What is a Chief Potential Officer? What is a Chief Meaning Officer or Chief Learning Officer? They are titles that went to somebody’s head. The nature of work may be changing, but titles will not lead us there. In fact, the sheer multiplication of titles is self-serving, fatuous, and confusing. Saying it is so doesn’t make it so!
At best, the thinking that produces these euphemisms is well motivated. There are people trying to put a more descriptive label on the work that is evolving. They are looking for a new lingo to match the new work. But, there are three problems here:
- There is really no difference when you call a trash collector a sanitation engineer. Just ask the collector/engineer.
- At this time, only consultants whom, I bet, are more scholar than executive are using these titles.
- A descriptive label is subjective and, thereby, defies measurement. Job titles are more relevant and useful when they are analytic or performance-based.
Meant to Say?
- Harvard Business Review reports a study that indicates some (49%) of leadership qualities are genetic and therefore determine a pre-disposition to leadership potential. It is akin to measuring earlobes as an index of human intelligence. The study concludes, “We believe that organizations can benefit from a greater awareness of the many ways in which biological cues can influence leadership potential and that they should design leadership training to hone people’s abilities to encourage and inspire—particularly when people haven’t picked up those abilities naturally” (C. Senior etal, 2011).
It worries me that potential-ists want to use such tools in leadership assessment. The limited results of an inadequate study will not play out in the nexus of complex people, at complex tasks, in a complex working environment. However, business certainly can benefit from a focused analysis and career development trajectory for employees with leadership potential.
Such a management luxury is limited to those companies of size, resources, and longevity. Hiring, identifying, and grooming employees with leadership potential is a strategic value they appreciate, value, and reward. Does the business bureaucracy need another job title?
- John Hagel III promotes the importance of being able to identify a meaningful difference between your product and the competition. His thinking on this is a valuable continuation of Peter F. Drucker thinking. He pictures the Maslow Pyramid of Needs at the center of a cube in which the empty spaces are filled with the word social indicating the inevitable social interactivity of performance.
But, the CEO has the job of identifying the meaningful differential. The tasks attributed to a Chief Meaning Officer are real and necessary to success, but these are not duties the CEO delegates. Drucker once suggested that every business should have a dedicated futures group, but he foresaw collaboration among specialists who advised the CEO. A CMO appointment and job description invariably co-opts the CEO’s power and influence.
- As the information-based economy increases the need for high-performance workers, their intellectual capital becomes a critical resource. The organizations that best empower their employees with training will enjoy the most success. According to Steve Lynch in HRO Today, “The chief learning officer (CLO) leads the initiative to transform the corporation into a learning organization. The CLO must not only balance all the roles he plays in relation to the issues he serves, but he must also find the right mixture and presentation of outsourced, educational tools to achieve his ends” (2013).
The CLO was a Jack Welch idea at GE that designated a given office with the responsibility for training, development, and alignment with corporation interests. It certainly makes sense to value the potential of training. Before this approach, training was done for issues of compliance or to satisfy a manager’s needs. The CLO idea shifted that paradigm to serving the CEO’s needs. And, I particularly like the idea of naming a member of any work team as the Chief Learning Officer for the team or department. But, I am not convinced this title needs to be differentiated from a Chief Training Officer.
If the HR Director is well appointed, he/she has ultimate strategic responsibility for learning’s role as an agent of change. HR is tasked with culture development, financial goals, and succession planning. To name a CLO appears to create a position parallel to HRD, and this seems disruptive and counter-productive.
Cut to the Chase!
When you gratuitously create a new job title, you confound job analysis and compensation strategies. It is interesting that this happens more on the HR side than the finance or operations side. It strikes me as a need for validation. Human Resources professionals should have a firmer grasp on who they are and what leadership they provide. They can re-configure duties and descriptions; they can repurpose strengths and abilities; they can redirect strategic plans. But, they do not need to change their name.
Think of the cost in business cards alone!