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Posted by on Mar 24, 2015

Inside the Minds of Chief Learning Officers

Inside the Minds of Chief Learning Officers

EmpowerOn March 10 Steve Maier, President of Management Concepts moderated a thought-provoking panel discussion at a recent Training Officers Consortium (TOC) luncheon that included the following esteemed Federal Chief Learning Officers (CLOs):


  • Sheila Wright, Housing and Urban Development
  • Michael Casey, General Services Administration
  • Jeffrey Vargas, Commodity Futures Trading Commission
  • Susan Camarena, Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration

We’ve all heard the phrase “do more with less” – especially in government – but during the panel the idea of “do more with what we have” resonated throughout the presentation. Federal CLOs face the dilemma of maintaining an environment of a highly skilled workforce with diminishing resources – the need for increased productivity with less human capital resources. The shift of encouraging employees to be empowered about their own career paths and not rely on their management to create opportunities is increasing daily.

Below are a few key points made by the panelists:

When asked if their respective training programs are ‘top-driven’ (i.e. have managerial buy-in) the panelists were in agreement that professional development is critical at all levels and starts from the ground up. All panelists noted their organizations have the buy-in, but with caveats. They stressed that employees must still empower themselves to take training, and that the conversation should migrate from training toward performance improvement. In addition, using resources internally to share and transfer knowledge is another way to promote a learning environment beyond just executing on training.

When faced with the question, “In the current fiscal environment (with declining budgets) what is your number one strategic training priority?” we learned:

  • Strategy: Develop an employee development strategy that embeds the idea of ownership, empowerment, and focus on your own career and development; Emphasize that career pathing is key to cultivating that ownership.
  • Collaboration: Work collectively with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to get economies of scale in learning.
  • Empower: Focus on enhancing leadership capability and capacity; Help people to learn how to lead, not how to manage.
  • Focus: Emphasize technical training. Determine a Learning Management System (LMS) that allows you to do everything you need to do. Determine the kinds of training that learners expect to receive via “eLearning.” Make sure delivery of learning meets the needs of all the generations taking the classes.

We wanted know where the future lies, in their opinion, so we asked, “What are you looking at in five years’ time?” Panelists noted:

  • Extend the reach of learning & development efforts by 50 percent.
  • Know when it is a people problem and when it is a technology problem. (Technology can help, but can’t solve all problems. It takes three to five years to change a culture.)
  • Change the landscape of how learning and development is perceived. Train people with skills to do not only their job, but any job; Train them to lead and manage.
  • Integrate technology; CLOs need to be ready to become learning technologists – technology impacts the design, development, and delivery of learning.

Finally, as Management Concepts is an education provider, we asked: “What programs or courses would you like to see developed?”  And related…  “What training needs are not being met currently by your current educational providers?” We heard:

  • Use a blended approach, such as coaching, as part of the training experience.
  • Develop learning that explores the reality of advancement.
  • Promote more lifelong learning opportunities.
  • Encourage employee ownership of learning.
  • Empower employees to find mentors, information, etc. themselves.
  • Deliver the training in a distributed format.
  • Connect people to people and people to information.
  • Simulation-based training for executives.
  • Supervisory refresher training.
  • Training for rising stars that may decide SES is not for them.

Overall, we learned that as technology grows, government learning methodologies must also adapt. Federal agencies must be better equipped to attain linkages between performance and learning by connecting competency and performance management with tools such as a LMS. The CLOs on this panel showed passion, patience, and perseverance in implementing the learning their respective organizations need. We applaud them for working to bring the best and the most efficient training to the Federal workforce while still striving to achieve their missions through learning opportunities.

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