It’s time all organizations make what could be the most strategic decision in decades regarding organizational structure: Move the learning and talent development functions out from under the human resources umbrella and unleash them to become a standalone strategic function, something I call the TLC function — talent, learning and culture. Why is such a move so important?
Modern HR departments have two imperatives that are increasingly divergent. One involves focusing on the delivery of core, mostly tactical administrative responsibilities, such as managing payroll and benefits and compliance; the other involves a focus on talent strategy, culture and learning. I might alienate some HR colleagues for saying this, but it’s been my experience that the strengths of most chief human resource officers squarely fall into one camp or the other. It’s the rare CHRO who can elegantly, agilely straddle both with strength, which means one of the imperatives inevitably loses out, and most often I find it’s the far more strategic one.
The organizations at greatest risk are those operating in sectors experiencing increasing digital disruption, whose HR departments are led by tactical, administrative CHROs who struggle to provide the kind of vision and strategy that a talent and learning function demands. Even when the CHRO hires a capable chief learning officer to lead the learning and talent development function, it still remains buried within HR, forced to compete against other areas for budget, visibility and strategic direction.
For an organization to win in the digital economy, it is critical to establish a robust learning culture, an adaptive and aggressive learning strategy and a high-powered talent strategy that collectively allow the organization to thrive and adapt in unprecedented ways. The TLC function must be led by a chief TLC officer capable of forging deliberate and highly strategic relationships with the key business stakeholders most responsible for driving the digital strategy. The critical relationship is with the technology function, in particular the CTO, in order to drive technology elements of the learning strategy, which will become increasingly important over the next decade as more companies mature into truly digital organizations.
Learning lies at the root of competitive advantage, fueling innovation, adaptivity and retention of the most skilled and capable talent. In fact, the continuous ability for an organization and its workers to learn and upskill may be the only durable source of competitive advantage an organization can possess. Yet in many, probably most, organizations, the learning function still lies buried within the broader HR function, without the visibility, autonomy and strategic importance it requires to do its job at the highest level. L&D spend is fragmented across departmental budgets, which makes it more challenging for an organization to understand the holistic learning strategy, overall spending and impact.
There was a time when IT was similarly a “sub-function” within finance and operations. It eventually had to become its own function with all the associated benefits of being an independent entity in order to flourish and unleash the strategic opportunities made possible by the computer age. In the digital age, the learning and talent function needs to be elevated so that it can assume its proper place on the organizational chart, with a direct line to the C-suite, and provide the TLC every organization needs to remain competitive.