My first experience leading a global learning program was in Paris for a high-tech firm. The U.S.-based parent company merged with a company that had European offices. My part involved discussing the importance of culture and values in the newly acquired company. Within five minutes, I was challenged by a European colleague — who was I to lecture this group from Spain, Netherlands, France, the U.K. and Germany about culture? I realized that a global learning strategy is highly complicated.
At present, my team and I are creating a global learning strategy. The purpose is to align business goals and communicate how the professional development team assists in achieving those goals. The strategy’s key components are business goals; learning team mission, goals and tasks; and metrics.
First, consider the business goals. What is the organization trying to achieve? Is it focused on operating on a global level — expanding its reach by opening offices in other countries or selling its products internationally? The learning strategy must align with the organization’s business strategy.
Next is the learning team’s mission statement: This is the cornerstone of your learning strategy. It communicates the team’s purpose and value. Explicitly including words such as global, multinational or international guides the intention of geographic inclusivity.
Next up: goals and tasks. Learning leaders in organizations incorporated in the U.S. may unknowingly and primarily consider the perspective of “headquarters.” This tends to narrow a viewpoint if the company has locations globally. Being deliberate about gathering internal and external data from global colleagues supports a holistic perspective. This process gathers not only the information needed to develop global learning goals, but it allows for relationship building and an understanding of cultural nuances. Specific projects may be implemented firmwide or locally because they are critical to the culture or competencies of a business. Consider the following when developing or implementing global programs.
Operate globally, act locally. When implementing a local program or a large-scale talent initiative that includes all offices, being aware of cultural nuances is an asset. Meet with local HR, business managers and other leaders. Take small steps and build quick wins to earn credibility and trust by showing an interest in the overall culture.
Piloting the program to ensure cultural acceptance allows for cultural adjustments. If the budget allows, travel to meet employees, understand the learning facilities and, yes, even the food — any detail that impacts your program. Arrange for participants to attend programs in their home office. Travel and time zone changes impact the learner’s ability to absorb content.
Develop cultural intellect. Working in sync with underlying cultural norms and the history of the country puts the leader in good stead. Asking questions and observing can bridge that gap. Be curious and interested in their culture. Being aware of societal needs or political climate is necessary. It may be helpful to have a local leader co-teach the program to add cultural context or to translate terms. This symbolizes leadership’s alignment to its learners. Give local leaders a voice as to who is the best fit to teach the program.
Finally, words matter. Inattention to the spelling of words (organization versus organisation, or program versus programme) can be a distraction during the learning process. Also, the meaning of words, such as calendar versus diary, or the interpretation of words, such as “tips and tools,” may be perceived as negative depending on the country.
Remember, a truly global learning strategy is fluid and reflects that the leader is perceptive and learning themselves.