Learning Projects Going Global? Be Prepared!

As the world emerges from the global economic crisis, the amount of investment in globalization is rapidly increasing, forcing a shift in how we develop and implement global learning initiatives.

By David Yesford, Senior Vice President, Wilson Learning

Organizations today, ranging from global leaders such as IBM, GE, and Walmart to relatively small companies, are generating increasingly higher revenues outside the U.S. and conducting this business through employees located worldwide. If you are in Learning & Development, you need to have a global approach to developing your people. For years, organizations have been investing in globalization with varying degrees of success. A study conducted in the late ’90s predicted that the amount of investment in globalization would increase 12 times during the 30-year period ending in 2027 (“Getting to Global,” McKinsey Quarterly, Lowell L. Bryan and Jane N. Fraser, November 1999). However, such investment actually has increased by more than nine times in less than 15 years. As we are trending at a much faster rate, if you are not already globalizing, you soon will be! When implementing training on a global scale, the path to success must factor in many beliefs, norms, and cultural expectations.

Building a Foundation for Global Effectiveness

What makes a learning project global and successful? From the start, it’s important to set a context of global awareness and effectiveness.

Many companies operate on a multinational, instead of a global, basis. They launch projects in countries and regions without taking into account local cultures, customs, and procedures. To make “global” work, you need to ensure you have globally effective people who have a global mindset and skill set. When such people take on a project, they approach it as many local projects aligned globally, versus a global project implemented locally.

In addition to being aware of the differences among people of different cultures, the globally effective person is versatile in communications and interactions. Simply defined, versatility is the ability of an individual to modify his or her behavior so others are more comfortable.

For example, a large global pharmaceutical company wanted to drive performance at the manager level to encourage higher employee engagement worldwide. Concepts such as “engagement” are understood and demonstrated differently by different cultures. So we spent time interviewing the managers, employees, and businesses across multiple countries and regions. We wanted to know how the company’s employees operated. Once we found out, we used that information to help the company define how to implement the learning project in a culturally appropriate way. A clear but flexible set of best practices was developed and followed successfully at the local level. The company met its overall objectives of driving engagement and saw an increase in its overall efficiency and revenue.

4 Strategies of Successful Global Business

Getting culturally aware people involved in the project is just the start. Four strategies—Alignment, Inclusion, Sustainability, and Integration—can provide a flexible framework around which to build a successful global learning initiative.

1. Alignment: A natural place to begin is with alignment. It is important to have a “Guiding Coalition” in place that takes accountability for the success of the overall project. This coalition should be staffed with people senior enough to make things happen, who are also culturally aware enough to be sensitive to the project’s intent. The Guiding Coalition focuses on setting the boundaries for success and identifies the “non-negotiables.” However, it is not their job to dictate the exact details of the project implementation.

There needs to be alignment throughout the organization to strategically focus on local markets. During this stage, the strategy, people, and systems come together to support the local needs and the local critical success factors.

We worked with one software security company to implement a global service training initiative. Before launching, executives gathered the directors and managers from the four worldwide regions (Americas, Europe, Asia, and Japan) and together they decided on their vision for service. Each region agreed on the overall strategy and critical success factors, but did so while keeping their local staff, systems, and procedures in mind.

Recognizing that consistent does not always mean the same provides the flexibility and clarity to determine what to do locally and what to do globally.

2. Inclusion: While alignment is about the project’s direction, inclusion is all about people—the people necessary to accomplish the project, and your plan to engage the rest of the organization.

Based on work by Dr. Steve Buchholz, author and strategic business partner with Wilson Learning, the Choice model illustrates that people fall into one of three categories when faced with a choice:

  • Proactive(embracing the change wholeheartedly)
  • Reactive(grudgingly dragging their feet)
  • Inactive(taking a “wait and see” attitude, being disengaged and undetected, just going through the motions)

Typically, 5 to 15 percent fall into the Proactive category, and another 5 to 15 percent fall into Reactive, but a full 80 to 90 percent of the people fall into Inactive. Recognizing this large group becomes significantly more difficult when dealing with multiple cultures, especially because the primary use of energy in Inactive is to remain undetected.

Regarding the pharmaceutical company mentioned earlier, we worked closely with each of the countries in discovering their needs, priorities, and interests. We also spent time understanding the attitudes toward past global projects and ensured that we created an environment of collaboration.

To bring everyone along when developing a global learning initiative, your systems of communication need to ensure a two-way dialog, and the Guiding Coalition needs to listen. Inclusion focuses on engaging employees in the change, rather than simply telling them what to do. People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.

3. Sustainability: Once the project begins, most project managers spend a significant amount of time trying to stay the course. This is labor intensive and stressful. What we have learned from our years of global implementations is that most projects are off course more than they are on course—things change, learning happens, markets never stay still.

For one global organization we were doing classroom training for, we conducted a five-day train-the-trainer program. We spent half the time ensuring the facilitators understood the custom content, and discussed how the content applied across the different cultures. We spent the rest of the time developing their understanding of the client company strategy and initiatives. Then the facilitation team met virtually every month to talk about what they learned while delivering the content and to get additional briefing on strategy in the client organization.

Most organizations have difficulty implementing a shared vision because they have failed to identify and deal with the current reality. Understanding your current reality and where you are gives you the foundation for the adjustments you need to make to hit the target you have established.

Recognize that most of the time you are off course—embrace it, plan for it. Focus more on the outcome; the objective is to hit the target, even if that means going off course to get there.

4. Integration: Of course, you need to integrate your systems, processes, and procedures, but the unit of analysis in this strategy is performance rather than the learning initiative per se. The reason anyone implements a learning project, whether in one country or around the globe, is to affect some performance metric. The effort here is to ensure that learning moves out of the classroom and into the workday.

For a global manufacturing organization, we worked from the Alignment strategy to identify how we could include and engage the learners’ managers in the process. Not only did we provide follow-up learning to participants through application, review, and even peer-to-peer support, we also made sure the managers were active participants. The managers learned the same content, learned how to coach, and actively participated in creating a culture that supported the performance. Through an impact analysis, we measured the impact the learning had on participants’ performance goals.

Remember that it is not about how much you learn, but how much you use!

Fitting the Pieces Together

The intersection of global awareness and project management forms the basis for our success in working with companies all over the world. As globalization increases, so does the need to train your people to work cohesively in a global organization. Assigning globally aware people, managing the project well, and employing the four strategies will equip your organization to implement global learning initiatives successfully.

David Yesford is senior vice president of Wilson Learning Worldwide. He has more than 27 years of experience developing and implementing human performance solutions around the world. He brings experience, strategic direction, and global perspective to his work with clients. Over the years, Yesford has had strategic roles in Wilson Learning’s core content areas of Sales and Leadership, as well as eLearning and Strategic Consulting. He is an active member of the Wilson Learning Global Executive Board, with current responsibility at a global level, and has held managing director positions in both China and India.He is the contributing author of several books, including Win-Win Selling, Versatile Selling, The Social Styles Handbook, and The Sales Training Book 2. For more information, visit www.WilsonLearning.com or call 800.328.7937.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.