10 Questions Global Talent Development Leaders Should Be Asking
Whether you’re a seasoned professional with years of global experience or new to managing a talent development function that crosses borders and languages, the challenges that come with leading a global talent development function can be intimidating. With disparate sets of employment laws and regulations, varying cultural communication and learning styles, and complex logistics that come with crossing times zones and languages, one universal truth becomes quickly evident when developing talent around the world: there is rarely a “best” practice that works well everywhere. The key to successfully leading enterprise-level global talent development functions lies in finding the right balance between centralized controls and local flexibility.
The reality for most global TD leaders today is that they have inherited systems, policies and procedures that were established in relatively simpler times when their company was still domestically-focused or before many of today’s stringent HR regulations existed. Even if you’re talent function was ‘born global’ or has recently launched, the ever-changing global L&D landscape means that it’s probably time to ask yourself the following questions:
1) Do we have the right LMS for our global business needs?
Unless you’ve selected and launched your learning management system in the past few years with specific global compliance needs in mind, the answer is: probably not. In fact, in today’s fragmented business environment filled with hundreds of LMS vendors making worldly claims, a surprisingly few can truly support global organizations. Even if your current provider has translated their interface into numerous local languages, be sure to vet them against the varying legal and compliance requirements of your relevant locations. Can your LMS report the hourly requirements mandated by the Chinese government? Can it suppress test scores in your reports to satisfy your works council agreements in Germany? Does it meet the updated European Union data privacy requirements? Will it allow your employees in Quebec to choose between a French or English interface? If not, you may want to start shopping.
2) Is our tracking data secure enough to meet all global standards?
This question is an off-shoot of the one above, but usually factors in other systems like your HRIS, content authoring software and career development tracking systems as well. Step one: partner with your IT staff to understand the varying data privacy requirements globally - some of the questions can get pretty ‘teckie’. In general, if you: (1) meet the updated EU standards; (2) carefully define and monitor which employees from which countries can see what performance and training data, and; (3) require your vendors to have current ‘Safe Harbor’ certifications, then you’re probably in good shape. However, keep in mind there is also pending legislation in places like Australia and Brazil that could add further complexity to this question soon, so monitor this closely.
3) Has our learning content been translated to other languages and dialects accurately?
Go ahead. Pick any 10-word sentence that uses common business terminology and type that phrase into a language translators found on the internet. After you convert your phrase to a second language, use another language service or app to translate that same phrase back into English. More often than not, the final phrase you get back is not at all the same as what you originally selected. Assuming that your learning content goes well beyond using only ‘common phrases’ and includes detailed industry-specific terms, jargon, and acronyms, what are the chances that your programs also suffer from poor translations?
The most common criticism from employees in global organizations who learn in a second language is that the training materials coming from their headquarters tend to include overly-formal, awkward and confusing terminology. While there are usually multiple reasons how and why this can happen, it often comes down to the simple difference between translating ‘denotations’ versus ‘connotations’. Many professional translation services (and nearly all automated language tools) focus on the literal meanings of words (denotations) for accuracy. What they fail to consistently consider are the connotations of words and phrases, which vary greatly based on dialects, regions and other cultural factors. Ideally you should use real people fluent or native to your target cultures to translate your materials. If you do outsource the translations to a language service contractor, be sure to have a few trusted locals to review your translated content to possibly add conversational phrases and appropriate idioms and jargon into your localized content before you introduce it to the masses.
4) Have we translated our content visually?
You’re confident that the language translations of your programs are effective and customized for each local culture. Good. Now what about your graphics? If you’re showing images of U.S. dollar bills when talking about pricing strategy in France, or teams photos of only Caucasian employees when referring to the Thai workplace, or pictures of a digital clock that reads 3 pm (versus 15:00) when teaching time management in India, then you probably need to customize your visuals as well.
5) Are we adapting our content for different cultural learning styles?
