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Last week more than leaders from forty major companies gathered at our CLO Forum - key individuals whose task is to ignite and enable the potential of their people.

A quick fire feedback session (using post-it notes) brought to life the barriers Chief Learning Officers (CLO’s) face in making change happen. Having considered every post-it note, I can still hear the echoes of the challenge and can identify seven shared barriers:

1. Defending the status quo

There is a strong sense that ‘what got us here will not get us there’ but that the wider organisation is still dedicated to applying past solutions to future challenges in learning. Professor Lynda Gratton quotes recent research that describes a ‘tipping point’ between generations that will be reached within 5 years. CLO’s are aware of this urgency and that what served the previous generation will not ignite the potential of today’s generation. The status quo is outdated and ‘the next generation’ is already here.

2. Tackling the Luddite CIO

Companies are not keeping up with the rapidly evolving innovation in software, hardware and connectivity. It is not uncommon for learners to employ more up to date technology in their front room than in their office – this limits their interest in the learning provided by companies. The challenge for the CLO is not only for their organisations to invest in suitable infrastructure but also for learning designers to employ technology that meets the high expectations of learners.

3. Embracing the connected world

The exclusions and controls companies impose to ‘protect’ businesses limit and hinder progress in learning and defy the real world. The limitations are often valid in policy but irrelevant in practice: How does a company effectively police what is being shared and broadcast in professional and personal networks? Inhibiting a community that truly is the expert might protect precious intellectual property but also limits innovation that could be ignited by the power of peers.

4. Lean forward not sit back (and snooze)!

Some companies still think in terms of teaching rather than learning. (Lord) Jim Knight provided illuminating examples of the learning process in schools education being inverted to great effect. Teaching is still delivered in events and tends to be top-down by design. Learning is a journey of application and requires bottom up support. This often means a longer, wider investment to carry the knowledge and beliefs from knowing to doing and eventually…results. Proving that it impacts business results is difficult so the CLOs end up in the ‘trust me – it works’ space where the impact is felt and results are ‘not obvious’.

5. Aligning stakeholders

The trade-offs in modern business are difficult to reconcile and conflicting agendas are common in the CLO’s stakeholder community. Trust, confidence and alignment plays a major part in the effective execution of well-made plans – the opposite is also true.

6. Courage, risk and resilience

With the ‘tipping point’ fast approaching, risk and reward will play a major part in driving innovation in learning. CLOs today wrestle with the complexity of personal and organisational risk where courage and resilience becomes the enabler for innovation and in the end…reward.

7. Time, money and people

Doing more with less is a common a paradox in business today. Budgets are being squeezed, schedules filled and inboxes flex with the speed of expectation today. The power of ‘AND’ can be found in the unconventional solutions that comes from unconventional thinking and unconventional people. Never has having the right talent on board been more essential for the CLO of today.

‘Sitting’ with these post its notes has reminded me that the challenges CLOs face are by no means unique. This community of people might be small and unique in your organisation but they exist in almost every organisation and have the same challenges. Getting them together last week showed great promise in solving a common need in business for which there are very few solutions – How to enable the Democratising of Learning in organisations?

Let’s consider how to enable and support the power of peers.

Leon Roos

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