Each week over breakfast, editor Mike Prokopeak and veteran CLO Justin Lombardo invite listeners in to a one-of-a-kind conversation about what’s happening in corporate education featuring in-depth interviews with learning executives, authors and industry leaders.

This behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of the CLO role spotlights how it fits in today’s ever-evolving business environment and what learning executives who aim to lead tomorrow need to be doing today.

Q&A With Justin Lombardo

Why is the CLO role important right now?
A chief learning officer attends to the organizational elements that are essential for success. All too often, operations or other central functions simply don’t.

Obviously, the first of these is learning and development. But we need to take a broad definition of this. If we believe talent is the critical competitive advantage then keeping people’s skills, knowledge and competence is hugely important. Enabling their growth is what a learning and development function is about and the CLO is a key figure for overall talent management.

Also of singular importance is the role the CLO plays in creating, transforming or sustaining an organization’s culture. A truly strategic CLO can become the change agent and culture keeper for an organization. And in this day and age, the ability to transmit and embed key cultural attributes for a creative, safe, diverse and empowering organization is essential for an organization’s health.

You were there at the beginning of the role of chief learning officer. What has changed between then and now?
Back then, the role was perceived as more narrow, focusing on traditional learning and development but with a charter to advance methods and processes. In the early years, the focus was on development for better product quality and customer service.

Under the early visionary CLOs and their like-minded CEOs, the role quickly proved value in advancing more strategic agendas. L&D was no longer viewed as a support function and the CLO came to be seen as a seasoned business executive. This upped the ante for CLOs in terms of their attributes and competencies. It was no longer an HR rotation but a critical business role.

What needs to change for CLOs to continue to be successful in the future?
It is continually evolving. The CLO needs to no longer limit scope or thinking to development alone but more broadly around talent holistically. Getting, keeping, enriching, empowering and challenging talent — from multiple perspectives — is where they should focus.

What’s the most underrated skill for chief learning officers?
Two things come to mind: agility and creativity.
Without these, the role would have collapsed decades ago.

ABOUT YOUR HOSTS
One of the first CLOs in health care, Justin Lombardo has worked at Northwestern Memorial in Chicago, Children’s Medical System of Texas and Baptist Health in Florida where his efforts have been recognized by the mayor of Chicago, Chicago Business Council and Working Mother magazine. Prior to his work in health care, Justin spent 15 years at Motorola University where he worked with visionary learning executive Bill Wiggenhorn to build one of the first strategic global corporate universities. He has also held faculty appointments at Northwestern University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University.

Mike Prokopeak is editor in chief of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He directs the editorial strategy for the magazine as well as events including the CLO Symposium. Under his direction, Chief Learning Officer has won more than a dozen awards for editorial excellence. Prior to joining Chief Learning Officer, Mike worked for Houghton Mifflin Co., the Great Books Foundation and Flagstaff Publishing, a division of Pulitzer Newspapers Inc. A former high school teacher and U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Mike has in-depth experience in education and adult learning.

ABOUT YOUR HOSTS
One of the first CLOs in health care, Justin Lombardo has worked at Northwestern Memorial in Chicago, Children’s Medical System of Texas and Baptist Health in Florida where his efforts have been recognized by the mayor of Chicago, Chicago Business Council and Working Mother magazine. Prior to his work in health care, Justin spent 15 years at Motorola University where he worked with visionary learning executive Bill Wiggenhorn to build one of the first strategic global corporate universities. He has also held faculty appointments at Northwestern University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University.

Mike Prokopeak is editor in chief of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He directs the editorial strategy for the magazine as well as events including the CLO Symposium. Under his direction, Chief Learning Officer has won more than a dozen awards for editorial excellence. Prior to joining Chief Learning Officer, Mike worked for Houghton Mifflin Co., the Great Books Foundation and Flagstaff Publishing, a division of Pulitzer Newspapers Inc. A former high school teacher and U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Mike has in-depth experience in education and adult learning.

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