s the end.

Furthermore, I am not arguing you should ignore traditional learning metrics like completion and satisfaction. By all means, track how many people are taking your courses and consuming your content. Analyze where they wander off and when they lose interest. Butts in seats and smiles on sheets are A-OK with me.

What I am arguing is that in focusing on those things you can lose the forest for the trees. Whether your intention is to justify an expense, defend a budget, show you’re busy or simply trying to do it a little bit better next time, overly focusing on outcomes overlooks the most important case for learning in business today.

What is the killer app for business in the 21st century? It’s learning. If speed is the defining characteristic of the modern economy, then our ability to learn is the most valuable currency.

Reid Hoffman, Silicon Valley investor and co-founder of social network LinkedIn, talks about learning as a central element to business success. In an interview with Fortune about his new book, Hoffman emphasized that speed is more important than efficiency in building a business. Success hinges on being what he called an “intense learner” who is constantly learning and evolving at speed.

With skills becoming obsolete increasingly fast, it’s not a specific ability or a discrete skill that is the ultimate difference-maker. It’s the ability to learn faster and better. It’s being able to collect, analyze and evaluate information and insight quickly. It’s the ability to learn from others and share faster.

In some ways, this is a return to the early days of the CLO role. As veteran CLO Justin Lombardo told me in a recent episode of our Chief Learning Officer Breakfast Club podcast, early CLOs like Steve Kerr at GE and Bill Wiggenhorn at Motorola were brought in by visionary CEOs to be agents of change. Sure, individual skill development was a piece of that role, but more important was focusing on the organization’s capacity to grow. In short, to learn from one another and from the outside world.

Business outcomes and numbers speak to business executives in a way they understand and value. Making the case for learning as a central element of business means we need a toolkit that includes strong quantitative and qualitative tools to continuously build and reinforce that argument. You can’t rely on the good graces of your bosses to make the case for the value of what you do.

But telling the story also requires you to zoom out from time to time and put learning in the context of what really matters — not just as a path to a better, more skilled workforce but as the key to innovation, agility and future success.

Fortunately, there are lots of examples from which to borrow. In this issue, we highlight the winners of our annual Chief Learning Officer Learning In Practice awards. You’ll find many stories of learning executives and vendor companies doing work that drives outcomes. But underlying it all is the vision and passion for learning as the future of business.

Most bosses get it. But the speed of business is such that there is no shortage of important priorities to focus on. Make sure learning — both the function and the process — remains one of them.

Learning isn’t a support function of business. It is business. It’s never wrong to focus on what makes learning right for the future of your organization.

Mike Prokopeak
Editor in Chief
mikep@CLOmedia.com