By Natanya Rutstein

I recently undertook a literature review for a client to investigate best practice and the latest trends in establishing a corporate university (CU). The client has embarked on the process of building their own CU as a strategic instrument to harness the collective intelligence within the organisation and ensure that they remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing economic and technological landscape. I would like to share some of these trends with you in this post.

Gone are the days where the primary focus of a CU was to standardise organisational practices, embed cultural norms and ensure the availability of specific technical and functional expertise. The CU has transformed into a strategic lever used to drive strategic change and capability within the organisation by closely aligning organisational strategy with learning and development strategic direction. The commitment of the organisation to continuous learning and development of employees through the establishment of a CU is also an excellent tool which can be used to attract and retain the best talent and facilitate their ongoing development.

The CU has evolved from being the preserve of management and executive leaders, developing leadership capability, to a much wider audience which includes all employees. Many organisations are also extending their audience to include customers and suppliers in order to improve value chain efficiency and dynamics.

What did become very obvious to me is that there is no ONE BEST MODEL to adopt when planning your CU. The structure and selected functions of the individual CU will differ from one organisation to another and is largely dependent on the organisations strategic objectives and the purpose(s) for which the CU has been established.

The dominant trend is for CU’s to move towards a networked structure which is built on collaboration and partnering between all stakeholders in the CU. Due to the global nature of many organisations and the ease of communicating across borders, these networks often stretch across different continents and can be particularly useful in the increasing frequency of global mergers.  The community of networks are formed regardless of whether the CU takes on a ‘bricks and mortar’ or virtual structure. The very nature of this CU is dynamic and is constantly adapting and changing to reflect and align with the changing strategic priorities of the organisation.

In order to draw in and maintain the attention of your audience you will most definitely need to ensure that you remain ahead of the latest changes and trends in technology development and how best to employ them within your CU. Most organisations have adopted a blended approach to dispensing their learning and have recognised that there is no replacement for face-to-face instruction in certain types of training. The competencies of your Chief Learning Officer, training manager and internal experts will need to be enhanced in order to provide the required expertise in relation to curriculum development, e-learning deployment, mentoring and coaching.

There is no single successful formula when setting up your CU and the magic lies in firstly determining the purpose for which you have decided to establish your CU and to then carefully selecting the right mix of elements which accurately reflect your organisational strategy and budget and which will ultimately satisfy the needs of your audience.


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