Executive KnowledgeWorks
Leveraging Executive Education and Leader Development For Strategic Planning, Action Learning, Customized Executive Education and Enhanced Business Meetings - all supported by a philosophy of Breakthrough Centered Development.
Research and Publishing:
Eight National Benchmarking Reports.

Corporate Universities

There are five questions we have often been asked regarding our work over the years with corporate universities:

  • What is a corporate University?
  • Does EKW recommend a corporate university as a vehicle for human resource development and/or organization development?
  • Are corporate universities a fad?
  • If a company does implement a corporate university, on what critical success factors should they focus?
  • What are the more compelling alternatives to the corporate university?

Starting with our work as part of the startup team for what became Motorola University, we’ve had better than 20 years of up-close contact and experience with the corporate university form. There is no question that in many instances it has made a positive difference - at least for a time. There is also no question that the corporate university is a form of human resource development with significant limitations and risks.

Its strength -- substantive centralized support -- almost certainly assures its eventual irrelevance. Its power -- critical -- diminishes its responsiveness. And, its most essential ingredient -- strong leadership -- will likely, despite the best of intentions, seal its fate.

We don’t recommend that corporations build corporate universities. We suggest that, instead, they devote sufficient resources to an array of development initiatives that, when tightly focused and carefully integrated, enable the organization to achieve successive business breakthroughs.

We also recommend that our clients invest in a leader for the human resource and organization development function that is vested in business outcomes rather than a particular change philosophy or HRD technology. This is a belief system that is not always readily detectable. Yesterday’s proven track record and today’s seemingly perfect solution are often tomorrow’s anchor. It is the unusual human resource development executive who can lead the timely evolution of his or her function through the organization’s rapidly changing business realities.

As might be apparent from these comments, we counsel against investments in human resource and organization development that are or may soon become static. Bricks and mortar lead the list of risky investments; as do set curricula. We strongly counsel against the construction of physical plants -- especially residential facilities. We are equally unenthusiastic about fat course catalogs and beautifully pared binders.

Perhaps surprisingly, large professional staffs -- particularly those strongly grounded in particular human resource technologies -- are also a major risk. These are times of rapidly changing business realities. Just responding to, let alone leading the development of, one’s corporation, requires a human resource function that is committed to anticipating and preparing for the emerging needs of the organization. They cannot be wedded to processes, systems or technologies.

The value that the human resource development team brings to the organization is not that of technicians, trainers, instructional designers or specialists. Instead, to remain relevant and powerful for the organization, they must be brokers between the constantly changing set of internal business needs and the evolving external world of possible solutions.

The alternative to the corporate university for which we have the greatest enthusiasm is, what we have termed, Breakthrough Centered Development.

PS -- As to the question we are asked most often, it would appear from 15 years of data that a "corporate university" is whatever a corporation decides it is.


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