Five factors that play a role in an organization’s success or failure whether creating training in-house or working with a vendor.
By David Collins, General Manager, The TRACOM Group’s Training Products Division
The world may not exactly be flat, but it’s certainly getting smaller and more diverse. The declining representation on global lists of companies from G-7 countries is telling. At one time, only 16 percent of Fortune Global 500 companies resided outside of these seven powerhouse countries, but by 2009 that figure had mushroomed to 32 percent. And the number of U.S.-based companies on the Fortune Global 500 has declined from 176 in 2005 to 139 in 2010—a drop to only 28 percent of the prestigious list.
The global nature of business is accelerating rapidly, and so is the business of global training. This ongoing shift in business is creating new opportunities and challenges in the international training field. Increased international demand for higher levels of training and performance is evidenced in the proliferation of e-learning. For example, global learning market research firm Ambient Insight reports that the fastest growth for self-paced e-learning over the next four years will be outside North America. Asia’s demand will increase by almost 35 percent, with Eastern Europe and Latin America filling the next two slots (23 percent and 19 percent, respectively).
More companies are doing more training, in more locations, than ever before, and this trend is expected to continue. To address the challenges businesses face in delivering global training, whether working with a vendor or creating training in-house, below are five factors that play a role in an organization’s success or failure.
1. Organizational & Structural Challenges. As with most international initiatives, the challenge of putting high-quality, consistent global training into practice is significant. While a focus on content and delivery must be maintained, best practices in global training go far beyond the curriculum. Coordination across departments, and geographies, is critical. Everyone involved, from the C-suite down, needs to align training priorities, authority, budgets, technology, and implementation.
SOLUTION: Ask Questions
Because local operations probably are structured quite differently than the U.S. operation, a series of questions should be asked before beginning any international training endeavor. For example, if the initiative is being driven from corporate HR, do the facilitators have the authority or influence to prioritize the program in the targeted geography? Who controls the budget? Will the existing technology support the strategy? Are there feet on the ground to make it work?
2. World-Class Content. The next challenge is high-quality content that truly addresses the need on a global basis. Training must not only be valid, but targeted and replicable over time. In addition, consideration must be given to multiple geographies, cultures, and languages. Even when core concepts are valid, these factors have a tremendous influence over the effectiveness of global training and often require adjustment to achieve the desired outcome.
Including local language, culture, and customs goes a long way toward reducing resistance to training. Include cultural and regional norms, as well. Enlist local champions and collaborate to ensure content is on target. Objections to a training program are difficult when it’s offered in a way that is linguistically and culturally appropriate—and people support what they helped to create.
3. Legal and Data Systems. Myriad regulations regarding data and privacy apply to employee opinion surveys, learning management systems, and staff databases, as well as to individual training initiatives. Other technical considerations include setting minimal system standards for response times on a global or country basis, as well as data backup systems. Protection of personal data is paramount. If the system includes Social Security or similar ID numbers, the rigor of security is critical. How are user names and passwords created and protected? Does the system feature robust levels of security to deter hackers? The same goes for security in systems with credit card processing or other financial transactions. Is the system vulnerable to viruses or other malicious technology?
SOLUTION: Know the Requirements
For example, the U.S. passed the CAN-SPAM law. The European Union has its own EU9546 regulation that limits data usage, as do other countries. Thoroughly research requirements and restrictions and then assess the organization’s ability to meet or exceed them.
4. Evaluating Outside Vendors. Companies that rely on outside vendors for training content, delivery, or platform elements need to make sure these vendors address all the issues outlined in this article. International partners can bring valuable content, delivery expertise, and local market experience to training endeavors. These key factors can strongly affect compliance issues, service, and, ultimately, training impact.
Often, an inclusion of penalties or rewards for vendors is appropriate, as well as detailed objectives so performance can be objectively evaluated. Evaluation of outside vendors should include international experience, language and cultural capabilities, technical infrastructure, and legal compliance. Thoroughly vet outside vendors to make sure they are strategically aligned and operationally capable of meeting designated needs.
5. Logistics. While logistics may not be the most strategic part of a global training program, it can determine the ultimate success of the effort. International logistics are exponentially more complicated, all the way down to the nuts and bolts of printing, shipping, taxation, and customs. Where will the trainers come from and how are they certified?
Culture and geography come into play here, as well. For example, recent austerity measures in EU countries have resulted in traffic-disrupting riots and transit strikes. And who can forget the transportation nightmare wrought by Iceland’s volcanic eruptions? Long holiday festivals may interfere with scheduling, too.
SOLUTION: Plan for the Unplanned
The need for highly detailed documentation is crucial and should include business continuity, disaster planning, appropriate system redundancies, and contingencies to ensure appropriate performance and response to meet client needs. Establishing what level of outages is acceptable and developing appropriate back-up provisions to address unforeseen circumstances is the key to a successful international training effort.
Strategic global training initiatives offer companies a tremendous opportunity to institute and communicate a global culture and identity, and enhance business worldwide. Although significant challenges exist, a well-planned, well-executed endeavor can yield tremendous rewards.
David Collins is General Manager of The TRACOM Group’s Training Products Division. Visit www.socialstyle.com for more information.