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Editor's Letter

Stressed, Pressed and Blessed

With all the challenges, it’s easy to lose sight of just how special learning work is.

Mike Prokopeak, VP, Editor in Chief

In learning, as with just about anything in life, it’s easy to focus on the negative and get preoccupied with the challenges that inevitably pop up to block our way.

There’s never enough money, time or attention to do all that we want. Add to that the unavoidable fact that learning and development is a long-term strategy for a short-term obsessed business world dominated by quarterly results-driven thinking and it’s no wonder that learning leaders feel the pressure.

Lofty expectations come from all directions: executives want real results, business partners come with pet projects and learners have an insatiable demand for help in advancing their careers.

Piling on top of that is the ever-expanding set of tools, technologies and methodologies at hand for the job. Learning leaders have a dizzying array of choices in their work: in classroom or online, in person or on the go, via programs that take months to complete or bits of learning consumed in a matter of minutes.

But all that pressure and stress is nothing new for chief learning officers. You signed up for it. Being an executive, whether the role is learning, marketing, finance or operations, means you have to deliver. Learning is the right thing to do for the health and wealth of the organization and employees alike. But that doesn’t mean you get a free pass to the board room.

With all those challenges, it’s easy to lose sight of just how special learning work is. It’s a blessing to be able to be a chief learning officer. That message is crystal clear as I look to the year ahead.

One of the benefits of my job is the ability to travel around the country and meet learning executives at companies large and small in a wide range of industries. From Boston to Seattle, Atlanta to Anaheim, I met dozens of learning leaders in 2017 who have me excited about the future of the profession.

Take technology. I’m a short-term skeptic when it comes to the effects of emerging technology on learning. Too often, emerging fields like artificial intelligence are used to sell a product rather than advance the practice. 

But I’m bullish on the long-term effects of technology. From virtual and augmented reality to machine learning-fueled technologies, there are a host of platforms and applications being developed by vendors that promise to make learning more accessible, more effective and most importantly more enjoyable.

Let’s face facts. Learning is uncomfortable. There’s a tension inherent in stretching people’s knowledge and capability and challenging them to think in new and different ways. But that doesn’t mean the experience should be painful.

For inspiration, I look at Jesse Schlueter at Nordstrom who told me the experience of learners should mirror the high-quality, customer experience shoppers expect when they visit the retailer. Or 2017 CLO of the Year Damodar Padhi who completely redesigned the digital learning experience for the nearly 400,000 employees of Tata Consultancy Services because the one thing a CLO can’t do is sit still.

In the year ahead, I’m excited by the talent agenda that sits atop the priority list for many organizations. Learning is at the heart of growth plans, especially as business becomes faster and more unpredictable. 

Learning leaders like Mike Kennedy of the National Basketball Association aren’t squandering the opportunity. When the NBA’s new commissioner came in with a new vision, Mike was the right person in the right place at the right time to lead the organization’s renewed efforts to find and develop the next generation of talent. 

I’m inspired by the many smart, passionate learning leaders I continue to meet. Whether that’s people like Biogen CLO Angela Justice with her doctorate in neuroscience or Deloitte’s Jeff Orlando whose psychology background gives him deep insight into human behavior and organizational change.

Our profile subject this month, Brian Miller of Gilead Sciences, is no exception. Learning leaders “embrace the scramble” as he says and find joy in the challenges that come with the job. 

The pressure and stress are just the side effects of the incredible privilege it is to be the leader whose No. 1 job is simply to make people better. 

Mike Prokopeak is vice president and editor in chief of Chief Learning Officer magazine. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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