Building a Corporate University: Assessment

Summary: Building a Corporate University is a long-term project with many phases. In our next ten-part series, we will look at each phase of the University project, beginning with across the board assessment of learning needs.

Before any solid plans are made for the Corporate University, you have to know the scope of the learning that will be required. Some organizations have multiple business units, each one carrying out a separate purpose but striving to move the organization forward. With this in mind, you must embark on a very thorough assessment of learning needs. Always be mindful of the organization’s overall strategy and mission, which will tie into your assessment, as well.

First, determine factual deficiencies in every area – in other words, use any reporting that is already in place. For example, the organization’s customer-facing associates may have customer service surveys or “shops” in place that can tell you how customers perceive the service. The IT department may be able to tell you what areas have the most technical problems, and if those problems are related to general systems or those systems that are specific to each area. Salespeople always have sales reports, so take a look at those, as well. Ask key people in each area how they gage progress and you’re sure to get all of the information you need.

In addition to reporting, survey managers and supervisors to see what they perceive as deficiencies in workforce knowledge, skills, and abilities. But don’t stop with management – go to the associates who do the work, both seasoned and new associates, and find out what knowledge deficiencies they perceive. Go to the top, such as executives or the C-level to obtain an idea of their perceptions. You’ll find that a picture of need will emerge after you obtain all of this information.

Next, determine the delivery methods that could be used for all of the learning you’ve assessed. To do this, think about the learning styles and characteristics of the audiences. For example, is the sales department filled with people who are familiar with technology, or are they “paper and pencil” salespeople? Are the work groups made up of a mixture of learners from all backgrounds and ages, or do certain requirements in the work groups keep the group fairly homogenous? Think about the use of classroom, on-the-job (OTJ), or online training for every area and determine which would be most appropriate based on learner characteristics and material to be covered. For example, in the sales department you may be able to teach computer skills online but find it necessary to teach sales skills in person.

Compile your results from each area, including the facts and your own recommendations for delivery methods. Here is where the “rubber meets the road”, because you will probably have a huge “pot” of learning, from computer skills, to customer service and industry knowledge. Before you move forward with your University project, you must take the time to tie each piece of information from your assessment to the organization’s business strategy, goals, mission, and values. You’ll need to put learning that doesn’t have a direct impact on the strategy on the back burner – it’s the “nice to know” versus “need to know” equation at work. When you have an idea of the learning that does impact overall strategy, determine what learning can be used to create mobility within job groups, for promotions and succession planning, as well as what learning could be used to create mobility between departments.

The importance of this step cannot be underestimated. First, you’ll create “built-in” marketing for the University, which we’ll discuss later. Course participants will know why they’re being required to take which courses – and understand that it’s not just because their managers “said so”. Second, and most important, you’ll be able to make the business case to the executives, who hold the money for your further funding. When you can directly tie your learning to the achievement of the business strategy, you won’t be seen as an ungainly organizational appendage, but as a functional, vital part of the organization’s strategy.

Once you’re ready to move forward from assessment, you must prepare to determine your resources, which is the next step in your Corporate University project.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.

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