On The Front Lines

A CLO at 50

Experience cannot be accelerated as much as it can be planned and learned from.
reflection, career journey

SOURCE: Adobe Stock

I turned 50 this past year. Apart from the mental shift when saying, “I am 50” or selecting my demographic group on forms and surveys, I realized with nearly 30 years in the workforce I have had the good fortune of a multitude of experiences.

These events range from the formative ones in the early part of my career to those that represent a culmination of knowledge from being exposed to several firms, industries and many wonderful colleagues. Chief learning officer moniker aside, in simplest terms, I consider my role that of teacher and coach. So, as someone who is now officially wise, I’m left to think about my own learning as I enter this new decade as a CLO.

Even though I did not believe it and disliked hearing it in the earlier part of my career, experience is the one dimension of career development and progression that cannot be accelerated as much as it can be planned and learned from. There are roles, projects and situations that you have to perform to gain the skills, knowledge and judgment that result from new circumstances. Situational learning is one of the best teachers, as being able to say, “I’ve been there and done that,” can create invaluable learning throughout a career.

Several points of reference have educated and informed me at times in my career. For instance, being part of a merger between firms and having to work with my counterparts during the premerger phase can be nerve-wracking and uncertain. That was followed by the post-merger integration process, which included cultural assimilation, financial synergies and building a new team to set the stage for the combined organization.

Further, dealing with the fallout from unexpected CEO and senior team transitions and the ripple effect that moves through an organization was unsettling, but it provided good lessons on values and leadership. I can literally remember where I was when these situations occurred; they are the types of experiences that are instructive when the next situation arises because you are better prepared because you’ve had prior experience.

These unanticipated and diverse career experiences offered lessons that shaped a valuable sense of perspective for my role today. This point-of-view provides both a sense of calm from having faced similar situations and enables me to recognize patterns from these earlier experiences. For instance, I distinctly remember back in the late ’90s when e-learning was on the rise as a delivery vehicle for programs and courses. At the time, learning and development practitioner anxiety was growing as we worried the era of classroom training would soon be over. Well, we know how this prediction turned out.

Blended learning emerged as an integrated approach, which only reinforced the need for facilitation and the more recent curation of online content. This pattern continues with new approaches such as microlearning, machine learning and the like. These innovations expand and improve our menu of learning design and delivery options. However, as history shows us, the new learning methods will not completely replace established practices. It’s consistent with the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

I now think more and more about my role as an educator, not only in the formal sense of my role with our firm’s workforce, but also with a goal to perpetuate my colleagues’ capabilities. This plays out in a few ways, including regular use of my whiteboard to discuss and map out issues and potential solutions with teammates. Also, it pushes me to ask better questions to elicit discussions and options versus simply giving direction or providing answers.

Finally, it has made me a better listener and learner because as much as I have to teach, my own learning continues, and I am more comfortable knowing what I do not know. As I contemplate the next 50 years, I plan to continue to prepare the next generation of practitioners. But more importantly, I am driven and inspired by my past and present colleagues to continue my own journey as teacher, coach and learner.

Dave DeFillippo is the chief learning officer for Suffolk Construction. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com. 

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