Editor's Letter

It’s a Brand New Ballgame

Changing conditions on the field call for a new approach to learning and development.

Mike Prokopeak, Editor in Chief

Summer’s here and that means baseball season is in full swing in North America. But when it comes to baseball terminology, it always feels like July.

No matter the season, workplace conversations are littered with sayings and expressions pulled straight from America’s pastime.

Salespeople “hit it out of the park” when they land a big new client. Bosses congratulate a young colleague on a big promotion with “welcome to the big league.” Product managers make sure to “cover all the bases” in preparation for a successful launch. Bad quarterly results “throw a curveball” at executives.

The list drags on and on, deep into extra innings. But arguably the most apt baseball-ism on that list for CLOs is: “It’s a brand new ballgame.” That particular phrase gets tossed around when a team rallies from behind to tie the score in dramatic fashion, usually when a player digs in at the plate, stares back at the pitcher and then knocks one out of the park.

As a CLO, it’s easy to feel like you’re up to bat in the late innings, behind in the count and your team down a couple of runs. Employees are on their feet loudly clamoring for more development in increasingly creative ways. Skeptical bosses are looking at you from the dugout, itching to signal for the squeeze play on your learning budget. Armchair critics watch safely from the sofa at home, ready to relentlessly pick apart your next move no matter the result.

But rather than let the pressure get to you, see it as an opportunity — a chance to achieve success, grow and simply have some fun. “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure,” was one of the sayings of Joe Maddon, manager of the Chicago Cubs, as he led my favorite team to its first World Series title in 108 years in 2016.

Tamar Elkeles, chief talent executive at private equity firm Atlantic Bridge Capital, made a similar point during a speech at the 2017 ATD International Conference in Atlanta. Talent is at the center of business growth, she said, and CLOs have a golden opportunity to lead the talent agenda.

You have unprecedented access to vast stores of employee and business data and powerful analytical tools to pull insights from it. You have powerful systems and platforms to drive change and do it fast.

The incentive to change is there. Like a manager in the final inning of a tight game, business leaders feel the competition breathing down their necks and recognize how important talent is to their success.

But a new ballgame calls for a shift in mindset and a change in tactics. “We don’t own content and aren’t managing learning,” Tamar told the audience in Atlanta. That power long ago shifted from the learning department to individual employees.

So what does that mean for the work of CLOs? There’s a whole lot of fundamental baseball that still needs to be played, from administering learning programs to ensuring successful results.

But there’s a compelling case made by Tamar and other forward-looking executives for learning leaders to focus on the bigger game — identifying top talent, creating powerful employee experiences, building a robust talent ecosystem that incorporates assessment, development and rewards, and building on company culture. Innovation and change are what’s on deck for CLOs.

That’s also at the heart of education. Traditional business education rightly takes aim at the fundamentals of running a global business. Organizations need leaders schooled in operations, sales and marketing, leadership and general management. But programs should also focus on the role executives play in driving innovation across the organization. Concepts like design thinking can play a larger role in how companies prepare the leaders of the future.

The growing role of CLOs at the center of the talent agenda is also at the heart of the Fall CLO Symposium+PLUS taking place this October in California. We’ve developed a program aimed squarely at the evolution of learning executives into the broader realm of talent management and organizational performance. It’s no longer just about courses and curriculum.

As Tamar told the audience in Atlanta: “Your job isn’t to track training.” Learning should drive the talent agenda. It’s integral to the employee experience. It’s a brand new ballgame for learning.

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