Building out a corporate university may be one of the most daunting tasks a Learning and Development department faces. Creating the university is more than creating a training department – it involves the entire organization, its future, and even its perceptions of training and development. There are several best practices that you can follow in order to set up your corporate university effectively. This doesn’t mean that you have to follow each best practice, but use and modify them based on your organization and its needs. The first best practice is consistent and constant assessment and analysis.

One of the first assessments you’ll want to make is the need for a corporate university. Some Learning and Development departments are simply instructed to build a university, and if that’s the case you won’t need to assess this step. But if not, the idea to keep in mind is that you don’t want to create a corporate university for its own sake. Determine if the organization has various departments that need curriculum paths and courses just for those areas. In addition, you’ll want to discover if cross-training and succession planning are part of the organization’s future. Even more importantly, is the organization looking for new ways to retain employees, especially by enticing them to become “mobile” within the organization’s structure? If your organization fits this description, you may be a prime target for a corporate university.

Once you’ve made the decision, begin to analyze training needs in each area. This “first blush” needs assessment doesn’t have to dig too deep, but it needs to at least give you a picture of what training in the corporate university will look like. For example, go to the department stakeholders and determine what their vision is – are they looking for curriculum paths, leadership, operations, management, or a combination of all of these? Go to the “shared” departments like HR to find out what they see as training needs that stretch across the organization. Finally, go to the executive team to get their impressions.

Once you have the go ahead for the build-out, as well as an idea of the corporate university vision from your stakeholders, begin a full-on needs assessment in the areas you’ll be serving. There are many ways to assess needs, from finding out what’s going on that shouldn’t be going on and vice versa to doing job analysis. Plus, you may need to consult with HR to determine if a competency based build out is necessary for succession planning and performance evaluation.

At the same time, you may want to start assessing the organization’s readiness and perceptions when it comes to a corporate university. Create surveys that “feel out” your audiences based on the changes that will come with the corporate university. Surveys can prepare the population for the change that’s coming, the change that means, “this isn’t your father’s training department”. As you survey, you’ll have an idea of how to obtain buy-in from stakeholders and market the university.

As part of the university’s operations plan, you should constantly assess training, as well. You can start small, taking level one and two evaluations for courses and instructors. But plan to move on to higher levels of assessment in order to deliver more efficiently and to report ROI going forward. For example, as courses are better developed, begin surveying learners and their managers at 45 or 60 days after the training in order to determine if they are truly hitting the application stage.

However you decide to do it, the key to the assessment and analysis best practice is to start before you build your corporate university and to keep it consistent even after the build out is complete. Sometimes the inclination is to back off on analysis and assessment when things are going well, so resist that temptation at all points during the build out and beyond.

In my next post, we will discuss obtaining buy-in through effective marketing to all levels of the organization.

Copyright Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.


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