"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." (Derek Bok),
Borrowing a phrase from Charles Dickens, for those involved in enterprise learning initiatives, these are "the best of times, the worst if times." Never before throughout human history has there been more and better information available than there is now, nor has it been easier to obtain or disseminate it. However, information needs are constantly and rapidly changing, especially in what has become (in Thomas Friedman's apt phrase) a "flat world," one without borders. Moreover, many executives have developed what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton so aptly characterize as a "knowing-doing gap." As a result, chief learning officers (CLOs) or their equivalent have an abundance of opportunities but they also face a number of significant challenges. In this volume, Tamar Elkeles and Jack Phillips provide information and counsel that suggest how to drive value within a changing organization through learning and development. They take various challenges into full account while responding to key questions such as these, devoting a separate chapter to each:
1. Insofar as the CLO is concerned, what are the most significant trends and issues?
2. How to devise a program that links strategy to learning?
3. How to set an appropriate investment level?
4. How to align the learning enterprise with business needs?
5. How to complete a transition to performance improvement?
6. How to create value-based delivery?
7. How to manage for value?
8. How to demonstrate and quantify the ROI of learning?
9. How to manage talent for value?
10. How to establish and then sustain productive management relationships?
Then in the final chapter, "The Voices of CLOs," Elkeles and Phillips include brief but insightful commentaries by 17 prominent chief learning officers, excerpted from interviews of them by Elkeles. (I wish it were possible to read each interview in its entirety.) "They are exceptional at what they do, well-known, and highly respected for their views. More importantly, they offer realistic perspectives about how the CLO function in the organization is managed. To varying degrees, the interviewees comment on some aspect of nine issues (listed on Page 287) that represent the focus of this book.
Readers will especially appreciate Elkeles and Phillips' skillful use of various reader-friendly devices, notably the provision of Figures (e.g. Figure 1-1, "CLO Roles to meet business challenges," Page 3), Tables (e.g. Table 3-2, "Turnover Cost Categories," on Page 62 and Table 5-4, "Core Competencies Associated with Performance Improvement Work," on Page 120), dozens of boxed quotations inserted throughout the narrative that are relevant to the given context, a "Final Thoughts" section at the conclusion of most chapters, and dozens of Checklists (e.g. "Steps for Needs Assessment and Analysis" on Page 98 and "Benefits of Management Involvement" on Page 276). These and other devices will facilitate, indeed accelerate a review of key points long after the book has been read.
Although this book was primarily written for chief learning officers (with or without a formal title), I think it is also a "must read" for other C-level executives and especially for board members and CEOs. I agree with Peter Drucker that everyone involved in an organization (whatever its size or nature may be) must be knowledge workers. Only then can effective leadership be developed at all levels and in all areas, thereby ensuring that the organization can achieve and then sustain a competitive advantage. The combined costs of failing to do that are incalculable. Hence my selection of Derek Bok's comment to serve as the title of this review.
Congratulations to Tamar Elkeles and Jack Phillips on a brilliant achievement.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Jay Cross's Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance as well as Return on Learning: Training for High Performance at Accenture co-authored by Donald Vanthournout and his associates on Accenture's Capability Development team. Also Edward Lawler's Talent: Making People Your Competitive Advantage, Also, John Hager and Paul Halliday's Recovering Informal Learning: Wisdom, Judgement and Community, Dean Spitzer's Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success, and Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.
Learning Professional Must Read!,