Mike Prokopeak is vice president and editor in chief for Human Capital Media (HCM), an integrated information services and market-intelligence company focused on the business of human capital management and workforce development. In his role, he leads a team to create content for the award-winning Chief Learning Officer, Talent Economy, and Workforce magazines and their associated digital media and events. And most recently, he is the proud co-host of a recently launched podcast, the CLO Breakfast Club.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Jeff talks with Mike about the evolution of the Chief Learning Officer role, how CLO’s can effectively position themselves for success, and how leaders of market-facing learning businesses may be able to partner with their corporate counterparts.
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[00:18] – A shout out to listener Allison Mera of the North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance (NCHICA). She attended a session on podcasting we did about a year ago for the Association Executives of North Carolina at its annual technology conference and was inspired to launch a podcast at NCHICA. The NCHICA Healthcare IT Trends Buzz Podcast is now up and running. If Healthcare IT happens to be of interest to you, you can find the podcast by going to https://nchicatrendsbuzz.libsyn.com/. Congratulations to Allison and NCHICA for taking action and jumping into the podcasting world.
[01:40] – Our sponsor this quarter is ReviewMyLMS, a collaboration between our company, Tagoras, and 100Reviews, the company that is behind the very successful ReviewMyAMS site. As the name suggests, ReviewMyLMS is a site where users can share and access reviews of learning management systems, and the focus is specifically on systems that are a good fit for learning businesses, meaning organizations that market and sell lifelong learning. Contribute a review and you get access to all existing and future reviews—there are already more than 100 on the site. And, if you don’t have a review to contribute, there is also a subscription option. For details, check out reviewmylms.com
[02:22] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Jeff interviews vice president and editor in chief for Human Capital Media, the publisher of Chief Learning Officer, Talent Economy, and Workforce magazines.
[04:29] – Introduction to Mike Prokopeak.
[05:12] – A bit more about what Human Capital Media is and Mike’s role there.
[07:11] – You have been at Human Capital Media for eleven years. I’d be interested to hear what you feel are some of the biggest changes you have seen during your tenure in how we think about that whole concept of “human capital.” Mike talks about how he’s seen more of a movement from companies paying lip service to the idea that they need to shift the power within their organizations away from the hierarchies/traditional structures to actually putting their money where their mouths have been to focus more on the engagement of the talent that make up their organization in what has been a hierarchical structure. This isn’t to say that it’s done and movement has reached its completion but Mike says there has been a marked shift, at least in rhetoric, and we’re starting to see more in investments in people and in the priority that is given to human capital. This rise in the priority of human capital is putting it on par (or close) with some of the other core functions of an organization.
[09:42] – The chief learning officer, or CLO, obviously plays a critical part – you’ve got an entire publication dedicated to the role – how do you describe that position? Mike talks about how they started CLO magazine in 2003 and during that time the CLO title was kind of floating around but there wasn’t really a community built up around it. This was the inspiration to create a brand to bring this emerging group of people together around this practice of a CLO. And they define a CLO (pretty loosely) as the organization’s head of employee learning and development—and this is their audience, regardless of whether or not they have that title. Mike says it’s been an interesting journey for them to follow how this community has come together because it was fairly loose at the beginning. He talks more about the role of CLO and how it’s both a very conceptual/abstract role but also very concrete and that you need to be a “change agent” to spur an organization to grow and change.
[13:12] – A further discussion about the position of CLO and how it earned credibility and gained popularity through companies like Motorola and GE. Mike talks about the CLO Breakfast Club podcast they recently launched how they’re interviewing learning leaders to hear their stories about where they began and how their careers have developed. He says his cohost, Justin Lombardo (a longtime CLO), was there at the beginning from the creation of this at Motorola so it’s really fascinating to hear him tell stories about why the CEO’s (of both Motorola and GE) decided to invest time, energy and money into the functions led by a CLO. It’s also interesting to hear how much some things have changed since then but how the intention of a CLO being that person who has a broad mandate to up-skill and develop the workforce for the future hasn’t changed, something that’s been consistent since the beginning.
