Part 1: A Marriage of Equals

When a relationship is good, it’s like a marriage where both parties are better off together than they are alone.

When the relationship is between the chief human resources officer and the chief learning officer, that marriage can be beneficial for organizational and workforce development, but only if they communicate, align their agendas and respect one another’s boundaries. If they don’t, employees’ careers may suffer, organizational resources may overlap or be misused and business needs may languish unmet.

The relationship between the CHRO and CLO varies by organizational reporting structure, but in general the latter reports to the former. The reporting relationship, however, may be less important than the learning leader’s level of access to information and desire to use learning and development as a business driver versus a desire to showcase subject matter expertise.

For example, at technology distributor Avnet, the chief learning officer participates in global meetings, presenting information on best practices and benchmarking as well as any information from internal customers that can be used to develop the company’s learning strategy.

MaryAnn Miller, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, also has a monthly meeting with the CLO to evaluate progress on existing initiatives and determine whether or not changes occurring in the business require a shift in learning strategy or delivery. Miller said this level of collaborative interaction works well because it ensures learning programs are not developed in a vacuum and that they are effective.

“I’ve had some CLOs who were so focused on being the best or what other companies are doing, benchmark data, that they’re not targeting the strategies specific to our business,” she said. “Then they don’t get the level of participation and support from the business that is needed.”

These types of CLOs work in a silo, and essentially go rogue, Miller said, because they believe they are the learning expert. But expertise without considering the business need can cause problems when budget time rolls around. Miller said her team has to compete with other functions for funding. If business leaders don’t feel development programs meet their needs, they will withhold resources.

Development touches many talent management functions, including recruitment, succession planning and performance management. Working in silos weakens each group’s ability to leverage the others’ expertise.

On the other hand, collaborating within a common framework ensures that employees get the most meaningful careers, and that the company reaps the most benefit from their service.

Will Lewis, senior vice president and staffing executive at Bank of America, said it’s critical that his recruiting work align with the learning function so the company can identify the best talent, on-board them effectively and provide development paths and experiences so employees can continue to grow inside the organization.

“At the very top of the house, the learning function, our generalist and our staffing function are talking at all levels of the company. … They’re not done in silos; it’s done as part of our overall people strategy,” he said.

But how exactly should the two groups work together? At Bank of America, Lewis said the talent group informs the learning team about the types of tools and materials needed to spur employee performance.

The learning team, on the other hand, can share intelligence on skills or capabilities that employees may be missing. Perhaps the function is spending an inordinate amount of time coaching and training for one skill set. Lewis said that information could help the recruiting team focus its talent identification efforts on individuals who have or can easily learn those skills the organization needs but lacks.

No matter who offers what to whom, to partner effectively, an organization should have an overall people strategy. “It should not be all about HR,” Lewis said. “And it should truly be informed by whatever the business needs are for that company. If it’s driven by the business itself, and then HR says how can we help solve this need, and they’re a part of that discussion at the table, you’ll get where you need to be.”

Further, if the learning function works with HR on the front end to plan initiatives and strategy, its contributions are less likely to end up as “bolt on” items that need to be made to fit.

Part 2: Doing What With Whom