How to make a transformational impact as CLO: 5 key takeaways (Ep13)

How is learning at work the same as learning at home? How do you keep a human connection at scale? Why should you think longitudinally about solution design rather than transactionally? This week, we spoke to David DeFilippo about the role of a CLO and knowing when to push back to generate real impact. Check out our 5 key takeaways from episode 13 below!

David DeFilippo CLO impact

About David DeFilippo

David has 25 years of experience in corporate learning and development, having served as chief learning officer for Suffolk Construction, the Bank of New York Mellon, and in senior learning and talent roles at Capital One and Comcast. Today, David runs his own consultancy as well as being an executive coach in Harvard Business School’s executive education programs. At the heart of David’s success is his passion for and understanding of what it takes to be a truly great coach.

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Here are our 5 key takeaways from the episode


1. Workplace support should give learners the same experience of being at-home – with learning at-hand, and at a point of need.

“…how does an organization make the employee experience when they’re at work similar to the experience that we have at home? Right? So, if we’re at home and we have to go fix something in our house—fix the dishwasher, fix the washing machine—what do we do? We look for a YouTube video on how you’re going to do that. The same analogy is really what is more and more becoming true within organizations. To be able to reach all of one’s employees and to be able to do that at scale, the workplace has to be pretty much like what it’s like to be at home and be able to have easy access through Google to performance support. I think that’s the important point; as a result of what one learns from an experiential perspective and from an applied perspective, shifting the corporate paradigm and even shifting the higher educational paradigm to “what can I go do with what I learned” is a really important shift.”

“For example, in my role at Northeastern University, we are very much focused on experiential learning. At the heart of the organization, there is a long, long history of cooperative education, which is essentially for undergraduates and graduates doing internships as part of the graduation requirements. They have real experience by which they can more readily get a job in their chosen field. We’re taking that same ethos and we’re now applying it to executive education, where more and more of our programs are shifting from lectures and sort of reliance on content to a much higher reliance on experience and having those experiences ready at scale—and also starting to personalize them so that what one learns at scale can then be personalized into an individual development plan or individual action plan to go do something with that is meaningful to that person’s role. And, of course, meaningful to their organization—because the organization is typically supporting them to go to that type of program.”

2. Instructional design is the foundation of every learning experience, encompassing learning design and ROI.

“In social design as a science, instructional design is essentially the foundation by which everything that we do should really be structured, right? So, you’re always going to have to do an assessment, or you’re going to have to design a solution for a client or for an organization. Then, you have to decide, based on the audience requirements and based on the content requirements, how are we going to develop that solution? And then, of course, you have to implement it through whichever modality or whichever methodology you choose. And then, of course, you want to evaluate how did it go? Did people learn something, did they gain knowledge that will to transfer to their jobs? And was there—in some cases where it’s relevant—is there an ROI based on the investment that was made?”

“So all that’s true, and I think the nomenclature in our own learning experience design is a really positive shift, because what it speaks to is what I mentioned before, which is the fact that for adults to learn, they have to do, they have to reflect. They have to do, again based on what they have reflected on and what they’ve done well, or maybe what they haven’t done well, and that cycle continues.”

“So, you know, pick your nomenclature. I’m not too hung up on that, but whether it’s a learning designer or instructional designer or a learning experience designer, it’s all rooted in the same things.”

3. The performance management process is key to keeping the human connection at scale.

Any organization is going to have core competencies, or things—capabilities, if you will—that are important to them, and those capabilities may shift over time. The issue that you raise is a really important one, which really is around the question of how do you create alignments in an organization? The alignment of the strategy and the tactical plan. So then, what does that really mean from an individual learning and development perspective? That’s really the connection. That’s the hardest one to get. And it shows up, interestingly enough, oftentimes in employee engagement results, because employees feel like they don’t understand how the thing they do, the tasks that they do or the job that they do, contributes the overall ends of the organization.”

“One way to get at that, which is certainly an established practice across organizations and within human resources, is through the performance management process. As much as there’s been lots of work that has been done to make performance management more developmental, one thing is still true about it. Ensuring that employees in the organization have goals that are aligned to the organizational strategies is one way to really connect employees both from a work perspective to what the organization is trying to accomplish. But then, the second thing—and more to your question—developmentally…to the capabilities and skills they need to develop in order to contribute to the organization and in order to have line of sight to things like, “For me to move up in the organization, what are the skills and capabilities that I need to develop?” The key link to those individual development plans is really the manager of those employees. That’s the thing I always think about an organization is the most leverage in any organization is typically the front line or middle managers, who manage the people closest to the clients and closest to where the work gets done.”

