How Trilogy’s University Helps to Build Its Culture

How Trilogy’s University Helps to Build Its Culture

OD Application: How Trilogy’s University Helps to Build Its Culture

Trilogy Software Inc. is a small, rapidly growing software firm based in Austin, Texas, with offices in India and China. Trilogy, on the cutting edge of sales-and-marketing software, also has a very unique orientation program for new hires.

Stanford Dropout

Joe Liemandt founded Trilogy in 1989, after dropping out of Stanford only a few months before graduation. To finance the startup, Liemandt charged up 22 credit cards. In four years, Trilogy grew from 100 to 1,000 employees. Today, Trilogy is among the world’s largest privately held software companies and is a leading provider of industry-specific software for the automotive, consumer electronics, and insurance industries. To call Trilogy workers “employees” misses the point. They’re all share- holders. They’re all managers. They’re all partners.

Joe Liemandt knows that Trilogy depends on talented people. He also knows that people can go anywhere, which means that his biggest competitive headache isn’t companies like SAP AG and Oracle—businesses he has to compete with in the marketplace. His biggest worry is holding onto talented people. “There’s nothing more important than recruiting and growing

people,” he says. “That’s my number one job.” Management consultant and author Noel Tichy says, “Trilogy is going head-to- head with Microsoft and other biggies in the talent war. On their side, they have a very clear teachable point of view of what Trilogy is and what they practice. They are confident of their ideas and values. They know how to energize people, how to make courageous decisions.”

Trilogy University

Trilogy University (TU) is a corporate boot camp experience, modeled after Marine Corps basic training, where the new employee goes through a three-month high-pressure program. Liemandt, along with others in top management, teach a large portion of the classes. The first month places the candidates in teams of about 20 where they participate in fast-paced creative projects. In the second month, the teams are broken into smaller teams, where they develop a business model, marketing plans, and a prototype for a new product or service. During the third month, the candidates demonstrate personal initiative by working on their project either with their team or finding a sponsor somewhere in the company. At the conclusion of the program, the candidates go through a comprehensive evaluation and feedback session given by their peers, section leaders, and senior managers.

TU makes diverse contributions to the Trilogy organization. Joe Liemandt realized early on that as the company rapidly grew, the new employees needed to learn not only the skills for their new job, but, perhaps more importantly, also the values and culture of Trilogy. During the time of close to 20 years that TU has been around, TU has become the primary source for re- search and development as well as a major source for self- renewal and transformation. Ideas that start as projects in month two sometimes go on to become new products and services. In addition, the program has helped employees form relationships that last throughout their careers. And for the long-term viability of Trilogy, TU serves as a place where a new generation of leaders is created. Noel Tichy says, “Most companies’ orientation programs were designed to help new hires hit the ground running. Trilogy’s boot camp has a bigger goal: keep the company running.”

The Business Model

Trilogy has a unique business model in the software industry and most other service-oriented businesses. Its model ties Trilogy’s revenue and 100 percent of employee incentives directly to the economic value that it delivers to its clients. Trilogy is so committed to the practice that it delivers guaranteed business value for its clients. Trilogy is paid only once the customer receives the promised business value.

Trilogy’s unusual business model extends to its relation- ships with its employees. It provides perks like fully stocked kitchens and keg parties every Friday. And there are spontaneous rewards, such as a trip to Las Vegas, for good work. Bonuses are given to top performers that are equal to 50 to 100 percent of their regular salaries. The company offers to its employees many of the advantages of a free agency: flexibility in how, when, and where you work; compensation linked to what you contribute; and freedom to move from project to project. It also offers ad- vantages of belonging to an organization in which mutual commitment builds continuity.

Trilogy fosters new methods in the way it relates with its clients and employees. The company has been highlighted as an innovative and ambitious company by leading business titles like Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and Forbes.


  1. Do you think the practices of Trilogy will help it remain competitive? Why?
  2. How does Trilogy transfer its culture to new employees?
  3. What other companies would you consider to be “enterprises of the future?”

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