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The Corporate University: Learning Tools for Success

  • ID: 41843
  • Report
  • January 1998
  • 78 pages
  • American Productivity & Quality Center, APQC
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Corporations are realizing that their most important assets are not equipment, technology, or machines but rather human capital and the know-how that resides in the minds of their employees. To maximize these valuable resources, many organizations have created corporate universities. Acting as the connective tissue of the organization, the corporate university links employee learning to overall company strategy and is beginning to drive business.

The purpose of this multi-organization benchmarking study was to identify and examine innovations, best practices, and key trends in the area of corporate learning initiatives and to gain insights and learnings about the processes involved. The goal was for participants to be able to direct their own training processes more effectively and identify any performance gaps, as well as gain a better understanding of issues and challenges involved in improving and re-engineering the training process.

Twenty-nine businesses participated in the study by attending a planning session, completing data-gathering surveys, and attending or hosting on-site interviews. Of those organizations, five were identified by the consortium as having a strong or innovative corporate university in place. These five were invited to participate in the study as benchmarking “partners.”


The following scope defines the content and structure of the benchmarking study. The project team and subject matter expert Vince Serritella collaborated to create this scope. The scope statement was used to direct the development of questions for the screening survey, detailed questionnaire, and site visit discussion guide.

I. Ensuring That the Corporate University Creates Value
- Developing a business case for the university
- Measuring impact on the corporation
- Establishing a core philosophy of learning

II. Designing the Learning Process
- Aligning the curriculum with business needs
- Ensuring application for an international audience
- Defining boundaries, degrees, and credit

III. Delivering the University’s Product
- Traditional versus non-traditional methods
- Using technology to reach your audience
- Partnering with local resource providers

IV. Creating an Organizational Structure That Lasts
- Developing the university infrastructure
- Relationship with the corporation


This report has been organized into four macro topic areas:
- the corporate influence,
- structural considerations,
- the learning process, and
- managing information.

The following 11 key findings emerged within these four macro topics.

Section One: The Corporate Influence
1. Best-practice corporate learning systems extend beyond the narrow concept of a “corporate university” to fit the mission, values, and culture of the organization.
2. A key driver of success for best-practice corporate universities is a strong commitment by senior management to the development and education of the work force.
3. Beyond needs analysis, best-practice corporate universities consciously involve business units in all aspects of the learning process.
Section Two: Structural Considerations
4. The business strategy of the organization drives the structure of the best-practice corporate university.
5. The learning experience is kept distinct from traditional HR processes.
6. Best-practice corporate universities operate as cost centers.
Section Three: The Learning Process
7. Within best-practice corporate universities, there is no universal process map for designing learning interventions.
8. Radical movement toward the use of technology begins only after a close examination of the business process itself, as opposed to simply automating existing functions.
9. Best-practice corporate universities determine their training goals—and their related requirements—only after identifying the expected outcomes.

Section Four: Managing Information
10. Benchmarking is a key driver in the creation and innovation of the corporate university.
11. The corporate university is a powerful tool for the creation and management of knowledge capital within the organization.


The past decade has seen wrenching reorganization and change for many organizations. As firms have looked for ways to survive and remain profitable, a simple but powerful change strategy called “benchmarking” has evolved and become popular. Benchmarking can be described as the process by which organizations learn, modeled on the human learning process. A good working definition is “the process of identifying, learning, and adapting outstanding practices and processes from any organization, anywhere in the world, to help an organization improve its performance.” The underlying rationale for the benchmarking process is that learning by example, from best-practice cases, is the most effective means of understanding the principles and the specifics of
effective practices.

The most important aspects of benchmarking are twofold: First, it is not a fixed technique imposed by “experts” but rather a process driven by the participants who are trying to change their organizations; and second, it does not use prescribed solutions to a problem but is a process through which participants learn about successful practices in other organizations and then draw on those cases to develop solutions that are most suitable for their own organizations. Benchmarking is not copying, networking, or passively reading abstracts, articles, or books. It is action learning, as demonstrated in the description of the consortium methodology. Benchmarking is also not simply a comparison of numbers or performance statistics. Numbers are helpful for identifying gaps in performance, but true process benchmarking identifies the “hows” and “whys” for performance gaps and helps organizations learn and understand how to perform at higher levels.

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- Sponsor and Partner Organizations

A complete listing of the sponsor organizations in this study, as well as the best-practice (“partner”) organizations that were benchmarked for their
innovation and advancement in corporate learning initiatives.

- Executive Summary

A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the methodology used and the key findings discovered during the course of the study. These findings are
explored in detail in following sections.

- Key Findings

An in-depth look at the 11 key findings in four macro topic areas: the corporate influence, structural considerations, the learning process, and managing information. Organizational examples and quantitative
data provide supporting evidence for the findings.

- Partner Organization Profiles

Background information on the partner organizations, as well as a look at their corporate universitie
Note: Product cover images may vary from those shown
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Note: Product cover images may vary from those shown