[14:55] – For someone who aspires to the role of CLO, what are the main competencies they need to develop and what’s the mindset they need to bring to it? Mike explains that there’s been a shift over the past eleven years in the career progression. There was a point where being a CLO was the pinnacle of your career focused on employee training and development. But over the last couple years he says it’s been interesting to see how many of the people who are operating in the most executive roles – in companies of all sizes – are coming outside of learning and development. So whether following a traditional path or coming on the new path, a competency is to have a solid understanding of the business they are operating in.
[18:14] – How are other C-level leaders viewing the CLO position? Are they equal players at the table now that learning has grown in significance? Mike says it depends on the organization but in the best ones, yes they are viewed as equal players and valued. However he’s not saying that, in aggregate, the role has earned that respect. It can be driven highly by the type of company and what their values are. The ones where he sees the most strategic CLO’s/heads of corporate development making exciting things happen are in professional services companies where their product is their people—the knowledge and abilities of the workforce. This is where the position gets the highest level of influence and respect of the company but this isn’t always the case. Mike says it’s not that other C-level executives are actively working against them, it’s just that they’re busy and many times focused on the hard metrics of running their business. So the more a CLO can align themselves with those particular pain points (tied to the success of the overall business) and start or continue to drive answers for those, the better chance you have of brining yourself up to a C-suite level, even if you don’t necessarily have a seat at the table. As long as you can show the value creation of learning and development towards the goal set forth, people will be willing to invest in it.
[24:18] – Can you tell us a little more about the CLO Breakfast Club, what it is and what you’re trying to do with it? Mike talks about how they’ve been doing a regional event series for about a dozen years called the CLO Breakfast Club where they’d travel around to 8-10 cities per year and find a CLO in each one to interview them and do a panel discussion with in the morning. However it wasn’t until recently that they decided to have those conversations recorded to be able to broadcast those stories and insights to the broader audience—which is what they launched the podcast to be able to do. So each episode packages up part of the conversation they have with each CLO to share the story of their career, how they got to where they are, learning experiences, failures, programs they’ve put in place that are driving results, and advice/ideas for others. They are only in the early days of the podcast (launched in September) so they have four episodes up and will have one every week.
[28:21] – Human Capital Media already publishes quite a lot of content and you’re also in charge of the content for your events and now you have the podcast. From your perspective, as somebody who’s in charge of all of this, how are you thinking about the possibilities of playing one off the other and leveraging these different channels to orchestrate them in ways that might create new possibilities for HCM? Mike says that in his business, it’s a necessity. When CLO magazine was launched in 2003 it was pretty much a print publication with a website (done in that order of priority) but as they’ve grown they are now more digital first, although they still have the print magazine. They’ve launched events and conferences to help bring that community together because he says the real value creation comes in getting people to connect with one another to accelerate their own careers through those connections. So investing in all of this (events, magazine, podcast, video productions, etc.) becomes the way they can serve the audience however they need it. Mike reflects that it’s an interesting job where there’s never a dull moment and you’re never sitting still, which is the nature of the business and also a reflection of the CLO role.
[31:21] – What can a learning leader at a trade or professional association or another type of market-facing learning business learn from corporate CLOs and where are the potential points of intersection between those similar but different learning roles? Mike makes the point that it’s fairly simple in idea but very complex in application. You can’t operate as a solo operator in a learning and development role anymore. So even CLO’s of Fortune 100 companies need partners and a constellation of people around them to successfully carry out their job. Things happen way too fast and innovation happens way too quickly for companies to succeed alone—they need really strong partners. Mike says corporate CLOs can really benefit from building relationships/partnerships with leaders of market-facing learning businesses—not just transactional relationships but a consultative approach that allows them to benchmark themselves against what’s happening in the market at the same time.
[34:07] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Mike talks about how his experience working as a US Peace Corps volunteer teaching oversees and a fellowship he had teaching on Native American reservations taught him how truly motivating, powerful, and impactful education and learning can be.
[37:22] – How to connect with Mike and/or learn more:
- CLO Breakfast Club podcast: https://www.clobreakfastclub.com
- Chief Learning Officer media/magazine: https://www.clomedia.com
- Twitter: @Prokotweet
[38:17]– Wrap Up
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[40:30] – Sign off