How to Begin Building a Global Training Program

The first step is to define global training for your organization.

By Jennifer Lawrence, Founder, Cambridge Corporate Training

If your company has operations or customers outside the United States, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “global training.” Maybe you’ve even thought, “These days, most leading companies operate in different cultures and countries. Our employees need global training to perform most effectively.” The notion of preparing your workforce to manage across borders makes sense. What’s often less clear is just what “global training” implies: Does it refer to a particular topic? A specific curriculum? A set of consistent learning goals? Or to shared headquarters input?

This article will help you determine:

  • How to define global training for your organization
  • Where to prioritize program development for global training
  • Who to involve in the process

Define Global Training

The first step in building a global training program is to develop a shared understanding of what “global training” means. Which of these descriptions best fits your organization?

  •  We need ONE SET of CONTENT on ONE TOPIC (working effectively across cultures and borders), delivered to employees in ALL REGIONS.
  • We need ONE SET of CONTENT on MULTIPLE TOPICS, delivered to employees in ALL REGIONS.
  • We need ONE SET of LEARNING GOALS for MULTIPLE TYPES of CONTENT and TOPICS, delivered to employees in ALL REGIONS.
  • We need MULTIPLE LEARNING GOALS, TYPES of CONTENT, and TOPICS, delivered to employees in ALL REGIONS, with INPUT from our HEADQUARTERS training and development team.

Prioritize Your Program Development Focus—Content, Design, or Both?

Introducing global training requires renewed focus on developing content and instructional design. Certainly, one challenge you may face is having too little applicable content. However, having too much content also can present a challenge, if material available across company locations is unrelated or inconsistent.

Not enough global training content?If growing numbers of employees operate internationally, and this is your organization’s initial foray into global training, sessions that offer practical guides to different business cultures are a good place to begin. Whether employees’ international exposure comes from interacting on a virtual team or from face-to-face meetings with clients, training your workforce to engage more effectively across cultures and borders can improve the bottom line, as well as broaden perspectives, enhance communication, and deepen engagement. Offering global training sessions conveys that your company:

  • Understands and appreciates the distinctiveness of various culture
  • Believes that learning to operate effectively and ethically in cultures other than one’s own is an essential skill for employees to master

Too much global training content?Perhaps, however, your organization has long since adapted to operating in different countries: Employees are equally comfortable discussing curling or cricket, know the exchange rate for euros, and regularly work across multiple continents and time zones. Here, your challenge may be to coordinate and rationalize the wealth of training offerings provided by regional offices and departments.

“Global training” in this context refers to the commitment by your organization’s learning and development professionals to creating a shared set of learning objectives and modules that will benefit all employees, regardless of work location. Start by generating an inventory of all relevant training programs available throughout your company’s far-flung locations. Maybe an inspiring and informative training series created in one region can be replicated to benefit employees around the world. Or, perhaps your organization can offer a unifying training program to all employees, in conjunction with a company-wide event or through a Webinar.

How to teach global training content?Global training can present distinct challenges for determining appropriate instructional design. Employees may be accustomed to different educational interactions depending on location. For example, while Americans expect training to offer opportunity for group discussion, and to include open-ended questioning of both trainer and audience, Chinese and Korean employees may expect an instructor to deliver content in lecture format with little or no questioning, as a sign of respect and attentiveness.

Learning professionals must decide if training content that, for example, lends itself to a creative brainstorming discussion in one region can be effectively transmitted in a “just the facts” format comfortable for employees in another location, or if content and design are inextricably linked. If adjusting design will undermine content, supplementing the instructional format by first explaining the purpose of novel teaching techniques and offering a short example or practice exercise will enable employees to absorb and apply the material more effectively. Deciding whether to use a consistent delivery method, or to adapt training formats by region, sends a signal about your organization’s assessment of its international presence and adaptability to cultural norms.

Determine Who to Involve in the Process
The more inclusive the process, the more reach and support your global training program will gain from the start. Inviting executives and clients from different regions to share perspectives and offer suggestions is especially important. Before launching a new program, decide which managers will participate in:

  • Determining global training content, teaching method, and delivery locations
  • Planning the program launch and ensuring effective implementation
  • Creating a clear assessment process to determine the training’s utility

A Sustainable Global Training Program

Developing a shared definition of global training, prioritizing your program development focus, and designing an inclusive process will enable you to develop sustainable global training programs that will elevate your workforce’s competencies in managing across cultures and borders.

In my next article, I’ll explore what types of content and instructional design are most successful for global training?

Jennifer Lawrenceis the founder of Cambridge Corporate Training, which provides advanced management education to business professionals around the globe. Previously, she headed corporate relations for Harvard Business School’s executive education programs and was a professor at Boston University’s School of Management. Lawrence began her career as a marketing executive at Reebok International. She holds an MBA and an M.Ed from Harvard University and can be reached at: jennifer@cambridgecorporatetraining.com.

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