Guest post by Laurent Choain, Chief People & Communication Officer at Mazars
If I have to look back to my career and try to isolate one single domain in which I have enough personal yet strategic experience, it’s corporate universities and executive education, not HR. Obviously, I’ve been in leading HR roles for almost two decades now, but my core activity, focus and, hopefully, impact, has been merely in leadership development, even when it was to serve a more strategic or holistic purpose.
My conviction, which is challenged by many C-suite executives including a fairly significant amount of my HR peers, is that training and education are game changers in organisations and should be the core of any modern HR strategy, and certainly not shared support services. But one cannot defend a discerning positioning with conventional arguments. Thus, if you expect me to hammer that the role of corporate universities is to shape a corporate identity and spread its culture and values, or still align managerial practices, accompany and ease organisational change and transformation, help integrate teams in context of mergers, etc., you can go fly a kite.
In my view, there are two major roles of corporate universities in the very near future:
1/ Grow the human capital of nations
2/ Connect and shape future networks of economic leaders.
And this leads to the question of accrediting corporate universities.The societal role of corporate universities
Most corporate universities suffer from a lack of ambition, which translates into the willingness to remain “operational”, connected to the business needs, pretty “low key”. They do not really assume their name “university”. Their perimeter of impact is definitely limited to the borders of the corporation, sometimes even a confined number of people in there. In other words, there is little universality in those universities.
Yet, is an educational supra-purpose an option for corporate universities? Absolutely: some corporate universities like at Veolia in France, were created to offer professional education to those who did not go through a regular academic education. This is more the meaning of academy vs. university: some companies are in businesses, for which there is no serious academic offer. There is no degree in garbage collecting. Corporate universities could become the key lever to develop apprenticeship in other countries than Germany. Governments and corporations should work hand in hand to develop corporate education, education at the work place, as a central tool for employment and skills development. This is a major opportunity for western slow-growing economies.
But this is crucial for emerging or fast-growing economies too; in those economies, there is often no lack of qualified top execs – mostly educated in the western world – nor shortage of qualified workforce. The problem often lies more in intermediary layers, like supervisors and managers, which are key to structuring and capitalizing on the growth and solidify the substrate of core competences of an organization. And this must be seen as a discerning role of corporate universities: building up the middle class of emerging economies, in accordance with the companies’ need much beyond this as well. Building up the human capital of nations. I can already hear the sarcastic scepticism of some of my colleagues in charge of leading corporate universities. That’s where the problem starts. Fortunately, CEOs are less sarcastic about these questions, and that’s where there is a hope.
There is a last argument to urge corporate universities to play a societal role; today, technology goes faster than business and academic regulation. Some corporations are massively investing in their digital transformation, and thus transform the mission and the format of their corporate universities in this respect. Digital learning platforms, MOOCs and SPOOCs, labs, new formats of learning, etc. are blossoming and showing the way. Start-ups in this domain are booming, and that’s a field where private and public sectors can easily experiment together and fruitfully cooperate. The common mission of governments and corporations in today’s world is to structure society, not economy. And this leads to my next point.Building ecosystems of rising leaders
One of the major limitations of today’s corporate universities is that they are awfully inward looking. And, on the top of that, they are very proud of it. The founding purpose of most corporate universities is to unite, build teams and identity, create or reinforce a corporate culture to develop a stronger sense of belonging. It leads to excellent self-centric programmes where diversity, insight and innovation can only come either from the faculty, speakers and consultants, or from inner best-practice groups. The business associated to this is particularly lucrative. The top business schools have raised their rate and some of them charge up to 20’000 euro / day for professors not yet in the Thinkers50. Don’t calculate a rate / hour, nothing compares, no one can compete.
However, what is adding most value to a hi-po on his/her way to an exec position? Undoubtedly, being exposed to other talents in the same situation in different contexts. Ah, not really the rationale behind in-house programmes. “That’s why we send our top people to open-enrolling advanced management courses in the best b-schools, stupid!” How many of them? With what benefit to the larger organization? At what cost?
Companies like Danone or L’Oreal have long understood the benefits of joining their effort to co-develop their execs. Greater learning, mind-opening, connections for life, high employability, which means volatility but also understanding that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.
After so many years, corporate universities have gathered enough experience, leadership and resources to become more independent but also more open players on the education battlefield. If education is core, don’t outsource it, but share it. We’ve been doing quite the contrary, without even mentioning it.What about business schools?Qui bene amat, bene castigat
. I’ve given so much to the world of B-schools in my life that I cannot be seriously seen as an enemy to the cause. But let me phrase it simply: B-schools are increasingly drifting away from the corporate world’s needs and they have become a self-contained microcosm. Since I sit on several boards of national and international accreditation systems, I can be a little bit sophisticated in my analysis. B-schools have entered in an international beauty contest to attract the best international students (that’s the story) and retain their domestic talents (that’s the compatible reality). Over the past 20 years, accreditations have transformed the philosophy as well as the business model and the ecosystem of B-schools.
Executive education and corporate connections don’t have the ultimate purpose to serve the economy and the society. They have the purpose to help finance an increasingly academic faculty. The market gets organized, layered, segmented, malthusian while the demand in training new generations of managers is plethoric. B-schools are serving the very high-end of a market with a high-cost / high value logic, while in times of growth you need to equip a market with an ethical, ecological offer – not to mention the opportunity that this offer might be uberized
by digital solutions.
Corporate Universities are not going to stay docile clients of B-schools; I suspect some of them will become alternative solutions to B-schools, not only internally but also by cross-fertilizing corporate experiences and knowledge. McKinsey invests more every year in research in management than Harvard does. Does it ring a bell?Why should corporate universities seek for accreditation?
Well, if you’ve read me so far there is no need to elaborate much.
1/ If you serve external publics, you should not be the sole evaluator of your quality
2/ Peer-accreditation (see CLIP
) means establishing the standards of quality beyond a collection of best practices. You only have to watch that “standards” do not lead to standardization. Then, don’t empower the wrong people, and make sure that accreditors are not perverse losers in search of revenge. A famous late French movie script, Michel Audiard, said it clearly once: “if you are not aware of your talent, you’re easing the success of the mediocre ones”.
3/ Accreditation, if well organized, is great consulting for cheap price.
4/ Last, if you meet difficulties making your executive team buy into your corporate university, turn them from passive spectators into interviewees in an accreditation review. You’ll see how they will become great advocates of the cause.