By Custom Programs Director Tania Dussey-Cavassini
I recently heard a CEO of a multinational company praise its corporate university for the work achieved so far in building the culture of his organization. However, because there is often a flipside to such mark of appreciation, the CEO expressed concerns regarding the future role of this entity. To illustrate his statement, he explicitly positioned the corporate university with one hand in front and above his head. With the other hand, he placed the rest of the organization at the level of the table at which he sat. "A corporate university which is up there in the nice sunny clouds is of no use to the rest of my organization facing the daily challenges of the business," he concluded.
Do you know how your CEO speaks about the learning and development function which you are heading? Are you currently serving the business needs of the company, or are you lost in your "Learning Cloud", maybe somewhat disconnected from the day to day problems your internal clients are dealing with. Here are a few questions which will help you think of how your L&D entity is perceived in your organization. Should any of your answers lead you to believe that your L&D entity may be flying a little high in the sky, you may want to lower your cruising altitude to be able to travel with the rest of the people in the organization.
1) What is the relevance and impact of your L&D entity?
What kind of fruits is your L&D entity bearing? What do executives get from investing their time with your corporate university? Do executives come to you with their business challenges to solve, or do their hire external consultants to deal with their most pressing issues? Senior executives of a global financial institution I was meeting with complained that the corporate university was brilliant at developing their soft skills, but less effective in building the capabilities to reap positive financial results for the company. As a consequence, and in order to respond to the need for relevance and impact for the business, these executives had started their own finance and strategy academy within the company, a new entity completely disconnected from the corporate university of the organization.
2) Where is your entity positioned in the organization?
"When I joined the company, I was looking for information on the intranet regarding the course offering. I could not find any. And once I was unexpectedly nominated to attend a development program, I discovered that the corporate university had been set up in a city far away from our main headquarter or major markets", observed the executive of a company. Perception is often part of the reality, and where the L&D entity is positioned within an organization, whether geographically as well as in the organizational structure, says much about how connected it is to the business or what kind of importance and visibility it is bearing within the company.
3) Are you in love with your learning tools and methodology?
"When we gather together for our annual meeting at our corporate university, we now know what is coming up. The elements which were once great attention catchers and stimulators have become predictable surprises today. We get bored just at the thought of having to dive into yet another brainstorming session or to run another famous exercise." criticized one executive. Business schools too run the risk of being sometimes so much in love with their own learning methodologies that they try to find a use for it in every program. As program designer, we always have to ask ourselves whether the use of a specific research or development tool serves the overall objective we are trying to reach.
4) What language do you speak?
Has it ever occurred to you that the language you may be using in your day to day work is exclusively focused on "learning, capabilities, tools, pedagogy, methodologies, coaching, behaviours, models." and rarely on terms which are used at the fore front of the business in your company. The most successful corporate universities are the ones which hire people with different backgrounds, skills and experiences. Executives are more likely to discuss their business challenges and the needs of their teams with L&D people who once were at the frontline, or who know how to talk business.
5) Is your entity perceived as an opportunity or a cost?
In my meeting with him last week, the CLO of a global multinational company explained how he had been hired two years ago by his CEO to "clean up" all the different learning and development entities which had been flourishing around the world over the years. These entities included sometimes the management of expensive and old properties. The incoming CLO, who had previously been heading the business of a whole continent for the same company, was given the mandate by the CEO to make sure the corporate university would be run as a profitable business in the future, as opposed to being perceived by the rest of the organization as a burden incurring additional and sometimes unnecessary costs. The change process the CLO implemented included rethinking the mission and strategy of the corporate university, streamlining the portfolio of offerings, selling underused properties, and realigning all the organizational set-up. Today the corporate university bears a new positive internal reputation.
6) Do the executives come to your Learning and Development organization to vent or to recharge?
"I want this place to be a source of positive inspiration for the executives who come here from around the world", said the director of a corporate university I was visiting a month ago. "The worst thing which could happen in these challenging times would be that executives come here to complain". And rightly so. At IMD we notice in rare occasions that participants have been "forced" by their company to attend a development program. They appear reluctant and think that development programs are a waste of time and resources. Unfortunately, they take this opportunity to meet with their peers only to complain about all kinds of things, instead of making the most of the development initiative.
At IMD, it is in our DNA to have the fear of getting lost in the L-Cloud. It is for this reason that we constantly ask ourselves the question "why?" "Why" is the health-check question we ask to make sure whatever we do at IMD is relevant and impactful to the businesses we serve. Whatever we do addresses the daily challenges of our clients. Whatever language we speak focuses on the development and business needs of our clients, not just their personal training needs. Our ultimate goal is to contribute to helping our clients be skilled leaders who hopefully will make informed decisions for the benefit of the people and business they lead.
Tania Dussey-Cavassini is Director of Custom Programs at IMD, she also coaches executives in the area of public speaking and communication.