There I was, having an engaging conversation with a fellow Chief Learning Officer (CLO) at a conference lunch, when things began to take a decidedly status quo turn.
"As long as I show increases in the Learning Management System metrics and with the course evaluations, my C-Suite doesn't care about anything else."
I sat there stunned, aside from an audible yet incredulous gasp escaping from my mouth. "Surely that's not how you're running the team?" I asked. The CLO, unfazed, looked me square in the eyes and said:
"Of course I am. If that's all the C-Suite care about, why should I rock the boat?"
To hold the position of Chief Learning Officer, CLO's ought to be operating in a much different fashion than what I have described above. If, for example, a CLO has no sense of 'why' they're in the position in the first place, how can we expect them to deviate from an LMS and course evaluation mindset? If the CLO is in the role because they like the perks of a fancy 'Chief' title and larger salary, they have completely missed the point of 'why' the role exists in the first place. But more importantly perhaps, the C-Suite has to begin rethinking what the actual purpose is to the CLO role itself. C-Suite executives ought to know that engagement scores continue to remain at anemic levels, hovering around the 30 percent mark since 2000. In part, this is because employees have not discovered a purpose mindset in their roles at work. Coupled with an organization that is often fixated on profit and power, it's no secret why disengagement is rampant in today's working world. To curb this, it’s my belief that the C-Suite—in particular the CEO or COO—ought to be empowering an organization’s CLO to think like a Chief Engagement and Purpose Officer. That is, the CLO ought to not only be responsible for ‘learning’ but for the organization’s culture and purpose strategy. This newly redefined CLO will now hold the keys to a more engaged organization, one replete with an army of purpose mindset employees. If they demonstrate leadership by helping more of the organization reach purpose in their roles, there is no telling what heights the organization may reach. The role of a CLO is to help employees right across the organization define their own sense of purpose. When an employee discovers their personal purpose and (ideally) it is lockstep with the role they perform in the organization, both the employee and the firm benefit. img_0017-1I have discovered there are three types of purpose:
  • Personal Purpose: What motivates someone in life; their “why.” An individual’s values, experience and beliefs inform personal decisions and actions.
  • Organizational Purpose: Why the organization exists. An organization’s principles, ethics and culture inform its ways of operating.
  • Role Purpose: Why a role exists in the organization. To achieve its goals and objectives, an organization establishes a variety of roles to support its mission.
Ultimately, employees will exhibit one of three different role mindsets when they are working:
  • Job Mindset. Performing transactional duties in return for compensation and not much else.
  • Career Mindset. Focused on increasing one’s career girth by advancing salary, title, power, team size and/or span of control.
  • Purpose Mindset. Passionate, innovative and committed to a meaningful and engaging workplace that serves and benefits all stakeholders.
If the CLO can help employees recognize their own personal purpose, understanding what the organization’s purpose is, they might have a greater chance at reaching the purpose mindset in their roles. For those that are having difficulty—either trapped in a job or career mindset—the CLO can take appropriate actions to help employees shift into the purpose mindset. It’s an action that can involve all of the tools at the disposal of a CLO, including formal, informal and social learning, coaching, assessments, and so on. What steps can the C-Suite take to change the description and responsibilities of a CLO? First, the CLO must stop acting like an order taker. CLO's are not simply there to produce courseware. They are more than a factory that feeds the LMS. The C-Suite members are culpable for this type of thinking. If they are only asking for the CLO to deliver metrics like “number of hours trained” or “number of courses delivered” they are ultimately aiding and abetting a disengaged and purposeless organization. The C-Suite must measure the success of a CLO not by courses or hours, but by engagement scores and the number of employees demonstrating the purpose mindset. Second, the C-Suite ought to start asking the CLO to act like a leader of purpose. Have the CLO declare their own personal purpose statement and help others on the C-Suite and across the organization understand why everyone is in business (and in their role) in the first place. A leader of purpose is open, collaborative and transparent demonstrating a penchant to support all stakeholders, not simply profit seekers or shareholders. Third, encourage the CLO to start building out and delivering a role purpose strategy and learning program. This comes in the form of many types of learning (formal, informal and social) and is intended to help employees see the difference between a job, career and purpose mindset. In summary, how many individuals in today’s organizations are empowered to put their hearts in their role and to go above the call of duty at work? I believe this is the (partial) responsibility of the CLO. Now, it's up to the C-Suite to redefine what the CLO and its office really is about and to make the change happen.


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  • Dan is a conference organizer’s ideal speaker. Not only did he inspire and energize our group, but he also masterfully adapted his content so it resonated with the audience and our conference theme. As a bonus, Dan is able to nimbly navigate to adjust to a reduced time slot when other speakers went over time without sacrificing the impact of his session.

    Director and General Counsel
  • Dan accomplished what we set out to do, which was not only to be inspirational, but also to leave everyone with tools and food for thought / self-reflection to improve their personal and professional lives.

    Hermann Handa, FCT
  • Dan challenged us to have clarity of purpose, both as individuals and as an organization. He related inspiring stories drawing on his experience in business, technology and academia. As he said, ‘There is no ownership without belonging.’

    Christian Pantel, D2L
  • Dan Pontefract suggests leaders must be transformational and transactional, collaborative and considerate, daring and decisive, inclusive and insistent, playful and formal, harmonious, and humble, encouraging and results-driven. In a word, Flat.

    Robert Morris
    “How to strengthen engagement, empowerment, and execution, then leverage them for a decisive competitive advantage”

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