In today’s rapidly evolving corporate landscape, we see that the role of the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) has transcended traditional boundaries, becoming a pivotal element of strategic innovation and organizational resilience. However, being an involved party of sorts, we wanted to understand how corporate leaders view this evolution from the outside. So I reached out to an old friend, Vivek Subramaniam, to help look at this apparent transformation from an industry leader’s point of view.

About Vivek Subramaniam:
Vivek is the founder of Above N Beyond, a firm that works in-step with founders to achieve business outcomes. He tag-teams with the founders as their game plan partner.

In this conversation, Vivek sheds light on the transformational journey of the CLO’s responsibilities, from mere custodians of learning to architects of corporate culture and growth. As new managers embark on their careers within the corporate Learning & Development (L&D) sphere, understanding this evolution becomes crucial. It is not just about fostering skills but about embedding learning into the DNA of an organization, thereby driving sustainable growth and competitive advantage. This conversation offers invaluable insights for those at the helm of shaping future learning strategies, providing a compass to navigate the complexities of modern corporate ecosystems. It is a must-read for aspiring and current L&D professionals keen on making a meaningful impact in their organizations.

Dheeraj: On Strategic Alignment: “So, first up, Vivek, in what ways do you see the Chief Learning Officer aligning learning and development strategies with the overall business objectives of an organization, and how crucial is this alignment for business success?”

Vivek: It is only business backwards and hence knowing why the business exists, what it does, how it operates is the core. A big part is also understanding unit economics, the customer and the customer’s customer. In a world where speed and agility are super important and change happens overnight, it is critical to frame development needs and solutions, in the context of the macro and micro business trends and both the explicit and the tacit imperatives of the business and its stakeholders. 

Knowing how the metrics will be achieved – structures, systems and people brings a holistic perspective. 

And then ensuring that the leadership team is aligned, speaks a common language and agrees on the execution in terms of ways of working, ground rules, accountability and how the collective comes together to make the business goals happen. 

Hence, Learning has to take a business backward approach to truly make a meaningful impact. 

Dheeraj: On Evolving Role and Challenges: “How has the role of the Chief Learning Officer evolved in the past decade, and what are the primary challenges they face in today’s fast-paced and constantly changing business environment?”

I believe the Chief Learning Officer should be called the Chief “Un”Learning officer. 

What got us here will not get us there. How businesses operate has turned on their heads over the past few years. If new ways of doing things is true for every other function it is truer for Learning. 

The CLO is a Cx who has to view the function as a P&L department and not a support function. 

Where is every rupee/$$ spent, what is the ROI, how quickly are business goals being met and what is the delta that learning can plug? The classic build vs buy – in the big picture of the business what does this truly mean and how can the CLO drive business outcomes? 

This is about thinking big, thinking as a business leader who is driven to make business succeed with a strong execution focus. 

One of the big roles a CLO can play is aligning key leaders and ensuring the leadership team works as ‘One Leadership’. Almost like the head coach. A key question for a CLO can be – how do leaders come together to ensure that silos are broken and operate under information symmetry and make decisions that are company-first?

For this to happen the CLO needs to establish internal credibility as a true partner operating from a sense of self-assurance and security, and strongly modeling a growth mindset.

Dheeraj: On the Impact of Technology on Learning: “With the rapid advancement of technology, how should Chief Learning Officers adapt their strategies to leverage new learning technologies and platforms effectively?”

Vivek: The old-school way of training is extinct. Technology is an enabler that can bring enormous efficiency and effectiveness to get the job done. 

We live in a world where the workforce is diverse – global, multi-generational, with varying styles of learning and consuming information. 

It starts with appreciating that technology removes a lot of day-to-day mundane effort that helps the learning team to focus on important areas. It is systems thinking – linear to circular. It is about constantly looking at data that provides information and the smartness is in converting information to insights. 

