The story you are about to read is the fourth chapter in a series based on a composite of real learning leaders in real situations. The company, Delpharma, is not an actual company but, as you will see, it faces a very real challenge: how to deliver learning experiences in a global, multilingual, multicultural environment. Those readers who have faced this challenge will recognize themselves in this story. If you are interested in learning more, we invite you to contact us at email@example.com and we will be happy to continue the conversation. If you would like to receive the ebook with all chapters included, click below in ‘Sign Up Today’ here and we will send you the full ebook when it is available.
Lisa and Meera had already covered a lot of ground. Their relationship began in graduate school as each was completing her master’s degree in instructional design and technology, nearly twenty years ago. They stayed in contact for the past two decades, tracking each other’s careers and encouraging one another in challenging times.
Lisa was in the middle of one of those challenging times. Since graduation, she moved up the corporate ladder fairly quickly. Beginning as an instructional designer for a regional grocery chain, she eventually became its first chief learning officer. After a few years, she took a job at a US-based national discount hotel chain. It was not glamorous but she had deep affection for the people on her team and those who advanced their skills through training.
Her next role was with a midsized auto parts manufacturer located outside Detroit. Again she served as the CLO and had a solid team around her of instructional designers and learning developers. Because the company had plants in Mexico and Canada, Lisa had to learn the process for developing in languages beyond English. Almost everything her team built was translated into Spanish. The French language courses were less common but the ones that were translated were vitally important to the company. Lisa was happy with her job, her company, and her team. She thought this might be the place where she would spend most of her career.
That remained true until a phone call from a recruiter changed her life. She was asked to apply for a chief learning officer role at a pharmaceutical company called Delpharma. During the interview process, Lisa was often struck by the sheer size and needs of a company with more than 50,000 employees and twenty-seven plants around the world with many other distribution centers. During the interview process, someone said that the sun never set on Delpharma. A glance at a map told her this was true.
The other thing that stuck in her mind and caused some anxiousness was the fact that Delpharma translated its learning content into fifty-five languages. In her previous role at the auto parts maker, she knew that translation into Spanish and French was challenging enough.
From talking to her peers in the learning industry, she knew that translation was usually the most difficult component of building learning experiences. Many times, those taking a course in Spanish would complain that there were too many mistakes or that the examples used did not make any sense in Mexico. Idioms didn’t fit, technical terms were wrong and sometimes the images and colors did not fit their culture.
A leader in their Mexico plant once told her that it didn’t seem like the employees were as important as the employees in the United States. It was like the learning experiences were all built for US learners and those in other cultures and languages got to look in from the outside through a dirty window. Lisa never forgot that conversation. It was at that moment that she began to learn the importance of translation and localization. Yes, courses had been translated, although not particularly well. No, they had not been localized to fit the cultures into which they were released.
There was another issue that was nearly impossible to solve. While her learning team had some language skills in Spanish and French, none of them could be considered experts. They would almost always contract with a translation company, but still technical terms were missed and the people doing the translation lacked any background in instructional design or learning science. In many places, the translation was not consistent. When the translations were returned to Lisa’s team, she had no real way to do quality control and often did not know there was a translation problem until a course was released in Mexico and the complaints began to roll in. Usually, it was months before she knew she had a problem.
As Lisa was in the process of leaving her job at the auto parts company and taking up a new role at Delpharma, sleep didn’t come easy. She was confident in her ability to lead a team. What kept her up was the complexity of two languages that were about to become nearly five dozen languages.
Her initial classmate and now friend, Meera, was also in corporate learning. Rather than working with a single company, Meera worked for Ingenuiti as a consultant who helped large organizations think about translation and localization challenges. This was not initially where she saw her career going. She assumed she would mostly spend her time as an instructional designer building innovative learning experiences with the latest technology. But as she worked with various clients, it became clear to Meera that one of the biggest challenges for multinational corporations was, indeed, translation and localization. Over the past twenty years, she had seen, worked on, or heard most of the possible problems and had been part of developing the right solutions.
When Lisa called Meera to tell her about the new role at Delpharma, Meera knew the call was for more than sharing great news with a good friend. Lisa needed help and she knew Meera would be there for her.
They arranged to meet at Lisa’s temporary apartment in New York near Delpharma’s headquarters. Lisa would show Meera the sights in NYC while Meera would help Lisa think about an approach to her translation anxiety.
They had already covered the definitions of translation and localization. Meera also created a high-level framework for Lisa so that when she talked about building learning experiences at Delpharma, she would also keep the reality of what she was doing in front of her.
Meera said that Lisa should think of her primary role as creating GMMLX or global, multilingual, multinational learning experiences. Of course, that would not always be true. Some courses might be created in English only, but those would likely be the exceptions.
Meera’s point was that Lisa’s job was greater and broader than just creating English language courses for people who live in the US that were later translated into other languages, for other learners, in other cultures. She had seen this far too often among her clients. She wanted Lisa to become a global thinker. It was the best way for her to serve Delpharma and its people around the world.
They also covered the ADDIE model: analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. Both acknowledged the shortcomings of the model. Originally, it was inflexible and not iterative, but they also agreed that each of these five steps was essential to the creation of creative, solid learning experiences.
Meera reminded Lisa that she was not asking her to implement an entirely new system for creating learning in multiple languages for multiple cultures. She was, however, asking Lisa to think about how to apply that system in a new way with additional complexity for translation and localization. Lisa agreed and so they began by focusing on the A in ADDIE: analysis. Specifically on what Meera called the ‘discovery’ component of analysis.
