CLO

Chief Learning Officer

“Where’s the data?” – The second key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

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The question I always heard from superiors and peers, “Where’s the data?” I believe that the seeds for needs assessment should be planted with the establishment of the strategic goals. Early on the organization should develop a systematic approach for identifying and analyzing the educational needs that relate to the overall strategic plan. Planning and analysis are simultaneous and should be ongoing.

As defined by Wikipedia, Needs assessment is a process for determining and addressing needs, or "gaps" between current conditions and desired conditions, often used for improvement in individuals, education/training, organizations, or communities. The need can be a desire to improve current performance or to correct a deficiency.

For education and training assessments there are a growing variety of models to from which to choose. Select a model or a blend of models which most closely match your goals, operations, personnel and budget. Methods and techniques for gathering information can vary from formal focus groups, to telephone or mail surveys, to online surveys such as survey monkey. The intent should be to gather timely information to enable those in the organization to make smart decisions based upon relevant and appropriate information.

If the program is intended for internal use of the organization’s staff education then it is important to match the model to the organization’s culture, operational structure, and short and long-term education and professional development needs. The content could relate to technical, conceptual, and/or personnel related needs. It is important to focus on the details of professional staffs’ participation in the needs assessment process. Determine how the needs for the educational program and products/services are identified, how the programs are developed and designed to address those needs.

If the education program is intended for external use, the assessment should relate to the business needs, support the organizations need for delivering training; ensure training delivery design relates to customer’s needs; verifies effective performance; and provides guidance into the evaluation process.

Firms -First key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

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At first glance it should be rather easy to determine if professional development and education is really supported by the firm’s leadership. The leaders from every firm that I have ever worked with say that staying in business requires that the staff is continually learning. These leaders state that they must learn just to stay current. I would agree with all of them, just by living and being exposed to new experiences – you will learn new things. Living as your learning model however does not mean that you have learned the right things or that what you learned will improve your business. And this approach to learning does not support the practice that the firm has a learning culture.

I generally divide firms into one of three categories. Most professional firms are small frequently 3- 5 persons. If a firm has less than 50 employees – which is the majority of professional firms - they are lucky be able to assign education duties to a staff member on a part time. When the firm reaches between 50 - 250 staff that part time person becomes full time somewhere at the point where the staff reaches about 100. A second staff member may be assigned full or part time when the staffing level reaches about 150 -200. Both of these firm categories are finding some relief in the growing use of online learning options that are now available.

Then there is the professional mega firm, those who have a staff of over 250. Those mega firms that are truly committed to a professional development culture will bring in a learning management expert to head the professional development department. These positions are often found under HR or marketing. Both of these firm categories are finding some relief in the growing use of online learning options that are now available.

However, regardless of the size of the firm, an education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. Only by involvement of a firm partner or firm principal participating at the highest decision making level will education play an appropriate key role in the overall business operations of the firm. To achieve a level of delivering quality education, the firm leadership must think strategically. This means that they commitment long term, through the highs and lows of the business cycles. Continuing professional education is not free so integrating staff development into the business plan is critical. It should not be about just meeting hours to fulfill a license or credential requirement. There must be clear education goals and objectives since the firm is already investing dollars to meet the basic requirements.

Professional firms were making advancements in the development of strong internal educational programs until the down economy hit hard. With continuing professional education requirements still in place these same firms still need to maintain their requirements, license and certificates. Firms of all sizes have had to cut their internal staff those they had to support their education efforts. With strong leadership the firms do not have to cut back on quality, they just need to be smarter. Now more than ever is the time for visionary leadership and commitment to learning.

Associations - First key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

First you must look at the mission statement of the association. If education is intended to be part of the mission of the association then it should be included in the mission statement. Assuming that education is part of your association'€™s mission then the first key to unlocking the secrets of building a quality education program is to gain commitment and support internally, starting at the top.

To achieve any level of excellence your association will need more than just senior level support, it also needs senior management'€™s involvement. Senior management must be involved with the creation of the association'€™s educational direction and the education department's ongoing performance. Most important, this includes the development of a strategic process that ties education into the overall business plan of the association. The education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. To avoid this common mistake it is important that the head of the education department participates as an equal on the associations'€™ steering or operations committee or council. This would mean the head of the education department would be a Chief Learning Officer (CLO), Vice President, or Senior Director depending upon the size and makeup of the association. Only by participating at the highest decision making level will education play an appropriate key role in the overall business operations of the association.

Like any business - and I believe an association is a business - to achieve a high level of providing quality education, the association must think strategically. This means that there is a long term commitment and a investment of time to achieving goals. There needs to be a commitment to hiring and maintaining the right staff and involving representative member volunteers, those trained and dedicated to achieving the long and short term education goals. And the leadership must find that delicate balance between education as a member benefit and a revenue source. Education is not free which even must must learn to understand. There must be a commitment to investing of dollars, but this needs to be done strategically and smartly. The most successful education programs are those that are integrated within the working foundation of the entire association.

Association leadership involvement summary includes:
• Senior association leaders set direction and seek future educational opportunities.
• Leadership addresses performance expectations and long-term commitment.
• Leadership is involved in the education program’s overall performance.
• Leadership takes into account the educational needs and expectations of all key personnel.

Demonstration of these elements the first steps to building a successful program.

Commitment - A key to unlocking the secrets to establishing a quality education program

The first key to unlocking the secrets of building a quality education program within your organization is to gain commitment and support internally. It must start at the top of the organization. But in order for your education program to achieve excellence it will need more than just senior level support. For the program to be truly outstanding it needs senior management’s involvement in creating and sustaining the organization’s educational direction, performance, and focus. This includes the development of a strategic process that ties education into the overall business plan of the organization. The education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. Like any business, to achieve quality you need to think strategically which includes a long term investment of time, involvement of people and investing of dollars. To be successful the education program must be integrated within the working foundation of the organization. In order for the strategic process to be maintained and succeed there must be a buy-in, a commitment at all levels of the organization. This means there are no lasting quick fixes.

Leadership Involvement summary includes:
1. Senior leaders set direction and seek future educational opportunities.
2. Leadership addresses performance expectations and long-term commitment.
3. Leadership is involved in the education program’s overall performance.
4. Leadership takes into account the educational needs and expectations of all key personnel.

Demonstration of these elements by the senior management and you are taking your first steps to building a successful program.

Chief Learning Officer (CLO)

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