All hail the launch of the Corporate University

This week I discovered Adidas’ blog and found it intriguing to read through to get an insight into the culture of the company and how they work.

Regular readers will know I’m incredibly curious and enjoy nothing more than discovering the inside story into how companies communicate, so it was a joy to stumble upon the blog.

lc-logo-31In a recent series of blog posts they announced they are going to try something new and I thought I’d share it with you to see what you make of it, particularly as this have announced the launch of The New Way of Working. (See #newwayofworking on Twitter).

In a nutshell, they are trialling a “capabilities incubator” and founding their own university to nurture talent and concentrate on learning – read on to discover what they are up to and what it’s all about.

The blog states: “We’ve seen a lot of change over the past years, not only with the popularity and influence of social networks and tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, etc. With new generations of employees coming in, we have also seen new approaches and trends emerging in the work place and society at large. For example, over 64% of our over 48,000 employees already belong to the so-called Gen_Y (meaning born after 1981 (read more on this topic).

What does this mean?
Adidas Group says it is seeing new trends in collaboration, knowledge management and learning – in the way people work together, share their knowledge and experience, and also how people develop and learn.

They have decided to embrace those changing conditions for a variety of reasons – both for attracting the best talent, but also developing and retaining the right people.

So their focus is on a new way of working, and specifically, learning. The overall goal is to further achieve “sustainable and superior results.”

Where have they got this from and what’s new?
The company says it’s been inspired by the Cluetrain Manifesto (you MUST read this book if you haven’t already), open knowledge initiatives like TED conferences and open education movements like edX of MIT and Harvard University and others.

So with all that in mind it has founded adidas Group Corporate University. Nice!

It is made up of three strands:

  • Physical learning spaces in all locations
  • virtual Learning Campus Online, a platform for collaborative, self-driven and technology-based learning that provides access to learning anywhere, anytime and on any device
  • And, going forward, the Future Workplace, the personal workplace of each employee, where learning is fully embedded in the daily work.

See the video below to get a flavour of what it’s all about:

Adidas says: “We want it to serve as a capabilities incubator to create innovative and engaging learning environments and solutions for present and future generations.

“It will enable our employees to achieve their personal best and set us apart from our competitors. To this end, we believe we need to further and more drastically transform the company into a learning organisation by creating a culture of life-long, self-driven learning in a collaborative environment: an environment in which all employees equally teach and learn, and acquire knowledge and skills in a variety of ways to best suit present and future generations.”

The strapline to all this?


What strikes me about this idea is that it’s not completed. Back in May the company announced its intention and then handed the responsibility to help them create it to their employees – and the wider world.

In a reflection of the open and collaborative approach it is adopting, adidas Group has been crowd-sourcing ideas internally with its employees about the concept of a Corporate University. They then turned to the outside world and crowd-sourcing externally.

adidas_LCThe first campus is up
Adidas is prototyping this new approach through its first Learning Campus at the adidas Group Headquarters in Herzogenaurach (Herzo), Germany, where it has built its first physical campus.

This campus in Herzo, the so-called “Shed”, is a former recycling shed that they transformed into a theatre stage, a flexible and open space for learning.

Inside they will demonstrate and apply the New Way of Learning: with collaborative and innovative workshops and flipped learning sessions, face-to–face training, individual coaching sessions, informal discussions, lunchtime lectures, speaker series and planned or spontaneous learning events, also integrating new learning methods, technologies and formats.

What do I think?
I welcome this move, I think it’s a smart one and like the idea of a Learning Organisation. My vision of a Learning Organisation of the future is one that constantly evolves, that learns from the best ideas, its worst mistakes and the trials and tribulations along the way, to emerge stronger, responsive and to be a place people truly want to work.

adidas corporate universityThere are countless surveys about good places to work and how to measure employee engagement and satisfaction. For me, what strikes me about Adidas Group’s approach is placing learning at the heart of what they are trying to do.

In order to be successful you have to constantly keep on learning, not only to reflect on what you’ve achieved to date, but to stretch yourself and absorb and try new things.

Clever organisations are the ones that recognise that. How many times have you had conversations with your friends, family and colleagues and heard how people are leaving their jobs because they cannot grow their careers from that current position?

That desire to continually learn and improve is one I welcome. Schemes like Continuing Professional Development exist through bodies like CIPR and IoIC (see my glossary for a jargon buster) yet there are precious few examples of organisations placing that same emphasis internally.

infographicYes there are some good Learning & Development schemes around, I’ve certainly encountered a fair few, particularly when I worked in-house for a decade in IC, but what’s very often missing is the whole company approach and seeing it as part of business as usual.

Skills and training sessions are often targeted to your specific function or industry, rather than giving you a broader view of the world. Something I think the “capabilities incubator” idea has the potential to do, particularly as it runs alongside the day-to-day operation of the organisation. I think that will be key to its success – the fact learning is part and parcel of how the business operates and communicates.

One of the best uses of enterprise social networks is to connect people across silos, geographies and job functions. I’ve seen countless examples of employees connecting and communicating with each other and developing their own learning as a result of working alongside people they may not usually come into contact with.

I wonder how adidas Group will capture that sort of knowledge transfer and learning internally? Will they develop a dedicated way for their Corporate University to retain the information it generates?

I wish adidas Group the very best of luck and will keep an eye out to see how you get on.

Could this work for your company? Are you thinking of doing something similar or are your plans underway? As ever, I welcome your comments.


Post author: Rachel Miller.

First published: 23 July 2014.

Picture credits: adidas Group.


  1. Sheila Parry says:

    This is a really exciting project to see breaking into the news – also featured in Forbes on Monday.
    We at theblueballroom have been working on the internal launch of this with the inspirational HR team at adidas and are hoping to bring the learning to thefuturestory in October.

  2. Congratulations Sheila, it’s a cracking project and I’m sure thefuturestory delegates will benefit from hearing the inside story at your event. Thank you for the link too.

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