Boosting learning and performance in a global company

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In today’s globalised marketplace, many organisations span countries and continents.  When creating and designing learning strategies, it would be careless to ignore the cultural challenges and risks this presents.

Language is the most obvious cultural challenge to overcome.  Content can be translated into different languages relatively easily, but the subtler implications and nuances can sometimes be lost in this process.

Other cultural considerations include colours, symbols and images, and the way they are perceived in different cultures – some images may seem innocuous to many, but seem deeply inappropriate to others. This could lead to poor engagement with the learning, and a failure to meet the learning objectives.

Is standardising the answer?

Many organisations will standardise behaviours and processes.  This makes sense for a number of reasons, such as the centralisation of support structures, transparency and visibility, transferability of skills within the organisation and repeatability of training interventions.

Most organisations will have some unifying cultural elements that are a defining part of their organisation.  Generally this is likely to derive from the nation where the organisation is based, or originated, leading to it “imposing” a cultural norm on the entire global audience, and hoping that they all jump on board.

What about other approaches? 

So it would seem that there are three possible approaches to this challenge; Firstly, to ignore any cultural differences, and expect the audience to conform to the “default” culture; secondly to create a bespoke solution for each specific cultural audience; and thirdly, to create a core “culture-neutral” training product, and tailor it to the different audiences as appropriate.

The first option is laden with risk, as user-adoption could be badly affected if the cultural tone misses the mark for any section of the audience. The second is the “perfect world” option, but will ramp up the cost, when most people are trimming rather than increasing their training spend. Also the key messages could end up being inconsistent without strong governance.

The best option?

The third option would then seem to be the most attractive – but how to do it? Well the first step I would put in place is a network of local representatives,who are aligned with the core messages of the training, but are able to either suggest or implement minor changes where needed.  These could relate to language, look and feel or other culture-dependent elements.  Involving local representatives will also increase credibility and engagement, as people recognise that their local training needs are being addressed.

We still have to accommodate different learning styles that are invariably affected by culture. Happily, much of what this involves aligns with current trends in learning: providing a range of learning in different forms, face to face, elearning, online learning etc. Flexibility seems to be of real benefit, ultimately giving choice and providing the right learning for the right audience. This, with knowing the audience in the first place, will help in designing and delivering learning to different cultures.

What have you found works when designing and delivering learning for a global audience?