Have you ever wondered how the Chief Learning Officer got it's name?
Well, this legendary story starts at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1989 with Steve Kerr. No, not the basketball phenom, Steve Kerr but rather with the Chief Learning Officer, Steve Kerr. While bball Kerr was just starting his NBA career with the Phoenix Suns, our Steve Kerr was striking a deal with one of the greatest corporate leaders of the time, CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch. This 11-year journey began slowly but was then quick to change the face of corporate leadership development. The program that Steve worked on became the most prestigious Corporate Management Training program in the world. The “Aon Hewitt Top Companies for Leaders” has it ranked #1 in 2014.
Steve started on this voyage by accepting to consult 25 days a year with General Electric (GE) while still a tenured professor at USC. Steve was the only professor from the West put into GE’s Nuclear company to train on “Work-out” (GE’s Process Improvement and Organizational Change program). Because he was a professor and administrator at the time, Steve figured he only had 25 days to spare. In spite of the expectation from GE that Work-out would go poorly within Nuclear because it is in such a heavily-regulated industry, it succeeded and Steve was to thank for it. Because of this success, other businesses within GE started utilizing his services, including training on conflict resolution and dealing with people.
It took only two years before Steve’s services were in such demand (210 days/year) that he resigned his position at USC. He became part of the Michigan faculty to be closer to Crotonville and the work he was doing with GE. This is also the time that Steve became the personal outside consultant for Jack Welch. Although multiple offers were made, it took four years before Steve said yes and went from an outside consultant to the Vice President of Leadership Development at the legendary Crotonville, NY training facility.
One month into the new position, Steve did a "Work-out" session with some of the top brass. They suggested that Steve be the Chief Education Officer, or CEO, for all of GE. He had fun with this and went to Jack Welch saying, “I’m going to be a CEO just like you.” Jack gave a robust laugh and informed Steve that there can be only one CEO at GE. Instead Jack offered, “You can be chief learning officer.” And that is the origin of the Chief Learning Officer.
The New York Times wrote an article about how GE now had a CIO and CLO and contrasted the two relatively new positions. Steve says, “It was my 15 minutes of fame. Then I had to figure it out. My job became to identify the barriers. What is it about the way we organize work and build rewards? What is it that keeps people from wanting to communicate, and what adjustments in rewards, and norms, and so on would create more motivation?”
Steve is still working with Jack Welch but back in academia at Chancellor University in Ohio,
- To find out more about Steve Kerr and his latest developments please visit: Steve Kerr, Ph.D.
- You can find books written by Steve Kerr here: Books by the World's First CLO - Steve Kerr
- To read the entire interview from the Journal of Management Inquiry please visit: Steve Kerr and His Years with Jack Welch at GE