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Understanding and Contextualizing Corporate Universities

The EvoLLLution | Understanding and Contextualizing Corporate Universities
Corporate universities are at the hub of internal and external knowledge for an organization, and are critical to building competencies, driving change and supporting corporate competitiveness.

The concept of the corporate university has changed significantly since it first appeared in the mid-20th century.

Corporate universities were originally introduced as a response to traditional academic institutions that were failing to adapt to the rapidly changing business environment. Increasing specialization, the growing complexity of product development and the emergence of new professional profiles all required a new approach to business education.

These early universities focused on developing training courses on product development and procedures, topics that would enable the participants to perform their work more efficiently. Management training was still outside their remit; leadership development was regarded as the role of traditional universities

But traditional institutions were largely ignoring the new needs of industry and business. Their solutions were always a step behind the demands of the market, focusing on personal development, not on the development of the organization as a whole. This has become an even greater issue as digital transformation and more complex knowledge-sharing systems have transformed business operations and organizational culture.

As a result, many more companies have started to harness the undoubted power of corporate universities. They have become a strategic element in learning and talent development.

While there is no single definition of a corporate university, it should include at least these characteristics:

  1. Proactive: a corporate university must anticipate the needs of the organization and not simply work “on-demand.” It must act as a precursor of future needs, preparing the organization to face its future working environment and challenges.
  2. Metrics: Measurement of the impact of learning interventions is an essential part of the design of corporate initiatives. Comprehensive tracking should replace fragmented record-keeping, therefore permitting effective learning curation.
  3. Influence: It should have an influence right across the organization, extending to the whole value chain, incorporating customers, suppliers, distributors, public and private stakeholders, etc.
  4. Integration: It should work as a knowledge hub, integrating internal knowledge through co-design with learners, and adopting the most innovative learning methods and technologies through alliances with expert training providers.

This alliance approach is an essential area for many Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance clients because it improves the flexibility of their learning strategy. Most of them already have sophisticated internal training and development departments; however, they see the value of partnering because it brings additional expert knowledge and learning technologies, plus the experience of a wide range of other businesses and sectors. In our specific case, an international network of experts, professors and Financial Times journalists makes us unique.

How Corporate Universities Support Ongoing Learning

The alignment of individual and organizational learning agendas is one of the key principles of the corporate university. To achieve this, effective organizations have to apply a professional education model that is based on three elements: a persona approach; global-local considerations; the harness of technology.

The use of analytics is facilitating a move from traditional learning program design to the analysis of ‘outcomes’ – i.e. assessing the impact on both the business as a whole and on individual performance. FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, for instance, uses its design thinking to align outcomes with delivery. This will determine not only a program’s objectives but also decide when and how to collect the most relevant data to measure real impact. An appropriate combination of technology, learning methodologies and assessments allows us to capture real-time information about the development of the program, about how learning content is being incorporated into the daily performance of a business, aligning the corporate view with local interpretation.

The same occurs with the design of just-in-time training and here we are seeing some innovative technologies. For example, virtual reality gives employees highly realistic and immediate training. Our pilot program with 32 high-potential executives from Santander Bank is able to hone their effective presentation skills in a virtual scenario. The VR system collects the performance data and gives immediate feedback to the learners, which creates continuous improvement and faster integration of their new skills into their business life.

Maximizing the Corporate University’s Impact

The corporate university is an extremely valuable institution, although its advantages are not always appreciated. There needs to be a better understanding of how it can integrate internal knowledge with business performance, generate new ideas and create a sense of community and common vision.

But these theoretical objectives can only become a reality by:

  1. Involving senior management as sponsors of initiatives generated by a corporate university.
  2. Ensuring learning outcomes are consistent with a company’s wider activities and projects.
  3. Supporting the transfer of learning content into daily business life by analyzing the impact of each initiative.
  4. Following a partnership strategy, establishing alliances with learning providers to bring new knowledge into organizational thinking.
  5. Creating space for reflection, critical thinking and debate.

The corporate university sits at the hub of internal and external knowledge in a company. It is an essential mechanism to build competences, drive organizational change and maintain corporate competitiveness. It can also be the catalyst for cascading innovation, recruiting and retaining talent, and enhancing the image of a company in its market and more widely in society.

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