4. Think longitudinally about solution design rather than transactionally by taking into consideration not only scientific metrics, but if the original intended outcomes have been met.

I mean, throughout the course of my career, it’s always been really relevant to be able to answer a really important question, which is based on whatever learning solution is being implemented or based on whatever talent solution is being recommended: What are the results? I’m really of two minds on this topic. Number one would be the single most important thing that any learning or talent professional or anyone in HR can do is to really get the diagnosis right of the problem that they’re trying to solve. What I mean by that is a couple of things. First of all, the business that we’re in, it is really rooted in science. There are ways to do needs assessments. There are ways to find out what the real problem is that can be based on metrics, that can be based on organizational data, that can be based on qualitative assessments. But the point is, if you get the diagnosis right—so if you use the model from instructional design—if you get the analysis wrong, everything else downstream from that is less impactful.”

“So, diagnosis is extremely important, but I guess the second thing is that to really understand that you’re measuring a solution, that you’re getting the right outcomes, would be to make sure whatever you’re doing is for solution design and solution implementation—that you use pilots to do things like testing controls, so that you test against a larger base of employees to ensure that a new solution is going to get the right results or the results that you intended. I would never recommend implementing something at scale until it’s tested, piloted, and measured against the original intended outcomes.”

“And then, third, once you’ve decided to do things at scale, putting a measurement process in place so that you can measure the results at the point of implementation. That’s commonly referred to as reaction, to see if learners like the experience that they went through, but then more importantly getting into the next couple levels of evaluation around did people actually learn something. Did they get some knowledge transferred? You can measure that through taking a test or through any other type of knowledge check during the course of an experience or a program.”

“But then, really most importantly, is do the intended learning outcomes transfer to the job? This is where aligning the objectives, the assessment process, and then the follow-up process—what you want to really do is understand if they’re using the skills, using the new knowledge back on the job.”

5. Be very clear about the overall problem you are trying to solve for an organization, and stay on-task rather than pursuing unproductive innovation.

“One of the pieces of advice that I would provide would be to be really clear about what is the overall problem that you’re trying to solve for the organization—and being really, really aligned to the business to ensure that everything that you do is “need to have,” not “nice to have.” One of the things I’ve seen is, in the spirit of innovation or in the spirit of doing things that are cutting edge, to develop what I’ll call hobbies. They’re not really aligned to what the business wants.”

“The second thing that I would say is be really, really astute and be really good at—once you’ve done number one and you’ve learned the organization and you’re clear about the organizational objectives and goals—be really good about going to the external market. Go outside of your organization to look for best practices, to look at what people are doing in the talent learning and HR fields, in adjacent industries, that could be good practices to consider to bring into your organization. Really know your benchmarks; know what is going on outside the organization from a thought leadership perspective, from the standpoint of what other firms are doing and what other colleagues are doing. Be a good researcher so that you can say within your organization, “Well, here’s what other organizations are doing to solve similar problems.” That doesn’t mean you’re going to solve them the same way, but what it means is you’re educated both internally and externally so that best practices can meet your organizational context, which is where the most value will be created.”

David’s book recommendations:

The Leadership Pipeline, Charan, Noel, and Drotter.

One of my favorite books… The reason I recommend that book is the idea and model for segmenting your talent within an organization is really the beginning point for everything that follows next around the various learning solutions that need to be developed and implemented. I think their model is a really, really good one, in that it’s both theoretically quite sound, and it’s very practical and applied that a practitioner can go ahead and take the model and implement it again back to the idea in their context. It can be adapted and it’s highly scalable. So, in my view, that’s a winner—and it’s one of the books that for many years, I’ve kept a couple of copies of it in my drawer so I can hand it out to people when I think they need a good boost of development.”

David’s contact information:

Well, there’s a couple of ways. is my website, so feel free to go there and you can see what I’m doing. Also, I’m on the Northeastern University website with a bio and so forth.”

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We’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s podcast, so feel free to get in touch on Twitter @learningatlarge with any questions or queries. You can also email me at As always, don’t forget to subscribe to Learning at Large in your favorite podcast app and leave us a 5-star rating if you enjoyed it. Thank you for joining us, and see you next time.

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