What’s In a Name?

» Posted by Jeanne Meister  » Posted on 12.04.07

Published May 2005

For the most part, it’s wise not to get too hung up on job titles—real responsibility, potential for job growth and excellent compensation are better than a nice title. But the fact is, job titles demonstrate a wealth of information about what organizations value, how they structure themselves for success and what their current business strategies are.

Consider the position description that came across my desk the other day for a General Manager: Leadership, Management and Employee Development. This person will have a staff of about two dozen and will report to a position with the title, Vice President, People and Organization Capability. The list of accountabilities, scope, competencies and attributes says a lot about the state of learning in corporations today.

Companies are now trying to alter organizational structures to embed the business importance of learning into their cultures. It requires some reading between the lines, but this job description indicates that this person will have some work to do to press the importance of learning and other workforce-enablement functions. One of the stated purposes of the position is “to increase the company’s competitive advantage by continuously improving individual and organizational effectiveness.” Good so far. We all know that improving workforce performance is key to overall performance.

However, two other statements in the description seem to indicate that not everyone is sure this is so. Consider that, in this role, the executive would need “to create a philosophy, strategy, roadmap and programmatic solutions for the holistic development of partners, executives, managers and employees.” Translation: The roadmap is not in place yet, and linking learning to business goals is going to be a big part of what you do. Recent Accenture Learning research confirms the importance of business skills for learning executives. Important measures for CLOs today are things like cost reduction, managing learning budget to business plan and proving business impact.

Executive leadership programs are increasingly the responsibility of learning executives. Consider that leadership is the first item in the job title, while employee development is third. Four of the seven activities named in the job description are addressed to the executive level: “creating learning forums where leaders can grow from shared learning,” “delivering events for executives,” “assimilating new executives into the company” and “recommending one-on-one coaching and mentoring.” The realization that leaders can be made, not just born, is dawning on this company, and it is turning to its learning experts to help create its future leaders. Research recently concluded that mature design and delivery of leadership development courses is one of the distinctive characteristics of high-performance learning organizations.

Companies will be filling their learning executive positions with business-savvy people. The number-one responsibility listed in this job description has nothing to do with being able to design and deliver world-class learning. It is “to maintain current knowledge of the company’s business, strategic issues and key challenges.” The second item is the ability to work with the lines of business to identify the skills and competencies needed to enhance professionalism and leadership. The third is to conduct ongoing needs assessments at all levels to address the needs that are most strategic to business success.

There are three things that leading companies look for in their learning executives today: business impact, business impact and business impact. The job description focuses on “aligning closely with the business units…to build consensus and to achieve objectives.” And on “creating an environment where development represents a clear and strong value proposition for both the individual and the business.”

Today’s C-suite executives are seriously considering how imperative it is to demonstrate the link between learning activities and business results. They are designing their organizational structures to make that link more explicit. And they are looking to fill learning leadership roles with people who understand business strategy. Certainly, one hopes that people with the right background and a passion for learning are at the helm of a learning organization. But it’s looking more and more like the future learning executive will be one with an MBA in addition to learning and development competencies.

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