In Favor of a CLO? When Next Gen Learning Needs a View from the Top

This post originally ran May 28, 2016.

When organizations do knowledge management well, it is usually because territorial battles waged. Someone with authority at the top made decisions and roles of responsibility in the training department realigned. That is why it is critical for organizations to have a chief learning officer sitting in the C-suite. Territorial battles need referees who have the big picture and no entrenched interests in preserving an individual fiefdom in the kingdom that is your corporation.

Knowing which knowledge to capture, retain or discard requires trainers to be part of the inner circle of business leaders in an organization. It becomes the role of the training expert to also understand business in general as well as their organizations and industries specifically so they can be at the helm with other executives to assist them in making these decisions. We are beginning to see Chief Learning Officers (CLO) alongside the CEO, CFO, CIO and, in medical organizations, CMO. As we think about successful businesses as learning organizations, it follows logically that the training department is an essential member of the team that determines the direction of the organization.

This critical role at the big kids’ table requires trainers to learn the business of business, as well as the industry in which they work. Without industry knowledge, programs lack context and this contributes to the fact that training programs often wind up as shelfware, never used or cast aside after a brief time. If the instructional designer has little knowledge of the business or industry in which they work, how can their programs have context or relevance to the enterprise? The answer, of course, is that they can’t.

The subject of knowledge management is now as much part of an organization’s success strategy as its sales, R&D and marketing strategies.

Here are 5 steps to guide your organization’s critical knowledge capture requiring a champion in the C-suite

1. Funnel all training and knowledge management through one pathway in the organization that ends at the top

2. Identify the expertise you need to capture by doing a matrix walk-through

3. Create a plan for working with your critical subject matter experts and conduct interviews that result in capturing critical information for your training programs

4. Develop a logical single system for storing and retrieving critical knowledge

5. Establish a review process to assess the ongoing relevancy and accuracy of critical knowledge stored in your organization

The final arbiter of the value of existing knowledge and its relevance going forward must be someone who has the widest possible vantage point in the organization. That person needs to have as few attachments to the way things are done as possible because it is their job to envision the way things need to be. CLOs,  or someone in a similar high-level, above-the-fray capacity, needs to be able to make the tough calls regarding which training is most effective and which consultants are adding value.

Does your training department have a strong voice in the executive suite?

Podcast Episode 6: Succession Planning is More Than Replacing an Individual; It’s About Knowledge Transfer

Welcome to Episode 6 of the Working with SMEs Podcast.  In today’s conversation with co-host Nathan Eckel, we discuss the challenges of succession planning. Succession planning is more than just grooming the right person and getting out of the way, but it’s about making sure new leaders have all the information they need to move forward.

Nathan reminds us, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.”

A great leader must embody qualities like vision and the ability to inspire, but he or she also needs the right information to be able to accurately define reality and make good decisions. A strong learning organization has all that information available and usable.

An organization is a living, breathing organism. Everybody’s contribution makes the organization work, and that is why knowledge capture and transfer is at the heart of success.

As your key people retire, are you capturing what you need to know for business continuity?

(Warning: Peggy tells a joke in this episode.)

Podcast Episode 5: The Importance of Interviewing Experts and Sharing Information

In this episode of the Working with SMEs podcast, Nathan Eckel and I touch on a few issues regarding the importance of interviewing experts in an organized way and the value of information-sharing in a learning organization.

A few things we talk about today include:

  • decide what is important in your organization before you decide who is important in your organization
  • the value of interviewing your employees in an organized way for training purposes
  • why you need to have a culture of sharing information among employees in a learning organization

Thank you for listening to the podcast. Please add your thoughts and comments below.

Podcast Episode 4: How to Position Your Company for a Knowledge Transfer Best-Case Scenario

In this week’s episode of the Working with SMEs podcast, co-host Nathan Eckel and I discuss the three knowledge transfer scenarios in which a company will find itself: Best case, worst case and second worst case.

Find out which scenario your company is living today, and how to up your game (if you need to!).


In summary:

The worst case scenario is that your employees with your most valuable, critical skill sets have already left and you will never see them again. Ouch!

The second worst case scenario is that your employees with your most valuable, critical skills sets have retired but you can get them back – on their own schedule, at their own price.

The best case scenario is that you use the last, best years of your most valuable employees’ tenure to capture what they know so you can pass it on.

Which reality are you living today?

We’d like to hear how you handle the expert knowledge capture in your organization. Please comment below.


Podcast 3: Challenges and Opportunities of 5 Generations in the Workforce

Today, co-host Nathan Eckel leads the verbal charge in a discussion about the training, learning and communication challenges and opportunities of 5 generations in the workforce.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that we have 5 generations working and contributing in the workforce until 2020.

Listen as Nathan and Peggy discuss the exciting ways that the 5 generations affect corporate culture, communication, learning and knowledge transfer.

To recap, the 5 generations are:

World War II

Baby Boomers

Generation X


Gen 2020 – born post-2000 and entering the workforce this year 2017 as they begin to graduate from high school.

We welcome your comments below.



Podcast Premier: Lifelong Learning and a Department of Human Potential

Welcome to the premier of the Working with SMEs podcast. In this first episode, Nathan Eckel, author of Open Source Instructional Design, joins me as co-host in a discussion on the importance of lifelong learning. Nathan and I recorded a dozen episodes and they will appear in this blog space on Thursdays.

