Corporate University: Avoiding the “Ivory Tower”

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Learning and Development departments, as well as corporate universities, can sometimes fall victim to the “ivory tower” syndrome, that is, losing touch with the “real world”. Typically the ivory tower is no one’s fault; it simply happens because all of your resources are so focused on the task at hand. The tower can even develop when you are still in the process of rolling out your corporate university, so some of the ideas here can be used during the initial build as well as in the future. How can you avoid getting caught up in the ivory tower?

The first way to avoid the ivory tower is to keep analysis and assessment consistent. Even if there is no major development going on at a given time, you should be evaluating courses, instructors, technology, delivery methods, and even the Learning Management System at all times. Continuous assessment of how you’re performing will help you determine where to put your resources, even if the corporate university is still in the setup phase. Plus, assessment will help you discover the university’s efficiency, costs, and benefits. And this will come in handy when it’s time to prove ROI.

Another way to keep in touch with the “real world” is to maintain contact with your sponsors and stakeholders, throughout the entire rollout process and beyond. This group is made up of people who are doing the work, supervising the work, and even planning the goals behind the work. If you alienate this group or simply lose contact with them, you run the risk of losing contact with the world outside of the corporate university office.

Along those lines, it may be a good idea to transform your sponsors, stakeholders, and LMS review committee into a corporate university advisory team or committee. This group can report back regularly and formally on what’s going on, what initiatives are planned, and on how the corporate university can help. An advisory group like this can help you make decisions both during the rollout and going forward. The advisory group, in other words, may be invaluable in keeping you in touch with the rest of the organization.

Another consideration is the positioning of the corporate university staff. Think about sending them out to the field in order to assess and observe. For example, instructors should spend regular time in the field they teach. As they go out to observe the people who are doing the work, they may find that things are not being carried out as instructed, and sometimes this may be for a legitimate reason. Or, a field observation may turn up evidence that managers and supervisors are not helping learners transition from the classroom to the work environment. But no one who has direct contact with learning materials should be exempt from field observation. Even instructional designers or developers should spend some time in the environments they are attempting to recreate in the learning arena.

As a corporate university leader, you should take the time to make contact with people inside the L&D industry through networks like Linked In, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), or the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). Benchmark your connections’ organizations with your own. Find out what they are doing, what technologies they are employing, and what issues they are uncovering. Then decide if you can incorporate any of their strategies into your corporate university structure and operation.

Finally, consider holding regular contact with your audience via the corporate university. Conduct surveys about the university itself, its offerings, and even its ease of navigation and understanding. Think about having focus groups or “town hall” meetings to find out how the university is perceived. This part of keeping touch with the audience takes you away from the work environment and helps you focus on the learning environment and the learners’ views.

Avoiding the ivory tower may be one of the “best” best practices because the ideas discussed here are useful from the very beginning. And if you continue employing these strategies, you’ll find that the corporate university has become a trusted business partner.

Copyright 2010 Your Training Edge. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Strategic Alliance & Acquisitions Director at Financial Training Solutions a division of CapitalWave Inc – offers 20+ years of training and talent management for executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Bryant is a trainer, business & leadership coach, and strategic planner for many sales organizations. Bryant’s 27 year business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering.

Subscribe to his personal blog at: http://www.BryantNielson.com

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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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