If the most frequent criticisms from global employees pertains to language translations, then objections to culturally insensitive instructional design is a close second. Simply stated: different cultures have very different social norms and expectations when it comes to learning. A classroom-based program that includes an individual competition might be effective in the U.S. but may be seen as awkwardly insensitive in Japan. Having the boss help instruct a class session in Sweden sends a very different message than if you do the same in Columbia. An individual pre-class assignment will have different levels of effectiveness in Italy, Mexico and Korea. Localizing your content generally involves some alterations to the overall instructional design of your program such as translating the word, images, and group interactivity.
6) Are we breaching copyright or intellectual property laws in any countries?
You’re diligent about ensuring that you have the rights and permission to include the photos, illustrations and graphics your organization uses in your training materials in your home country, but you may want to check again to be sure that you are compliant around the world. Many purchased image agreements are country or region-specific. Others have expiration terms. Further, copyright and intellectual property laws can vary from country to country.
7) Do we have the right metrics established for a global audience?
What are the optimal metrics a talent development function should track? That question is debated at most every industry gathering of learning professionals anywhere in the world these days. The reality is that legal and regulatory mandates around the world can render some of that debate moot. Before you decide on your global talent development metrics, it’s critical that you understand the local labor laws of your relevant countries. Sometimes a particular metric that is required in one country is actually forbidden in another. Consider as an example the common metric of tracking training hours. Many employers are required to track and report the aggregate training hours they provide to hourly workers in China. However, in some other countries in Europe such as Germany, works council agreements often forbid tracking and reporting of training hours of individuals. Additionally, many countries have strict regulations of how many hours of training must be provided in specific a local language.
Other metrics to consider: modalities need to be tracked as well in some regions. Italy, for example, has parameters on what programs can be delivered as e-learning versus classroom formats. Metrics may have to be broken down within a country at times as well. In the United States, states like California have labor law training requirements for supervisors while others states in the country leave these topics to the employer’s discretion.
Whichever metrics you settle upon as global standards, recognize that you’ll likely need to allow for flexibility to ensure local compliance as well.
8) Do we have enough of the right people delivering programs locally?
There is no magic ratio that can tell you exactly how many local trainers and subject matter experts you need in your organization. Each organization has unique business challenges and varying levels of complexity. If you are using benchmark data to compare staffing ratios (and you should), be sure to factor out comparable companies that are only domestic or primarily do business in a single languages. Clearly, the larger your organization’s global footprint, the more resources you will need per capita to support the additional complexity of multiple languages, local labor laws, etc. Further, global organizations that have adopted a decentralized L&D function that supports individual business units tend to require more resources than those who have established an enterprise-wide L&D function.
9) Are our learning technology platforms effective and practical in all of our locations?
Talent development professionals love to be on the forefront of technology and innovation. It’s in our DNA to be early adopters. Just be sure to temper your infatuation with new media with the logistical realities of your company. A video-streaming collaboration tool can work very well for virtual learning across the globe … except when your associates in Kuala Lampur can’t access the sessions because of local server bandwidth issues. A cutting edge social learning platform may be a great idea … as long as access to the web-based tool isn’t banned by the government of a country where you have a large population of users. Using tablets and mobile smartphones to display a sales training module makes a lot of business sense for your globally dispersed sales team … except for the staff in remote areas who still don’t consistently have cell service. Working globally often means embracing creative and innovative new technologies, just be sure to understand the needs and logistics of your audience as well.
10) Do we have an immediate and open feedback channel to monitor the global effectiveness of our talent development programs in each culture?
If you do … congratulations! You are well ahead of most global organizations. You were able to quickly get the local employee feedback that the e-learning course you just launched in Sao Paulo, Brazil is getting snickers because it was translated in the local dialect of Lisbon, Portugal. You also know that the cultural adaptations you made of the leadership course designed in the U.S. have helped make the course a success in Tokyo as well.
For the rest of us, this is perhaps the most neglected component of the ADDIE model when running global talent development functions. The net result is that learning teams, usually based in their company’s headquarters, can be sometimes viewed as out of touch with their globally distant customers. The good news here is that some larger global organizations are getting near real-time feedback for their sessions around the world which proves it can be done well. Some of these practice leaders use e-survey tools embedded or linked into their LMS. Others have adopted social learning mechanisms to get the thoughts of their employees. Regardless of the approach you adopt, be sure to find a way to have your customers teach you as much as you teach them about working globally.