Have you actually asked your CEO or senior management team to be involved in training? Before lamenting the absence of management support, be sure you are being direct and asking them to get involved.
Recently, a rather large facility was conducting orientation for a group of hospitality employees early on a Saturday morning. The class coordinator prepared an excellent agenda and instructional program. The CEO of the facility, in his office working on other projects, noticed the flurry of incoming vehicles and people. Curious, he sought out the class. The coordinator was shocked when the CEO showed up, and even more shocked when he pulled out a chair and stayed for most of the class. Afterwards, his remarks were candid; his view was that the hospitality staff was the customer’s direct point of contact therefore they have a direct relationship with his responsibilities. Nobody from the training center had ever asked the CEO to get involved!
Senior managers and chief executives should take on a variety of responsibilities in support of the training function. Corporate leaders that embrace these responsibilities create a culture of learning within the company.
The CEO provides a vision for the impact of training on the organization.
The CEO has to provide general direction for the training function. This goes beyond the typical mission/vision statement rhetoric. A vision does not mean “I want the training department to…” Vision is the CEO’s expression of what the true culture of the organization should be with regard to training, education, and overall improvment of the people within the company. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric (GE), had a vision to transform the company using the Six Sigma model. Welch’s vision was for every employee to be trained in the process and have responsibility for at least one project. His $500 million investment had a 100% return on investment in four years.  The CEO has to not only have a vision, but also clearly articulate it so that the vision can be implemented successfully.
The CEO ensures the training center has sufficient resources.
Training requires resources and people. Resources and people, especially in the world of corporate training, require funding. A sponsor, by definition, provides funding for something they support. Your CEO or senior management team fills the sponsor role when they provide financial support for the training department. The sponsor is the training center’s advocate within the boardroom when necessary, ensuring that the vision can move forward.
The CEO is involved in strategy and planning.
The CEO’s role as a governor of the training center means they should be active in strategy and planning without falling into a trap of micromanagement. The training manager is in place to do the heavy lifting and execution of the plan. Some CEO’s use a traditional board structure to help guide the training function. Others choose to stay directly involved. One of the most basic functions of a training center is to identify opportunities for training in support the larger business goals. The CEO is best suited to help ensure the training center fills this need.
Governance isn’t a one-way street. The training center benefits greatly from having a direct relationship with the CEO. Just like the head of a state transportation or education department has access to the governor to intervene and assist with problems, the training center manager has a direct method to bypass complex corporate bureaucracies. The CEO has knowledge of the entire organization, and can provide a wealth of insight on critical issues. Even if informal in nature, the CEO and training center should have regular conversations.
The CEO is a subject matter expert, a teacher, and a student.
Many training centers believe the CEO has too many other responsibilities to be an active participant in training. In many successful companies, that isn’t the case. GE’s Jack Welch routinely taught classes twice a month at GE’s corporate university. CEO’s can play an active role in the training center as a subject matter expert, a teacher, and as a student. In Meister’s review of seven companies, the one role that all seven CEO’s shared was that of an active participant in actual training.
Your CEO has signifiant depth of knowledge gained from current and previous roles. That knowledge should be tapped as the training center develops programs and materials. The CEO isn’t required to be a member of the development group, although he certainly can be. Participation as a subject matter expert can come through reviewing final drafts of course materials, or a video cameo explaining why the matter is important to the company. Perhaps one of the most significant expressions that a topic is important is when the CEO takes the reigns in the classroom as an instsructor. Especially in a larger company, the CEO’s interaction with both the training center and other employees is a great opportunity for feedback.
The CEO is the face and voice of training for the organization.
The CEO is often the public face of the company or brand. The CEO should also be the face and voice of training both within the organization and publicly. During GE’s transformation, the company and it’s CEO became known as much for it’s training and dvelopment initiatives as the business units and product lines. GE remains consistently ranked in the top ten of many “best places” lists, with training cited as a factor for many of those selections. , .
When a CEO is asked to contribute to a publication, or be interviewed, that’s an opportunity to promote a vision for the company and training’s role. The CEO should ensure that information on training efforts are included in the annual corporate report. Encouraging other members of senior management to get involved in training is another element of the CEO’s role as training’s chief marketer.
Training & The CEO
Not every CEO will take on these active roles in training. However, when you review the list of CEO’s that do take a personal interest in these roles it’s hard to question the logic or benefit of doing so. A CEO that becomes a visionary, sponsor, governor, particpant, and representative for their training will find that by elevating their performance, the performance of training and the entire company will follow.
 Meister, Jeanne C., The CEO-Driven Learning Culture., Training & Development; Jun 2000; 54, 6; ProQuest Central pg. 52
 Bloomberg Business Week, multiple issues. 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010.
 Money Magazine, multiple issues. 2007, 2009, 2010.