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Do We Need CKOs and CLOs?    [Date Added : 04/12/2004 ]
During the 1990s, many companies created Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) and Chief Learning Officer (CLO) positions to lead strategy in these key areas. Based largely on anecdotal observations, the Wall Street Journal in early 2003 noted that fewer than 20 percent of major US corporations had retained CLOs or CKOs, versus 25 percent at the height of the business boom. The implication was that with businesses cutting back during the years of recession, these executive roles were expendable.

However, a growing number of business leaders believe that if companies are thinking strategically, then these roles are critical for success.

In the following article, Judy Olian, Dean of the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University, comments on the current and future roles for CKOs and CLOs.

Tim Baldwin and Camden Danielson in Business Horizons magazine note that the CLO is more than the person responsible for organizational training programs. For example, the CLO's mission is to create a forum for dialogue on important issues in the firm (Federal Express), or to focus exclusively on developing leadership skills (Boeing).

Some CLOs are the agents of cultural transformation across their company. Their role is to unsettle the current order and trigger significant changes in employees' values and behaviors to fit the evolving strategy of the organization. For example, Wall Street's money managers had to shift into the client-management mode to grow new business during the investment banking downturn. In many cases, CLOs shepherded the change.

The CLO's role overlaps with the role of CKO since both have a large hand in accomplishing relevant cultural transformation. CKOs are in charge of capturing and disseminating knowledge throughout a company. With the volume of information exploding exponentially - bordering on overload - information filtering is seen as one of the key challenges for CKOs.

It is the CKO's role to create an organizational discipline in which experienced practitioners routinely capture information, where users turn to internal information resources with new problems, where systems sift through volumes of data and enable easy search and retrieval of the relevant information, and where there is a culture of sharing despite unit barriers.

The role of the CKO is to create this culture and the learning and knowledge sharing systems that make it happen. The CKO also brings new thinking and best practices from the outside in, and pushes them throughout the organization to spark innovation and to enhance organizational capabilities.

Organizations that have an active innovation machine with frequent product launches must have a well-oiled learning culture. Dell introduces thousands of products each year and its work force must quickly learn the intricacies and features of new products. The employee-learning element is an integral ingredient of each new product launch. Ironically, the role of CLO at Dell has been phased out because learning is so embedded in every organizational function, a necessity given the rapid pace of change.

In professional service organizations, effective knowledge management practices enable easy transfer of background research across overlapping client engagements. Andersen was renowned for its knowledge management practices across its 360 global offices. The Andersen platform relied on adapted software with a searchable database, and all employees were trained in effective use of the knowledge management tools.

As partners in the business strategy, CLOs and CKOs also are moving into the domain of knowledge sharing with clients. Educating customers is part service, part sales strategy. Beyond providing a platform to highlight the company's products or services, knowledge sharing with customers enhances the business case for the client's dealings with the company.

The Pine Street Leadership Project, Goldman Sachs' learning center run by its CLO, Steve Kerr, builds relationships with Goldman clients, ranging from IBM to Sony. The value to these customers goes beyond the financial services. It includes knowledge transfer as part of a multifaceted strategic relationship with Goldman.

Every executive role must bring value to the business strategy. As long as CLOs and CKOs advance core strategic priorities, they're here to stay, boom or bust.

(Extract from "Chief Knowledge, Learning Officers not just '90s Fad," March 30, 2004, Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Copyright 2004 PG Publishing Company, Inc.)

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