Focus on Switzerland

The Swiss tend to prefer didactic training methodologies that rely on deductive reasoning.

Switzerland is surprising in many ways. Land-locked in the center of Europe, unable to feed itself, and with no natural resources, Switzerland nevertheless is one of the most powerful economies in the world, serving as headquarters to leading corporations in several industries. A nation the size of Virginia with a population of only 8 million, Switzerland speaks four languages, and almost 22 percent of Switzerland residents are non-Swiss. The Swiss have achieved their surprising success through hard work, paying attention to detail, and following through on well-crafted plans. Given this background, not surprisingly, the Swiss do not like surprises—including when it comes to training.

Swiss training calendars for open-enrollment courses often are established a year in advance. Internal training departments may want course outlines and descriptions three to six months in advance. If your agreement has the client producing the materials, expect lead times of several weeks for them to do so. Be sure that the course you deliver closely follows the outline you have provided. For more customized training, keep similar lead times in mind as you contract with the client, clarify objectives, gather information, circulate surveys, and develop materials.

The Swiss tend to prefer didactic training methodologies that rely on deductive reasoning. Lead with the general theory and then present clear, specific examples explaining how they illustrate the theory. Any experiential training activities must be justified and framed, clearly explained, well managed, thoroughly debriefed, and linked back to the theory. Be careful in the use of competitive activities—they can backfire in a country that values consensus and modesty.

Prepare accurate, current, and polished presentation materials. Swiss participants expect to work through materials page by page, so move material you are not going to cover explicitly to an appendix. Leave your “trinkets and trash” at home—Swiss environmental consciousness favors quality and sustainability and may judge such giveaway items as crass or irresponsible.

Announce the agenda and schedule (including break times and duration), follow it, and “sign post” frequently. Swiss participants want to know “where they are” in the sequence of events. The day may include a 30-minute break both during the morning and the afternoon and a sit-down lunch of at least an hour and up to two hours. Ask your client in advance what conventional start, end, and break times are and build your design around them. Think twice about switching the order of training segments once you have provided the schedule. If you must do so, apologize for the variance and explain how this change better serves the goals of the training.

Be conservative and fact based when commenting on group or individual participant contributions. For example, don’t say, “Great example!” but rather, “Thank you, that is a useful example that links back to the theoretical point…”

If you ask the participants as a group and in an open-ended way to provide feedback on how the training is going, you are likely to get a bland, polite response. It is more useful, particularly during a multi-day event, to solicit participant feedback by asking specific questions that allow for both negative and positive comments. Allow them to provide their responses individually in writing.

While many international Swiss corporations have English as the language of the workplace and all Swiss study English in school, many Swiss, particularly those over age 35, feel inhibited expressing themselves in English. Thus, it is wise to allow small group discussions to occur in the language most comfortable for the participants. It is important to note that “German-speaking” Swiss do not speak German among themselves, but rather their particular dialect of Swiss-German. German is the academic language, but not the language of social interaction.

Many major organizations in Switzerland have large contingents of international employees, which can influence training culture. However, it is best to prepare to meet the Swiss expectations and then adjust should you find yourself working in a more globalized environment.

Heather Robinson is a senior associate with Global Dynamics Inc. As an organization consultant, she balances elegance, fun, and rigor in optimizing productivity in multinational corporate teams and coaching business leaders to global success. Robinson’s expertise is based on personal background, academic grounding, and more than 30 years of industry experience. The child of a Swiss mother and an American father, she has lived in India, Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, South Africa, England, Greece, Israel, and Pakistan. Robinson can be reached at