Go Global…But Keep it Local

Published on 2013-07-17

Source: tuchodi @ Flickr
AS I GLANCED AT THE VARYING sizes of the mountains of printed training material in front of me, I couldn’t help but wonder if somewhere in China, a forest was crying. Spread out around the training room were question sheets, activity sheets, picture cards, trainee handbooks, a trainer manual which would make War and Peace look like a pamphlet and a rather threatening pile entitled ‘disturbance cards’. Clearly the person who had designed this course believed in leaving nothing to chance and their disregard for the value of trees in their upright state suggested a deep seated anger at the ozone layer.
On paper, (and in this case I mean reams and reams of paper) a globally standardised soft skills training course offers a number of benefits which locally designed training does not have. Having trainees from all corners of a company’s international operation ‘reading from the same hymn book’ should guarantee consistency of message. The quantity of training ordered should provide the negotiators in procurement a high level of power when searching out the most competitively priced vendors. Finally, quality control becomes easier as the multinational need only deal with one provider, so accountability is easier to pin down.
However, a ‘one size fits all’ approach, with the soft skills training course being designed in one region but delivered in many stands a very good chance of falling foul of cultural idiosyncrasies and characteristics. A tailor who does away with his tape measure in favour of mass producing one size of clothing will inevitably sell a lot of ill-fitting suits. Likewise, a training course designed in the U.S. by American trainers with a North American mindset will probably hit the mark in the States, work well in Northern Europe, but begin to wobble a little in Southern Europe before getting totally lost in Asia and Africa.
The copious amounts of printed materials in front of me the other week was a direct result of this issue. In order to ‘cover all the bases’ the training designer had felt the need to add so many exercises, handouts and colourful extras that, like a PPT slide filled from top to bottom with words, the key message was in danger of being swamped by the amount of reading matter.
Earlier this year, while I was delivering another internationally standardised soft skills training in China, the Global Training Director confided in me that his company had invested huge sums of money with a number of U.S. based global training providers to design and deliver this training. He added with a sigh that, “It worked well in the States, but we just can’t get it right in Asia”.
Through no fault of their own, even the most experienced trainer will struggle to adapt the style and content of their training to a new audience who hail from a totally different cultural background. I can remember watching an American based trainer giving a training in Shanghai. He possessed a phenomenal knowledge of the topic and had provided training and coaching to many high level executives in his native land. However, after a morning spent asking questions of his group of Chinese trainees, hoping for a volunteer to answer, and being greeted with a wall of polite silence, he was somewhat close to breaking point. In the States and other Western countries it can be a challenge to stop trainees voicing opinions and challenging ideas. In China, you must encourage, cajole and provoke a vocal response and you must ask individuals to answer rather than addressing a group.
This year has seen a marked increase in the number of global training programs which we at ClarkMorgan have been asked to facilitate in China. Many multinationals seem to be coming round to the idea that by mixing a global design with locally experienced trainers, the training stands a much greater chance of success. The challenge for the trainer is to be able to maintain the standardised message of the training (thus satisfying the company’s need) whilst adapting the material to suit his or her specific audience. Of course, if it was easy then everyone would be a trainer.
I may be more than a little biased here, but never underestimate the importance of choosing the right trainer when planning a training. A good trainer can bring even the worst materials to life and make sure the training message gets across. On the flip side, even if the materials were written by Shakespeare, illustrated by da Vinci and embossed in gold leaf, a trainer who is unfamiliar with the cultural habits of his audience will kill the training stone dead.