5 Best Practices Learned While Training in 15 Countries
Making the leap to become an international training company can be a daunting task, but it also can be a fruitful one. Corporate training represents a $70 billion market in the United States, but the global training market is more than $130 billion, according to the 2014 Corporate Learning Factbook. With so many opportunities available abroad, even a small piece of the training pie can prove valuable for U.S.-based training companies looking to expand.
Vantage Point Performance, a global sales management training and development firm, has been delivering sales management training overseas from its inception. These days, approximately 50 percent of our business comes from large corporate clients based overseas. Our U.S.-based staff and a growing cadre of international facilitators recently have presented programs in seven languages in 15 countries in places as far afield as China, Australia, and Saudi Arabia. Along the way, we’ve learned a few things, including the following five best practices:
1. Question your assumptions. While it might be possible to offer your training program as is in another country, it is more likely that you will have to adjust the starting point to accommodate your participants’ level of knowledge. This might mean you have to start with background information not normally included in your content to lay a foundation for participants who might not be familiar with the content, but it also might mean you have to skip the basics and start at a more advanced level for participants who already have mastered the basics. The only way to know for sure is to do a survey of participant knowledge before you develop the training.
We found that many companies around the globe are ahead of their U.S. counterparts when it comes to sales manager training. While U.S. companies are beginning to realize the pivotal role sales managers play in company success, forward-thinking companies abroad have placed a higher value on sales managers for much longer. Where we normally have to spend time convincing companies in the U.S. of the importance of sales management, much of our international training begins with this assumption. So word to the wise—don’t assume your starting point will be the same in every country.
2. Understand that language barriers are not all equal. When you provide training in a foreign country, language is often an obstacle, but how much of an obstacle is important to determine. Language services are costly, so it is important not to over-invest in these services when they are not needed, but you want to ensure your team is equipped to translate materials, understand cultural differences, and communicate effectively.
We anticipated somewhat of a language barrier when we were training sales managers and second-line executives from East Asian countries. We were prepared with all of the necessary translation services, but most of the services proved to be unnecessary as the executives all spoke English very well. However, if we were training front-line salespeople instead of executives, we likely would have found a larger language barrier, as fewer of the front-line salespeople understood English at the level needed for training.
3. Learn the language of time. A principle difference we’ve noticed while training in countries around the globe is the length of the workday. If your training is built for an 8 a.m.-5 p.m. schedule with a 45-minute lunch, and two 15-minute breaks, you may find a misalignment with the local clock when you are training outside of the U.S. Data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reveal that countries such as Mexico, Korea, and Greece have some of the longest working hours, while the Netherlands, Germany, and Norway have the shortest workdays. When we train in countries with shorter workdays, we tend to start later, take longer breaks, and finish earlier than we do in the U.S. to accommodate local cultural norms. Anticipate extending your U.S.-based program by at least a day if you are training in a country with a relaxed atmosphere or shorter workdays.
4. Invest in trust. Trust is always a key issue when it comes to training, but it matters even more when you are trying to build trust across geographical and cultural borders. One way to build trust is to schedule an introductory call to connect your client’s executive team with your trainers. This allows your client to get to know your facilitators, and it also provides your facilitators with the opportunity to gather important information about the client. For example, you can use the interaction to ask about recent reorganizations, layoffs, or similar issues to help you understand the context for scenarios and role-playing. Showing this level of interest in your client and tailoring your training to meet their specific needs further develops trust.
5. Slow your rollout. In the U.S., we often live by the idea that faster is better, but that is not always the case when it comes to rolling out training programs for companies with locations in various regions around the globe. Instead of rolling out programs at once, we typically launch pilot programs in key regions and then roll out programs one region at a time. This gives everyone a chance to assess the training and make changes as needed for future rollouts. While most of our clients engage us to help gain greater standardization in their sales management practices across a global footprint, there is still a level of customization needed to reflect local or regional differences. So don’t be surprised if a “standard” rollout requires customization along the way.
International training has its challenges, but these can be overcome with planning and forethought. You also may find that your training capabilities improve over time as you gain a broader perspective that leads to new insights and a different point of view. Who knows? You may even learn as much as the participants you are training.
Trish Derman is vice president of Client Services for Vantage Point Performance, a global sales management training and development firm. Derman specializes in orchestrating resources to manage the design, development, delivery, and impact evaluation of customized training engagements for clients. For more information, visit www.vantagepointperformance.com.