If we looked at learning at three levels – hygiene, functional, and organizational. Technology can play a very crucial role in connecting these and ensuring that individuals and teams are constantly communicating, collaborating, and making faster decisions. The sum of parts can then come together as a whole. 

If this is taken care of well, that’s when true focus and value can be created by contextualizing and personalizing learning. That is when the true impact is created. 

Dheeraj: On Cultural and Organizational Impact: “Can you discuss the impact of a Chief Learning Officer on fostering a learning culture within an organization, and how does this culture contribute to employee engagement and retention?”

Vivek: The true success of the CLO is when they are able to make every CxO a CLO. Hence, step one is to ensure that each and every CxO takes accountability for learning. For that, the CLO has to work as a partner and show line of sight to business impact.

CLOs have to spend a lot of time co-creating and solutioning with their peer Cx’ to make learning impactful. Unless every leader takes that accountability, learning will be a set of tactical trainings. 

It is a big change in the mindsets of the Chief learning officer or like I said, the Chief UnLearning Officer.

There is a school of thought that Learning promotes engagement and retention. While these may be a byproduct, I don’t believe learning should be viewed from that lens. Learning is about growing the individual and growing the firm. That should be the whole and sole focus. 

I believe that learning is about truly becoming the best version of yourself. And almost everyone wants that. Hence if the culture is about genuinely trying to make the individual grow in areas that will help them in their roles, their growth, and what matters to them then they will surely see value. And if they see that the organization is committed to making them better, then most people will align and be committed to staying and go the extra mile.  

Dheeraj: On Future Trends and Predictions: “Looking ahead, what emerging trends do you predict will significantly influence the role of the Chief Learning Officer, and how should they prepare to meet these future challenges?”

Vivek: I would think only one thing – Mindset. Let’s take the example of the traditional ‘induction.’ 

For me, induction should be about integration. What I mean here is how quickly can a person integrate into the firm, understand the company’s business, and ethos, what is needed from them to deliver on the role and how soon can they become productive. In parallel, how much has the company understood the individual and have a plan for their success? 

The success is when the organization wins, the team wins and every individual feels that they learnt and grew. 

It is about creating the right balance between technology and systems, subject matter depth and business practicalities, simplicity and effectiveness, and most importantly the learner. 

In the world of changing landscapes, using technology (and integrating them meaningfully) but keeping the human at the center to deliver business success is what one needs to prepare for. 

Dheeraj: Vision Integration: “How does the L&D department ensure its programs are fully integrated with the company’s long-term vision and strategic direction? Could you provide an example of how this alignment has influenced an L&D initiative?”

Vivek: A lot of times business leaders focus on the what and how. For bringing people on a common war cry or a common north it is important to always start with the why. 

Significant time should be spent in understanding the why and then articulating the why which is meaningful, impactful, and not mere fluff. Most often this is where it is lost. People are smart. They can see what is real and what is not. 

The second is understanding the strategy and the core capability of the firm. Against those understand the structures and systems in place that can deliver on the promise. 

Then finally the initiative that is closest to reality. Once again this has to be done collectively at the highest level of the organisation and the function.


As we conclude our enlightening conversation with Vivek, it’s clear that the role of the Chief Learning Officer is at a fascinating crossroads. The journey from aligning strategically with the company’s vision, navigating the evolving challenges, leveraging technology, to making a cultural and organizational impact, points towards a future where learning is not just an activity but an ethos that permeates every aspect of an organization. The insights shared on future trends and the critical importance of integrating the L&D department’s vision with the organization’s broader objectives underscore the transformative potential of learning. For new and seasoned managers alike in the corporate L&D sphere, this dialogue serves as a beacon, guiding toward a future where learning is the cornerstone of innovation and success. As we look ahead, the role of the CLO and the L&D department is undoubtedly set to become more integral to organizational growth, demanding a proactive, strategic, and adaptable approach to overcome challenges and seize opportunities in the ever-evolving corporate landscape.