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Corporate Universities in a changing business environment

An outlook to chances and challenges

Corporate Universities (CUs) have proven their impact on organizations’ culture, retention and talent development over years. However, new uprising concepts that renounce from traditional learning approaches are gaining importance.

CUs are corporate in-house training entities to support strategic objectives by conducting activities that foster individual and organizational learning and knowledge. These academies are often driven by aspects of organizational culture, retention and talent development.

However, a CU is not a training centre with a broad span of training sessions as well as an extensive team of academics and trainers. CUs reinforce consistency of their corporate HR projects, encourage the development of a corporate culture and support a coherent comprehension of business and management practices. They further establish ties between organizational entities and foster positive changes. They can be seen as a management lever to increase an organization’s performance.

For the upcoming years, CUs have to consider that traditional learning systems will not effectively support reaching strategic objectives any longer. It is crucial that CUs incorporate agility and innovation in their academic portfolio, otherwise they have to reckon that retention, cultural understanding and talent development might experience declining trends and success.

Recent research has shown that the steepness of the learning curve of an adult will be bigger for a learning-by-doing approach than for traditional classroom learning methods. The higher level of pragmatism while working in a less theoretical environment supports the approach and the Internet provides the needed articles and academic materials. Furthermore, the Internet and diverse mobile devices enable people to work and learn everywhere and at any time.

The new 70:20:10 learning and development model of Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger states that a concerted blend of different learning approaches can provide powerful learning. The allocation of this model is explained as follows:

  • about 70% from on-the-job experiences, tasks, and experiences
  • about 20% from feedback and from working around good or bad examples of the need
  • about 10% from courses and reading - formal training
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The new 70:20:10 learning and development model of Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger

CUs are said to deliver the right learning approach at the right time. They act as an orchestral conductor that deals with a wide range of learning mechanisms and provides the right program to the right trainee at the right time. More and more international companies start to set up targeted CU teams that are small, close to the field, very reactive and agile. These projects also come in line with a corporate cost reduction approach.

As an example, an international company active in the electric market provides their managers a diversified educational career. This course includes an individual assessment with the CU providing appropriate knowledge on the different core skills to support the trainee. Every employee is given the option to study on their own, make use of corporate programs that are delivered by the CU or engage a mentor or coach who is an expert in his field.

The graduation of this program allows employees to enter an “excellence-program”, which is more based on seminars, best practices and outside experiences and testimonials. Finally, CUs also foster community building and reward processes for all certified experts.

This example shows the closeness of these programs to the business with CUs providing all tools necessary for employee development. To a certain extent, this corporate tool enables an “out-of-the-box-thinking” and “future-shaping”, two aspects that CUs have to adapt to in the future to sustain their survival.

Next to the importance of agility, CUs need to foster innovation. Organizations’ stakeholders becoming more and more involved in the CU’s operations and new communication technologies provide many possibilities for easy-to-spread offerings like serious games, simulations, eLearning and web- and video conferences. This makes it easier for CUs to benefit and share their knowledge and competencies. Furthermore, the growth of social networks will reinforce this process.

The possibilities for CUs to incorporate and enlarge their innovative space are manyfold:

  • Using co-design workshops or programs to develop new services, products or new ways of working
  • Using co-development communities, involving participants from different hierarchical levels to solve pragmatic problems and set up improvement action plans
  • Using design thinking methods to leverage innovations
  • Using trial-and-error approaches with creative problem-solving methods

It becomes clear, that within the next years CUs need to become a place that fosters people’s imagination of working on business breaks, new strategies and new positioning in an environment without any corporate constraints. The next generation of CUs will make use of this knowledge and available tools to create and sustain competitive advantage.
This means, before they can adapt to these new circumstances, CUs have to set up and establish their business model. The critical success factors for this process are:

  • Having a strong and visible support from a top executive sponsor
  • Managing the project with an appropriate project management toolbox
  • Conducting the change step-by-step and securing alignment with business strategy
  • Preferring a network-based organization
  • Building a team of different profiles and characters
  • Staying close to the line- and field needs
  • Staying agile and flexible
  • Establishing a high level of communication about tasks and offerings
  • Making use of state-of-the-art technologies to share knowledge and foster communities

Every CU is designed in regard to an organizations business model and strategy, their culture, values, history and geographical location and many of them have been successful for years now. However, new technologies, mobility and other trends are rapidly changing the way of learning. Therefore, CUs have to emerge into an agile and innovative model that builds the basis of a strategic R&D playground for executives.

According to our appraisal, CUs will succeed in their goals only if they are able to provide a framework of added value for businesses and enrichment for people’s personal and professional development without a too strict top-down approach. Employees, trainees, managers and executives then will have the possibility to mutually innovate and improve their skills to finally increase their organization’s performance.

Hommes & Performance
Frédéric BEAUD, Patrick ROTH


Article from Frédéric Beaud and Patrick Roth, Hommes & Performance SAS

Tuesday 24 March 2015