Wheel Spin — How Chief Learning Officers are reinventing corporate learning.

“The capacity to learn and adapt is going to be

the only competitive advantage that matters.”

Rich Vincent¹

The results are coming in from the great remote work experiment of 2020. 73% of employees want to continue having flexible remote work options after the world returns to some semblance of normalcy. Remote job postings have increased fivefold during the pandemic, and a significant portion of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer now that they can work remotely.²

Remote work, in hybrid form, is here to stay, and the future of work is being re-imagined. Chief Learning Officers are helping to drive that.

Learning and Development now has a seat in the C-suite with a primary focus to upskill and reskill the workforce.³

Our research, part of a six-month study on remote learning, found that forward-thinking CLOs and Chief Talent Officers are expanding their focus. The traditional role of corporate learning is transforming.

Businesses are building a learning flywheel.

What is a flywheel?

Amazon famously drives growth and innovation through a flywheel.⁴ That may seem odd. How can a mechanical device drive a trillion-dollar business? It’s the effect, not the object. If you’ve ridden a bike, you’re familiar with how a flywheel works. At first, the bike is hard to pedal and get up to speed. Once the bike is moving, the laws of physics work in your favor; you can coast, then pedal. Coast, then pedal again. You have momentum.

Metaphorically, the flywheel is a virtuous cycle that propels and anchors the business. Jeff Bezos first sketched his on the back of a napkin.

The Amazon growth flywheel.

  1. Lower prices lead to more customer visits.

  2. More customers lead to more sales.

  3. More sales lead to more volume— more commission paying third party sellers

  4. More volume leads to greater efficiency. Fixed costs spread further, which leads back to lower prices.

By feeding any part of the flywheel Amazon powers their business. This flywheel has driven growth and digital transformation across industries.

How do you create a Learning Flywheel?℠

The shift to remote work allows a similar opportunity for CLOs. Instead of growth and innovation, you need a flywheel to drive business transformation. That transformation may be cultural or digital, or both. The CLOs contribution will be the building of business capabilities. A repertoire of new skills and behaviors, both hard and soft, to upskill the organization.

Parts of a Learning Flywheel.℠

For this, we propose a Learning Flywheel.℠ As the Amazon flywheel drives growth, this flywheel drives learning. Its axle, around which the wheel spins, is measurement. The CLO still cares for her traditional role: curating a portfolio of learning assets. But she also puts time towards creating demand for formal and informal learning. Deliberate practice is encouraged, and leaders coach to new skills. Shaping a learning culture maintains momentum and energy in the flywheel.

Questions to keep your flywheel running.

Is your flywheel turning? Here’s a quick checklist.

If most of the boxes on the left are checked, congratulations, you have built a learning flywheel. If you also have the boxes on the right checked — even better, you have your flywheel turning.

Gavin McMahon is a founder and Chief Content Officer for fassforward consulting group. He leads the design and product development of fassforward’s services. This crosses diverse topics, including Leadership, culture, decision-making, information design, storytelling, and learning design.

Eugene Yoon is a graphic designer and illustrator at fassforward. She is a crafter of Visual Logic.

Eugene is multifaceted and works on various types of projects, including but not limited to product design, UX and web design, data visualization, print design, advertising, and presentation design.