With employees spread out over 41 countries and speaking five languages, delivering effective training within DHL Express Sales Asia-Pacific is no easy feat. It’s up to the training and development department to bring continuity to DHL’s overall learning philosophy while reaching across continents and cultures.
Streamlining training content is necessary to ensure cross-cultural success within the training and development department, said Malcolm Rees, DHL Express Sales Asia-Pacific vice president.
“We have to balance the approach,” Rees said. “For example, the training course we give to the Japanese may not translate well literally, and so we need to ensure, after the translation, what they said is well-translated and understood, and they still make the strong message they want to make. We try to cultivate behavior that we are looking for, irrespective of language or culture.”
This approach requires broad thinking. In sales terms, however, broad thinking usually means narrowing down the curriculum to its absolute minimum.
This is a potentially risky move, considering the differences of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Rees and DHL management reconcile this by putting the premium on the trainers themselves, not just the training program.
“The philosophy I adopt is, basically, you can have a great training course, but if you’ve got very poor delivery, you’ve got a poor training course,” Rees said. “And then, if you have a poor training course but a great trainer, you’ve still got a poor training course.”
Irrespective of the program and the trainer, the organization faces training challenges that are both unique and similar to what more domestic sales trainers face. In regard to similarities, the cost of implementation — everything from training the trainers to auditing and metrics —worries most trainers, no matter their location.
A more specialized challenge for the training and development department and its manager, Gwendy Krijger, is trying to maintain consistency for standardization’s sake while trying to have local appeal. For clarity and motivation, the local language must be in the program, but the cost of translating e-learning programs into four or five different languages and doing voice-overs for the audio portions can prove costly.
Rees and Krijger work closely with the budget and try to be as flexible as they can when it comes to localized training. With respect to the cost of e-learning translation, DHL has to make decisions about when to use high-end or low-end production, weighing the cost of development against the cost of trainees not learning.
Krijger said the business side of DHL is more helpful than anything else in regard to flexibility.
“This is where the significance of our strategy to have sales training as part of the business function is critical, as it relies on the commercial management to path the way for alignment of strategies and priorities,” Krijger said. “For example, a regional sales campaign for a certain product can generate greater combined success and consistency of effort, as would a focus on a topic such as pipeline management — it’s everyone’s problem, so let’s solve it with one training swoop and deliver a professional product.
“That said, our company has an inherent global culture, which in many areas, transcend national cultures and, therefore, acceptance and adoption is not that difficult, given our management style and leadership.”
Implementing e-learning on a wide scale, however, still remains a difficult task. Language barriers and budget being the biggest roadblocks it faces, more than 80 percent of DHL’s Express Sales Asia-Pacific learning is done in the classroom.
Coupled with the instructor-based learning is a blended approach — every trainee must complete an online pre- and post-assessment for the classroom portion. Krijger said that because of DHL’s multicultural challenges, instructor-led training is still the company’s chosen delivery method, despite the industry’s move toward e-learning.
“It’s more efficient, but we’re recognizing more and more that we have to start becoming a lot more effective in our e-learning area,” Krijger said. “DHL Global is working on a standard sales force e-learning program that would go across all language barriers and be easily translatable. Our main cost is on delivery — we balance the solution with both outsourced and in sourced trainers. For example, most skills trainings are delivered through partners, and things such as sales induction, product, process, tools, etc., are delivered at local levels through a dedicated sales training manager, which exists in most countries.”
DHL also tackles its global-training challenges through its learning management system, the Asia Pacific Learning Center (APLC), a set calendar of all the skills programs that run throughout the Asia-Pacific region. APLC allows smaller countries to avoid a stockpiling effect to have enough trainees to justify a class.
In light of the cultural and linguistic differences that occur within APLC, DHL’s structured sales program tries to be as universal and relevant as possible.
“Every salesperson follows a structured sales training and development curriculum when he or she enters into a role,” Krijger said. “This road map is defined per sales function and accommodates basic to advanced sales skills. The focus of the curriculum is on sales skills, sales induction, sales process and tools and, of course, in-depth company knowledge such as products and network capability.”
All the training managers from all parts of the world get together a few times a year to discuss overall strategy and individual problems and Krijger said she shares more problems with similar multicultural regions.
“My European and emerging-markets counterpart has to deal with the language and culture issue similarly to my situation, whereas my U.S. counterpart has a different share of challenges but is operating in one country, language and culture,” Krijger said.
The countries that make up DHL’s Asia-Pacific region are different not just in terms of language but also in their business culture. For instance, China has a very high employee turnover rate compared with Japan’s exceptionally low one. As a result, it can be difficult to apply similar metrics to measure the region’s success.
“Companies like DHL, who have a reputation for training their people from Day 1 on the job, often fall prey to employees who choose to join for the free training and then seek employment elsewhere,” Krijger said. “This is especially a challenge in the emerging markets, where a hungry and learning workforce hopes to gain exposure and training.
“The challenge, then, is for our HR group to keep up with the accelerated growth and to offer exceptional pay and benefits. Our focus on sales managers is, therefore, so critical to be the living sales coach so that his or her salesperson has a high level of employee engagement and wants to stay in the company. Frankly, well-trained sales people become a market commodity.”
The unique challenges facing Krijger, Rees and the rest of DHL management regarding training are somewhat offset by the standardization of the material used to train the salespeople. The process could take years, so flexibility in the specific training areas is a must to properly prepare the sales force.
On a constant search to find the balance between corporate control and local flexibility, Krijger retains the confidence of DHL’s top brass
“It’s very simple — we have strong, aligned leadership in DHL,” Krijger said. “From Malcolm to the sales managers, the work style we use is, ‘There is no option, this is how we’re going to do it,’ with necessary flexibility, of course.”
– Ben Warden, email@example.com
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