Chief Learning and Talent Officers: Evolution or Revolution?

More than 20 members of i4cp's industry-leading Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board gathered at Nike headquarters in September to discuss significant and often transformative changes underway in their learning and talent organizations. What's changing--or on the table for future disruption--for Board members?

Just about everything.

Members discussed efforts to transform learning processes, leadership development practices, performance management, and organizational culture--all to better align with changing business environments and strategies for growth.

Learning Processes Top the List of Areas Undergoing Change.

"The discussion was of revolution, not evolution," notes Board Chair, John Cone, describing the focus of several members who are working simultaneously on initiatives to decrease time spent in classrooms, leverage learner generated content, use simulations, advance mobile and social learning, promote more diverse and inclusive learning groups, and leverage leaders as teachers, to name a few areas of discovery. These efforts are occurring as Board members also work to simplify and modernize processes in their organizations. Members also reflected on the emerging focus on the employee experience as a driver of performance, development and retention.

Performance Management Needs to Align with Evidence-based Practices.

Several members described efforts to modernize performance management, a process deemed by some to be extremely outdated. Suggesting that actual changes might be slower than news reports, i4cp thought leaders offered their own research and evidenced-based model based upon the "FACTS"--and the need to base change efforts on five principles:

Future mindset
Coaching and communications
Transparency, and

Yet more than just the facts are at stake, noted i4cp presenter, Program Director Amy Armitage, as the most fundamental issue for PM redesign is to have firm grounding and support from senior executives on the business purpose for changing performance management systems. Key criteria: "Clarity on the business problem you are trying to solve."

Performance Management Must Address the Business Need.

Cigna Chief Learning Office Karen Kocher shared the Cigna journey toward a new PM process--one driven by a changing workforce, a need to align with a desire for growth, and dissatisfaction with the current state. A motivating factor for senior Cigna executives was an understanding of recent brain science research. Among the many changes Cigna instituted: scrapping annual reviews in favor of frequent check-ins, eliminating ratings, encouraging collaboration, and enhancing differentiation of pay for performance based on contribution.

The group discussed the need to train managers on new processes in areas such as goal setting, performance conversations, and feedback delivery. Yet they also noted that managers might be better at it than we think if freed from ranking and rating requirements. In some cases HR has been viewed as a barrier if practitioners are unable or unwilling to take on new roles to support managers in developing talent and managing performance.

Culture Must Address How Performance Is Managed.

Perhaps more important even than performance management may be how performance is managed through an organization's culture. Leaders create culture and are thus responsible for elements of the culture that promote and reinforce performance, noted Andre Martin, Chief Learning Officer of Nike. Martin offered the board a powerful example of 15 talent expectations and "moments that matter."

The group discussed specific ways that leaders can impact culture through story-telling, role modeling, and managing reinforcement of behaviors.

Formal Talent Mobility Process Correlated to High Performance

i4cp CEO Kevin Oakes introduced the findings of new talent mobility research, undertaken at the Board's request. Among the major findings: only a third of respondents said their organizations have any kind of system or process in place for addressing talent mobility. Two-thirds reported that their program is owned by HR. Additionally, the survey found that most programs are aimed at high potentials.

Talent mobility practices that correlate with market performance included: clear plans and processes for re-assimilating people who return from developmental assignments, having employees who are willing to take on new responsibilities within their current roles, and actively engaging high-potential employees. Oakes also shared two measures that most companies do not apply to talent mobility, but have the highest correlation to market performance. Those measures, including much more, will be revealed when i4cp releases the full report in early 2016.

Note: Due to the confidentiality of i4cp Board meetings, detailed member presentations are not available for distribution. For information on joining any of i4cp's Boards, contact your i4cp representative.

(Disclosure: The author wore Nike running shoes, a Dri-FIT Nike shirt and Nike Yoga pants as she wrote this article, none of which were part of her purchases at the Nike company store, which did include size 13, red Michael Jordon high tops for her son. So Cool.)