Creating a Corporate University, and Building a Learning Organisation

Published on 2013-07-29

Source: lucianvenutian @ Flickr
THE TERM ‘CORPORATE UNIVERSITY’  is well over 40 years old. However, while early adopters endeavoured to mirror the culture of learning, innovation, and the creation of more knowledge, present on university campuses, the results were mixed. Some were simply enlarged HR departments adding little more than additional bureaucracy, while others reshaped corporate culture, leading to market growth and direct increases in profits. Regardless of the varied results, corporate universities are still growing in popularity. In 1993 there were 400 corporate universities globally. In 2001 this number had increased to over 2,000.
So assuming that corporate university is your goal, what are the best practices in building a successful corporate university?
A corporate university is not a larger version of the existing training department. While training focuses on tactical improvements, that is, filling gaps in employees’ current job roles or on specific projects, a corporate university is strategic, integrating all components that affect human performance. Motorola University’s Tom McCarty, defines the corporate university as the “organisation responsible for managing the learning processes and knowledge assets of the corporation for the purpose of increasing total shareholder value of the corporation.” That means formal classroom learning is combined with on the job and mentorship, as well as informal self learning.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]
10 Steps to Create a Corporate University
1. Set a Direction
2. Create a Vision
3. Ensure Long Term Funding
4. Create the Structure
5. Define the Scope, Stakeholders and Needs
6. Develop the Products and Services
7. Find Supporting Partners
8. Define the Technology
9. Monitor the Progress
10. Continuous Promotion[/quote]
Chinese universities, by contrast, more often than not require rote learning and a focus on the ‘right’ answer. For this reason, corporate universities should be mirrored on the Western university model, where projects are assigned and students are expected to find the answers through their own research – exploring libraries, reading research papers, and interviewing peers and colleagues. Or in other words, a Corporate University should break out of mind sets encumbered by traditional intellectual styles and practices that are largely dominated by one-way knowledge transfer processes. So that being said, what are the 10 steps?
1. Set a Direction
A corporate university must have a governing body of senior manager ‘sponsors’. A corporate university without this high level buy in will be nothing more than a training department with a big ego. These sponsors will also represent the university’s public face. While your HR or L&D department will be a major sponsor, a mix of the stakeholders, learners and executives should be included.
Interesting the initial spark of corporate university does not have to originate from the HR department. For Caterpillar University, the initial sponsors were the Marketing Distribution team.
2. Create a Vision
If you are in HR you should work closely with your marketing department to help brand your corporate university. A strong brand needs a vision, and this vision should be known by all – not just posted on a wall in feature in a handbook. Ask yourself:
–          “What sort of company do we want to be?”
–          “What is the perfect employee?”
–          “What improvements will the university create?”
Communicate your vision to the entire organisation and keep on communicating it. Let employees know about future plans for the corporate university and get them excited. Even run a competition for your employees to design the logo and motto.
3. Ensure Long Term Funding
Most commonly, corporate universities are either funded through central allocations or charged to the individual business units of the participants. Regardless of the protocol it’s important that each year, when budgets are set, that the sponsors of the corporate university highlight the importance of allocation of funds. Another method of funding is for corporate universities to be self funded by selling courses to outside customers and suppliers.
Of course, a well thought-out preliminary budget will determine what funding initiatives your organisation needs to pursue. And if your training programs meet the company’s business goals, the corporate university will pay for itself many times over in increased profits and employee engagement and reduced employee turnover.
4. Create the Structure
Every university needs an administration and faculty. Neither needs to be full time in your corporate university, but roles and responsibilities need to be defined clearly. IKON, a provider of integrated document solutions, launched IKON University in 1999. The company hired a seasoned sales and marketing executive from IBM to lead this effort. The corporate university first grew to 200 full-time employees, but has since decentralised, where training is now fully owned by each business unit.
5. Define the Scope, Stakeholders and their Needs
What courses will be offered? Which departments and functions will be supported, and what are the needs of the students? For example, many sales departments may spend little time within the walls of the corporate office, instead spending time on the road, meeting clients. Is an online option best, or can learning be combined with quarterly get-togethers.
Also, if your organisation is comprised of local and expatriate staff, think about the language training is offered. German firm Henkel provides both English and Chinese languages at their Asia Pacific head quarters in Shanghai.
6. Develop Products and Services
Large firms, such as Henkel, have the advantage of being able delegate the development of training materials across their global offices. Their library of training programs is therefore a true reflection of their entire organisation. The responsibility of customising to local scenarios and conditions then falls on the shoulders of the local trainers.
7. Find Supporting Partners
Local trainers can be sourced from within your organisation, or be outsourced. Partnering with outside sources of education ensures a higher level of quality, but does come with an additional price tag. Partnering with just a few training vendors will ensure they know your organisation’s needs better and most likely will provide you extra services.
A growing number of corporate universities have strategically outsourced all or select parts of their operation into a shared services model. International Truck and Engine University (ITEU) launched in 1999 realised that after six years of operations that in order for it to have a broader scope of products and services it needed to outsource its dealer education, product training and skills assessment. The firm outsourced to Accenture Learning. Under this partnership, ITEU would maintain relationships with the business units and Accenture Learning would create a business alignment model within a shared services model.
8. Define the Technology
A corporate university must have some sort of unified delivery system for scheduling online and classroom courses, as well as tracking participation and learning outcomes. The best practice is to purchase or build a ‘Learning Management System (LMS)’. Your company may already have an LMS, but for those that don’t the setup phase of your corporate university is the time to buy, build, or ‘freeware’ a system. Questions you should ask when choosing your system include:
–          What percentage of my courses are online and offline (ie. Classroom)?
–          Do you want learners to have direct access to register, or should they be referred to by their line manager?
–          Are you managing multiple locations, such as a HQ and factory, an therefore require a ‘cloud’ system, rather than hosting locally?
–          Are you going to include social media, and is this available within China’s firewall?
–          Will you provide support to mobile devices, such as tablets and mobile phones?
9. Monitoring of Progress
The LMS should also be able to follow employees’ development throughout their entire career with your firm, meaning that data might need to be kept for four or as long as forty years. Trainer feedback related to courses should also be linked to employees’ training record and line managers should have easy access, for use in performance appraisals and succession planning.
10. Continuous Promotion
The first year will be the toughest year for your corporate university. Loyalty will be low, sponsors will be uncertain of their role, and employees will challenge the benefits. But if you stick to your vision, secure budget from BUs, and engage your sponsors to bestow the virtues of the newly formed institution, critical mass will occur. Just look at GE. They opened their management school in 1956, and its modern incarnation, the ‘Jack Welch Management Development Institute’ is now supplying CEOs for Boeing, Home Depot and other global firms.
These 10 steps will get you started in building a great corporate university, or great corporate training company in China for that matter and generating a learning organisation. Rest assured that this is not uncharted waters, and there are lots of resources available. The biggest challenge, however, will be your drive, ambition and ability to see the project through. Good luck.