You don't have to be a Fortune 500 company to bring your team back to school.
Large, iconic brands such as Disney, McDonald’s, and Apple long ago created corporate “universities” to systematize training and inculcate their values, history, and culture in employees. In the past decade or so, midmarket firms have begun fielding their own versions.
These learning centers often give shape to otherwise scattershot training regimens and help to ensure employee exposure to all requisite disciplines. And, as the following examples show, they offer creative companies a chance to add their own curricular and pedagogical twists to suit their individual needs.
Alex and Ani University
Training is both a cost and a profit center for this Rhode Island-based jewelry and lifestyle company. Alex and Ani University maintains a six-person faculty and a full-time curriculum-development team. Homegrown workshops, courses, and certifications connect storytelling, systems thinking, and self-identity to culture creation in the workplace. Content draws on Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence and Howard Gardner’s intelligence research, among other sources. AAU is preparing to move out of company headquarters into a standalone building near several other universities in downtown Providence. That building will also house the company’s Evolutionary Leadership Institute, an educational facility for customers and other outside organizations.
Peppercomm State University
The New York strategic communications and public relations firm Peppercomm created this school to train employees in strategy, creativity, and responsiveness. Courses are taught by outside experts and specialists within the agency. With some topics, senior managers teach sessions to middle managers, who then teach the same material to account executives, junior account executives, and interns, who then teach it back to senior management. This process ensures that everyone has the material down and also gives junior employees the chance to hone their presentation skills. The company also has a mandatory course in standup comedy, taught by the chief comedy officer, who is a professional comic. Cofounder Steve Cody believes comedy is good for communication and transparency, as well as building organizational culture.
Most companies cross-train by having selected employees do stints in different departments. OFM, a school and office furniture maker in North Carolina, does that, too. But last year, in an effort to deepen departments’ knowledge of one another and make employees more active in the company’s financial success, OFM created OFM University. Classes in such subjects as shipping, sales, and macroeconomic business practices are taught by resident experts. In addition, much company communication--including information on new products-;now takes place in the context of the university’s classes and lectures.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan