Business Intelligence

Disruption, Meet Strategy

CLOs are prioritizing strategic alignment to navigate ongoing change.

By Ashley St. John


s we begin 2019, the learning landscape continues to be dynamic.

When asked how the role of chief learning officer is changing, 76 percent of respondents to a 2018 survey of current and aspiring CLOs cited increased use of technology, 53 percent pointed to the importance of content curation versus creation, 47 percent cited expanding audiences and 46 percent noted CLOs are being tasked with modernizing legacy processes (Figure 1).

Combine all this disruption with talent gaps, a generationally diverse workforce and more, and it’s no wonder the ground learning leaders stand on feels increasingly unsteady. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed ranked gaps in specialized talent as a high- or medium-priority challenge facing CLOs (Figure 2). Sixty-seven percent identified lack of budget as high or medium priority, followed by 54 percent citing the aging workforce and 51 percent citing disruptive technology threatening survival.

Results from the survey, which was conducted by Human Capital Media Research and Advisory Group, the research and advisory arm of Chief Learning Officer magazine, were compiled as part of a benchmarking report, “The Role of CLO: What’s Next?” The report examines the career path for the head of the learning function and what that role will look like in the future. From July through August 2018, nearly 800 learning leaders and talent executives shared their thoughts on the duties, responsibilities, career paths and aspirations of current and future CLOs.

The survey also looked at which competencies are currently considered essential to the CLO role alongside those that will be most essential to the role in the future. The ability to influence clearly is expected to remain important: Influence and partnering was the top ranked essential competency for CLOs at 55 percent (Figure 3), and it was also rated highest among future competencies needed for the role (Figure 4).

However, while business acumen was ranked second highest among current essential competencies, at 43 percent, only 35 percent ranked it as an essential future competency, placing it behind strategic management (42 percent) and measurement/analytics (38 percent).

Further, proficiency in learning methods and concepts is expected to be less important in the CLO role of the future, with 37 percent ranking it among current essential competencies compared with only 21 percent identifying it as a future essential competency.

As we look ahead, many learning leaders are instead prioritizing strategic alignment. Among the current CLOs surveyed, 66 percent cited better alignment of learning strategy with business strategy as an aspirational goal (Figure 5).

Driving leadership development was noted as a goal by 48 percent, followed by driving corporatewide change efforts (39 percent), changing the organizational L&D model (37 percent) and retaining more high-performing employees (32 percent).

Source: “The Role of CLO: What’s Next?” CLOs: N=423; aspiring CLOs: N=248. All percentages rounded.

Ashley St. John is Chief Learning Officer’s managing editor. She can be reached at