“I should warn you that it is not my role to answer the questions I’m going to ask you,” said Meera. “I can help you best by thinking with you about the main questions you need to be asking in the discovery process, or the analysis phase.”
“I’m confident that if you help me frame the right questions,” responded Lisa, “I will be able to work with my new team to get the right answers.”
“My list won’t be exhaustive,” said Meera. “As you get into your new role as Delpharma’s CLO, I’m sure you will add to it. It is very likely that members of your team have already thought through many of these questions.”
“This will at least give them the impression that I know something about what I’m doing,” said Lisa.
“The first question,” said Meera, “is one you might ask before you even begin the discovery process; who will be represented in the room? Who will be involved in the discovery process you are about to begin? Are there perspectives that are not being considered and should be?”
“So, if a problem comes my way and learning appears to be part of the solution,” said Lisa, “I should begin by asking myself and my team who should be involved in the process?”
“That is the very best place to start,” said Meera. “The challenge will be to land somewhere between not enough and too many. In the first instance, you will miss out on important voices from other locations, languages, and cultures. In the second, you will have so many voices that you will never make timely progress. I can’t tell you what the right number is. I can only encourage you to think hard about who needs to be at the table when you are doing your analysis and trying to nail down what you need to know in the discovery phase.”
“Got it,” said Lisa, intently taking notes. “What else?”
“Next,” said Lisa, “you need a clear definition of the problem you are trying to solve through learning. That will be key.”
“But how is that different from any other learning situation?” asked Lisa. “I’ve done that in every CLO role I’ve had over the years.”
“I’m sure you have but given that you will be working in so many locations and nations,” responded Meera, “you need to ask if the problem you are trying to solve through learning is a global, regional, or local issue. I’ve seen it before where a problem at a single plant rises somehow and becomes something that everyone in the entire organization needs to know. Your training might solve it for the one plant, but the rest of the locations are left wondering why they are learning something they don’t need to know, or they already do very well.”
“How will I find that out?” asked Lisa.
“By developing connections with the leaders at each location,” said Meera. “I know there are nearly 30 global plants, but your relationship with key leaders at each location is going to become a vital source of information. You need to be very intentional about doing this right from the start. Every location will have a person who knows their landscape. Find out who they are and get to know their needs. When you suspect a problem is local, rather than global, you will save yourself a lot of frustration.”
Meera paused for a moment while Lisa caught up on her note-taking. When Lisa looked up, Meera continued, “Now to one of the most difficult questions. Who are your learners?”
“I’ve thought about this,” said Lisa. “In my previous jobs, I knew the culture was not monolithic even when I was working for the regional grocery store. Many cultures were presented and, for many, English was a second language. Is this just an extension of that?”
“I don’t disagree,” replied Meera, “that even in a region in the US, many cultures are represented as well as many languages. In that instance, you might have subcultures that are still part of a more common culture. Where you will be working, it is the common culture that will be completely different. Your culture might not even be a subculture.”
“Let me think about that for a minute,” said Lisa who was now chewing on the end of her pen.
“Before you get too deep,” said Meera, “we will be spending an hour later today on both translation and localization. “For now, let’s just get the question down as something you need to consider deeply.”
“Some of the remaining questions are pretty standard,” continued Meera. “Things like a list of topics and your learning objectives and desired outcomes. You will certainly want to create a list of the target languages and cultures. I’d suggest at this point you start to think about an SME for each culture.”
“You mean a subject matter expert on the topic for each culture?” Lisa asked, wondering how that could possibly work.
“No,” replied Meera. “I mean developing a list of each culture you work in no matter what the topic is and then figuring out who can best help you understand that culture. It might be the local leader in a specific location like we talked about before, but sometimes, the local leader in a specific plant is not actually from that culture. What you want is someone you can call and ask a quick question of when you need deeper insight into a culture. These people will prove to be invaluable.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” said Lisa.
“Just a few more,” said Meera, “and again, I am assuming you will add to this list over time. What roles will you need on your development team and what cultures will they represent? What topic SMEs will you need? Whose voice do you want to make sure are included in the design and development stages?”
Lisa’s note-taking intensified.
“You will want to identify your key performance metrics early on,” said Meera, “but know that there might be some variation in the different cultures so be attentive to that.”
Meera paused again, waiting for Lisa to catch up.
Meera continued, “And one final thing, you will want to benchmark what other multinationals are doing to create excellent global, multilingual, multicultural learning experiences. You will certainly have peers, some of whom will be willing to help you and share ideas. Make use of them. Get to know them. Share ideas with them.”
“Isn’t that what you are for?” said Lisa now laughing out loud.
“Of course!” said Meera, also laughing. “You know that I am always here for you, but you should put some serious effort into getting to know your peers. You can learn so much from them in a very short amount of time. I’ve always found the learning community to be open and willing to share.”
“I know what you mean,” said Lisa. “Time for a break. What are we going to talk about next?”
“Over lunch, we will talk about your learners,” replied Meera. “But first, we need some food. I saw a deli down the street that looked like a pretty good option. Have you eaten there yet?”
“I have not but I know the one you mean, and it sounds like a great idea,” said Lisa. “Give me five minutes and I’ll be ready.”
If you are interested in learning more, we invite you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to continue the conversation. If you would like to receive the ebook with all chapters included, click below in ‘Sign Up Today‘ and we will send you the full ebook when it is available.