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Plug in your neuro-links and fasten your seat belt. The CLO role is changing

By Robert M. Burnside

Recently, Cameron Hedrick, CLO of Citi, sat down for a podcast conversation with Matt Burr, CEO of Nomadic Learning, about the future of work and the changing role of the CLO. Listening to the interview, I find his current activity is a harbinger of what is to come more broadly for all. Here’s a few of the ideas that stood out for me from the podcast. (You can access the hour-long recording here)

The role of the CLO is becoming more diffuse in responsibilities. For example, Cameron explains that the CLO role at Citi has evolved to combine responsibility for learning, performance management, and culture. Today’s CLO wears many hats.

Wider Responsibilities

It’s clear that organizations face an emerging imperative to comment on social-political narratives. Climate change, race and gender politics, gun violence—in recent months, some of the highest profile companies in the world have been called upon to comment (or even take action) on aspects of these conversations. It falls on CLO’s to begin educating their people on the inside on how they respond to it as an organization. Similarly, consumers outside the company want to understand the social DNA of the company. Commenting on social topics will never make everyone happy, but it is increasingly necessary for us to stake a position; and then articulate it clearly to our workforce, who in turn can act as advocates for that position with external audiences.

A Changing Role

The CLO’s traditional role—managing information and knowledge creation—has gotten complex and overwhelming. Perhaps it’s best we all start thinking of ourselves as gardeners – laying down a mix of various learning programs, and then watching to see which take root and germinate into bigger ideas. Be experimental—it’s best to test a range of pilots and see what works, rather than choosing one solution in advance.

Another possibility is that the CLO role leans more toward acting as a behavior change architect A CLO in this model is less of a training partner, more of an OD consultant: dreaming up strategic mindset shifts to position the organization more competitively to meet nascent challenges. Of course, to change behavior, you have to have a systems approach, so the CLO now has to partner much more actively with other colleagues to design an overall solution. Change is holistic, it cannot happen with training alone.

The Impact of Emerging Technology

CLO’s must also contend with the emergence of automation and AI. It might be useful to look at AI less as a job replacement challenge and more as a skills replacement challenge. Generally speaking, routinized, high-volume, low-judgment activities will be automated out of daily work so that people have time to deal with the high-function items. Therefore, the challenge is less about the disappearance of certain jobs or roles, and more about what skills are going away and what skills are coming online, with roles adapting around the changing skills. I find this a really useful point of view that can help CLO’s deal with AI.

Adaptive learning technologies are one way we can embrace AI in our work. This responsive design clocks your ability level as a learner, so that, as you move through the learning event, it adapts to your capabilities on the fly. Once the system picks up that you really do know a lot about X, it sends you less of X to learn. And if you're really weak on Y, it sends you a lot more of Y to learn,in real time. Since no two individuals have identical learning journeys, this requires a lot of content to be available. Still, it remains a cost effective option because learning hours are reduced by avoiding unproductive learning time.

Most futuristic of all is the coming use of biological feedback mechanisms where one can read brain waves and see when and how people are interacting with content. One can already map the highs and lows of an intervention on a group of people. You literally hook up the brain, then you can see which pieces of content really fire them up, and which don’t. That's one version of bio learning. The other biological feedback technique works by sensing hormone levels, blood pressure, and other biometrics in real time, and tracks real decision-making—for example, trading stock. Having that data available to you as you move through your day could be beneficial. This type of bio learning is already available, but is not usable at scale for the moment. That said, it’s likely only a matter of time.

It’s clear, the future has arrived, and the CLO role is being rebooted. Hopefully we can all keep up!

To hear to other insights not in this summary, listen to the podcast here.

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