During the past two decades, we have seen a surge of corporate
universities (CU). In fact, the Corporate Leadership Council claims
a growth rate of 400 percent since the early 1980s when only about
15 CUs existed. Today, you can find more than 2,000 corporate
While CUs do not award degrees or typically have campuses, the
structure provides an opportunity to achieve tangible and
intangible results. One key benefit that is quickly realized is
that by eliminating redundancies in a decentralized organizational
structure, CUs can drive down the costs of employee development.
In addition, the CU structure makes way for centralized vendor
management, which allows for volume discounts. Companies can
realize even more savings by breaking organizational silos and
leveraging resources. For example, a company can cross-promote a
course originally suitable for only one business segment, avoiding
Such was the goal driving one CU initiative at a large financial
company. By forming a CU structure, the university increased
support for one-company initiatives that allowed them to transport
talent, regardless of business unit experience.
The initiative began with a strategic measurement plan that
- A needs assessment.
- A dashboard.
- A five-level evaluation framework.
The needs assessment process combined existing and newly developed
data to align learning and performance objectives with business
needs. Using a two-tiered approach, organizational, departmental,
and team analysis was first completed by reviewing available data.
This included strategic business plans and employee opinion
The second tier of assessment encompassed specific job analysis to
define the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to achieve
optimum performance. This allowed for customization of individual
performance needs. Data sources included task analyses and 360
Other data sources for the needs assessment strategy included:
- Level-3 follow-up questionnaires
- talent forum data
- interviews with business partners
- operational data
- sales/marketing data
- personnel data
- financial data
- customized surveys
- skill-gap assessments.
A dashboard operates similar to the display in an automobile,
providing managers with all the information they need to keep
driving - focusing on the relevant measures for operating the
business, rather than one measure. By mapping the university
strategy via a dashboard to business priorities, results in a plan
that outlines employee development goals. Sample dashboard measures
included customer satisfaction and utilization of internal and
external learning offerings.
The financial company used Level-1 measures, reaction data; Level-2
measures, learning data; and Level-3 measures, skills applied on
the job. Level-4 measures (results or business impact) indicators
- talent retention
- number of promotions
- number of new accounts
- dollars sold, commission rates
- time to develop job skills
In one case, the university implemented a program designed to help
retain frontline leaders. After one year, this effort garnered a
cost-benefit ratio of 1.35:1. Within one year, they achieved a cost
savings/avoidance of $1,356,550 (Level-5 measure).