The CLO’s Role: Marketing Learning Success

» Posted by Jeanne Meister  » Posted on 12.03.07

Published June 2005

I woke up one recent morning to the voice of actor Robert Duvall on WQXR FM, the classical music station of the New York Times:

“This is a real letter from a man named Richard Bauman to his boss in 2004: ‘I just want to thank you for creating the Employee Scholar program, which completely funded my master of science degree. This means a great deal to me and I hope to be able to pay this investment back many times over to United Technologies. The United Technologies Employee Scholar program has invested over half a billion dollars sending people to college. It pays for tuition, books and students get time off to learn and, what’s more, when they graduate they are given $10,000 in company stock. Now that is a great return on investment. United Technologies. This is momentum.’”

Why would United Technologies Corp. (UTC)—a $37 billion company with business units in aircraft engines, helicopters, elevators and more—advertise on a classical music station early in the morning?

The UTC Employee Scholar program is part of the company’s goal to have “the best-educated workforce on the planet.” It’s also an example of UTC’s commitment to corporate responsibility. The Employee Scholar program has helped make “lifelong employability” a reality for almost 16,000 employees—more than 13,000 are currently enrolled.

“Employees sincerely want to develop themselves in ways that advance their careers,” said Jack Leary, chief learning officer of United Technologies. “What’s more, the turnover rate of those who have graduated from our program is actually 1 percent lower than the general turnover rate.”

But the program’s statistics tell only part of the story here. The other significant news is how a company’s investment in learning and personal development has become the core of UTC’s advertising campaign.

Marketing is part of the next frontier for chief learning officers. As they are increasingly held accountable for impact on the business, learning executives must be aware of the myriad influences they can have on their success, including marketing, communications and advertising.

There’s already a bit of marketer in today’s best learning executives. Learning campaigns tied to significant business events—new products or a change in strategic direction—already are launched with marketing flair: branded communications, a slogan and planned outreach initiatives. It’s a short step to figure out how innovative learning programs can be marketed to increase awareness of the business itself.

CLOs-as-marketers should be thinking about:

  • Establishing innovation as a core value: How are you helping to drive organizational innovation for your company? Are you extending learning throughout the company’s value chain or creating new corporate-college alliances? Are you integrating learning into knowledge networking so dispersed work groups can collaborate seamlessly to support growth and innovation?
  • Understanding the company’s brand positioning: It’s not enough just to understand your business and industry dynamics. Now CLOs must really understand the company positioning. Are you on the distribution list for consumer brand audits and positioning reviews? Are you reading the company advertising brief—a high-level document that outlines the brand personality and positioning that will be the cornerstone of the company advertising campaign?
  • Sharing the drive to market organizational innovation with the CMO: If you are a member of the C-suite at your company, you should already be in dialogue with the chief marketing officer (CMO). The next step is to build a communications program targeting the CMO and the marketing staff so they understand your learning vision, charter and key objectives for the fiscal year. You may even include the CMO on your learning advisory council.

UTC has taken the lead here in profiling learning innovation in its company brand personality. There are countless other ways that we, as a learning community, can work with marketers—and as marketers—to create learning programs that find their way into a company’s identity and external positioning.

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