An X-CLO’s Perspective on Workflow Learning

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast. In this episode Bob Mosher welcomes Rob Lauber, X-Chief Learning Officer, now Advisor, CEO and Founder at XLO Global, LLC, to discuss how the real goal of any business is solving the organization’s true challenges, while increasing employee performance.

Bob Mosher (BM): This particular episode is in our Strategy Matters series and we could not think of a better person to join us. He is one of the more strategic gentlemen that I know in the L&D space and one of my heroes in this world, Mr. Rob Lauber.

Rob Lauber (RL): Bob, great to be here. “Hero” is a really big statement these days. So, I’d put you in my category as a hero as well.

BM: Thanks Rob. Why don’t you give us a bit of your journey in getting into this space and what you’ve done in the L&D area and we’ll go from there.

RL: I’ve been in L&D for about thirty years now, actually just passing thirty years so kind of frightening. Anyway, I started as a stand-up trainer delivering sales skills training five days a week, forty weeks a year at a conference center south of Atlanta.

From there, I moved into instructional design and worked for Coopers & Lybrand; I then went over to Bell South and worked there from 2000 to 2006. I was at Yum Brands from 2006 to 2014 where I got the chance to lead the global learning and development efforts across their three brands; KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. And then I moved over to McDonald’s, the dark side or the bright side depending on who you were in that conversation, when I did that in 2014. And I led all the learning and development strategy for McDonald’s from 2014 until I retired in October of 2020.

Now, I’m doing my own thing, hanging my own shingle here in quasi-retirement or the next chapter of my life, I guess I would say. I am currently consulting five start-up businesses actually, helping a few businesses with learning strategy and learning transformation.

BM: Excellent. Well, my friend, it is an amazing journey, I’ll tell ya! Rob, I think one of the things I’ve always enjoyed most about our talks in my time with you and listening to you when you spoke once before is you’re probably one of the more pragmatic CLOs I’ve ever met and therefore the learning solutions I’ve watched you architect over your career—I know, surprise!—have been practical. And effective. They speak to performance. Which is obviously what this entire podcast is about.

So, let’s kind of segue a bit into this. You were never enamored by technology and I’ve never seen you chase a trend. Every time you’d open your mouth to talk about your work it would be like, “Well, the business has the following needs.” Tell us a bit about workflow learning and your thoughts around it because you have a really pragmatic view of how it’s played a part in your journey in all that you did.

RL: Yeah, it’s funny because I mentioned Cooper & Lybrand and my 15-month stint there and how influential it was. During those months I got to work with Gloria Gery, who most people on this podcast may or may not know. If you don’t, you should research her, because everything she was working on in the early 90’s is—

BM: Now!

RL: Right? She was just literally almost thirty years ahead of her time in terms of thinking and action. So, we were working in a “human resources outsourced benefits call center,” basically, I would say today. And Copper & Lybrand—PwC now—at the time was toying with setting up an outsourced call center that could handle four or five clients at the time.

And someone would call in and say, “I need to know what my 401K balance is.” This was before the pervasiveness of the internet and what Gloria came in to do was really about “How do we just answer that question as simply as possible?” And when you looked at the peoples’ desks at the time, there were literally five computers and five screens on the desk. And a phone. And the phone call would come in and based on what client it was, you turned to that computer. And you think about that from a scalability perspective. It was wildly inefficient.

And at the time incredibly difficult to execute. And, you know, it was not a sustainable solution. So, what I worked with her on was figuring out how we put a front end over all that that simplifies it so that folks that came in could easily answer the most common questions without having to do a ton of research. And that was really my first experience with what today we’re calling learning in the flow.

It’s all about how do you simplify a task, or how do you design the workspace of the workplace in such a way that people don’t really have to learn—but the answers become readily and easily accessible to them. And for me, it was pretty profound because the conversation was about how do we eliminate the need for training?

BM: Yeah! And that kind of runs in the face of L&D though, right? I mean, this is why I love having this conversation with you, Rob, because so much of it is about preserving training, if you will, or how much we have to train them up on, or there’s so much that you really should know before we ever let them do anything or get near anything. And so what do you say to those who say, “Well, is that really training? Or learning that you are describing?” Or is there a need for it in the context of what you are describing in the experience you’ve had when you’ve implemented solutions like that?

RL: Yeah, this is where the pragmatic side of me comes out because I think the piece for me is it’s about performance, right? And I’ve used this throughout my career to think about. How do I be the contrarian to the practice that I lead inside my business? So, when people come in and say, “I need training,” they are saying, “We want you to build a solution.”

BM: Right!

RL: And so the impulse is to say, “Sure! Let’s go!” As opposed to, “Well, what’s the problem that we’re trying to solve?”

To hear more from Rob on pushing the L&D boundaries, how to measure success, and why he keeps all the options on the table, listen to the full episode.

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