By Thomas Berglund, Director of Learning, Lumesse
One of the inevitable challenges for any business that grows to operate on a global level is how to remain relevant locally—how do you embrace everything that access to global markets, economies of scale, and international exposure brings, without losing home-grown skills and focus?
This often hits home for HR when it must deliver learning on a global scale. On the one hand, a multinational needs a workforce working to a high level of consistency—it often needs to be taught to do the same things in the same way. Equally, many industries (particularly where knowledge-based businesses operate) also need a detailed understanding of local markets to succeed. One size doesn’t fit all, and global learning programs have to be underpinned by an appreciation of what works locally.
Therein lies the problem: It’s a tall order to expect that learning content developed centrally can be delivered with the speed and accuracy required to have credibility on a local level every time. Many organizations have looked to overcome this by encouraging, or at the very least allowing, regions to develop large chunks of their own custom learning content. But what almost always happens in these circumstances is that learning becomes highly inconsistent, or effort is duplicated with budget and content used over and again for essentially delivering on the same objective. The end result is that the learning is neither one thing nor the other, and certainly not a good mix of global and local.
Living With the Speed of Change
So what would an effective learning function that accommodates these competing challenges look like? It would need to be agile enough to respond quickly to local change, with the minimum gap between “need identified and learning deployed.” It would use hands-on experts to deliver strong learning content geared toward today’s diverse working culture, using tools employees trust and actively want to use. Critically (and most often missed), it would need to continually fine-tune learning already deployed to deliver the maximum impact on an ongoing basis.
A change of approach is required. HR and learning departments should stop acting as the primary (or in many cases, the only) source for learning output, but instead provide a framework that allows appropriate content to be developed locally. In practical terms, HR and learning leaders need to set direction and objectives for learning output from the outset, and then give the local teams the autonomy and tools to produce their own content. They need to strike a balance between overall corporate consistency and tailored, local output. They must determine which elements must remain consistent regardless of location, and what areas of learning content need to be localized in order to have an impact locally, on the ground.
A key component is the inclusion of collaboration, as the learning function works best as an enabler, bringing together centers of excellence to design high-impact learning. Thanks to new technology, such collaboration is now straightforward and doesn’t involve prior disorganization or management by committee and, more importantly, it can happen quickly. Increasingly, “agile” organizations assemble expertise, design learning collaboratively, and deploy to the target audience, often within a matter days.
In addition, more content maintenance should be taking place locally. Historically, organizations have outsourced almost all their content creation, amendments, and updates, lacking the technical skills and tools to do it themselves. In more recent times, though, the learning technology market has moved to give in-house knowledge experts the real option to maintain and update their own courses and content. This adds an enormous amount of flexibility to both global and local learning programs, and is not unlike the changes already seen in the Web development market, where content management systems have added that extra element of agility to organizations that want some measure of local control.
So those HR and learning professionals looking to address global vs. local learning are adapting their approach despite the pressure to deliver new employee skills to the front line more rapidly. The future learning landscape will evolve into something quite different from what we see today, with far more emphasis on learning built from local needs up, rather than global needs down.
Thomas Berglund is director of Learning at Lumesse is a global company that makes talent management solutions work locally. For more information, visit http://www.lumesse.com.