In this episode, we discuss the ways that people have become 24/7 learners aided by an all-info, all-the-time culture, and the implications that this kind of learning has for business.

Thank you for listening to this edition of the Working with SMEs podcast. Let us know if you like this format in the comment box below.


What Are You Doing About Retiring Expertise? New Book and Public Workshop on Capturing and Transferring Corporate Knowledge

What are your plans for preserving your internal corporate expertise in 2017?

Join us for a public workshop in the Philadelphia area on December 16 based on the book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge from Retiring Subject Matter Experts in Your Organization Before They Leave, where we will look at the kinds of expertise you need to capture and how to make those decisions.

Here are the details.

Topic: Working with Subject Matter Experts: 3 Clear Strategies for Finding, Capturing & Transferring Retiring Expertise.

Date: December 16, 2016

Time: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Place: Malvern, Pa

Cost: $30 (lunch will be provided)

An additional session in January will be available to accommodate holiday schedules. Seating is limited. Recommended that you send more than one person from your organization to facilitate discussion within your company.

A nearly perceptible anxiety surrounds the retiring baby boom generation in corporate America today. Many thriving businesses began in the post World War II manufacturing boom. As those knowledge workers leave for the sunny golf courses of Florida, they take with them lifetimes of knowledge and skills that some businesses will never replace.  But it doesn’t have to be that way for your organization.

Join us for the workshop on December 16. Click here to register.

Our host for the event, AmpTech, serves as a provider of expertise for innovators, entrepreneurs and startups.

AmpTech Commercialization Center

As part of the Greater Philadelphia Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ecosystem, AmpTech maintains a collaborative environment where start-ups, service providers, investors, academia and local businesses can join together to get products and services to market FASTER. AmpTech bridges the gap for start-ups and corporate innovators by providing a place to develop products quickly and under one roof. AmpTech provides rapid prototyping capabilities establishing an opportunity to pilot various technologies before market launch.

31 General Warren Blvd, Malvern, PA 19355, USA   |   484-320-8938

For more information about AmpTech, click here.

If you have questions, you can also contact me directly at

What to Include In a Full Knowledge Capture in Your Organization

As you work through cataloguing the knowledge in your company, it is easy to overlook some things either because they are so obvious you forget they are important or because they are so obscure that they may be out of your direct line of sight. In the interest of doing a full knowledge capture in your organization, you can run down a systematic pathway that can reveal items that you might otherwise overlook.

I started to assemble a list of places to look and things to consider as you run through a whole-house inventory of your corporate assets.Here is my first pass to help organizations identify corporate competitive advantages and assets.

  • Your patented products and processes
  • Trademarks and copyrighted materials
  • Proprietary lists of customers and suppliers
  • Personnel with unique relationships with individual employees, customers and vendors
  • Software and training programs developed specifically for your company
  • Contracts – real estate, insurance, employees, vendors/suppliers, equipment and machinery purchase, repair, lease
  • Labor – professional, full and part-time, contract, consulting
  • Capital investments – lease/purchase buildings, machinery, vehicles and craft, infrastructure (private roads, rails, airstrips, etc), including valuable locations near customers, sources of supply or transportation
  • Special circumstances – laws, exceptions, waivers, licenses, etc that allow you to do business in a certain way, in a certain location or under certain conditions.

Please feel free to add your input in the comment box below to make additions and even deletions from this list. What would you include? What would you consider irrelevant? Would something like this list be helpful in assembling your corporate knowledge base if you didn’t have one, or if you have one that needs revision?

I look forward to your comments!



What I Learned About You from a Survey

The results of the first annual Working with SMEs survey are in, and here’s what we know about a sampling of my readers.

  1. Gender – two thirds are male.
  2. Age – spread evenly among the 35 through 65+ categories.
  3. Half of you describe yourselves as subject matter experts or technical experts.
  4. Readers are spread evenly among government, manufacturing and professional services.
  5. Half of you say that your biggest challenge is developing training that achieves behavioral objectives. Other responses included working with subject matter experts and creating training tools and approaches for millennials.

The survey got the expected percentage of responses. Therefore, I interpret that the above describes a representative sampling of readers.

Turning Training into Behaviors

One of the most interesting responses to me was the fact that half of you say your biggest challenge is developing training that achieves behavioral objectives. I found it interesting, but I am not be surprised.

Take the case of very smart subject matter expert who writes his own training. He knows what he wants learners to be able to do and can articulate it. The training breaks down when he comes up with creative activities for a workshop but they don’t directly relate to the articulated goals. The activities lack structure and purpose to move an individual toward competency.

A strong instructional design can help a SME turn his goals into actionable steps that lead toward effective behaviors. Going forward, we will devote time talking about how to help SMEs develop training that moves the needle on performance.

Thank you to the readers who took the survey! It helps to know what you need from this blog.

Annual Survey! Got a minute? Tell me about yourself!


Survey word cloud


It’s been a year since I began this Working with SMEs newsletter and blog. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to meet, speak with and work with people who have helped refine this project.

In order to learn more about you, I have attached a 5 question survey. The goal of this survey is to find out more about your role and your biggest challenges so we can address them here.

I would greatly appreciate the minute of your time that it will take to answer these 5 brief and very easy questions! I promise…easy peasy! Click here to take the survey now.

And many thanks for your time and interest!