The Challenge of Developing Learning for a Global Company

The story you are about to read is one 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. 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 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 first met Meera in graduate school. Both had enrolled in the Master of Science program in Instructional Design and Technology at Purdue University. Early on, they were assigned to partner on a design project and connected on a personal level almost immediately. At first, their conversations were focused on their project, but they soon became friends. Both were passionate about learning in the corporate setting and highly motivated to see people advance in their skills, knowledge, and careers. Their friendship continued even after the eighteen-month program ended.

As they matured in their careers, the two women stayed in contact, tracking each other’s career moves and serving as informal advisors to one another. Lisa made a decision to focus on learning and development inside companies while Meera chose the career path of learning and development consulting for many different companies. Meera’s client base was impressive and contained some of the largest and most innovative companies in the world. 

Lisa’s career as an instructional designer began at a regional grocery chain with nearly 3,000 employees. She liked the challenge and creativity, but she wanted more. So when a director position became available, she applied. The vice president of human resources was thrilled when Lisa put her hat in the ring because, not only was Lisa a highly skilled instructional designer, but she was also a systems thinker. Her project management skills were unparalleled. None of her colleagues were surprised that she was offered the job. In her new role, Lisa determined that she needed a stronger foundation in business so she entered an MBA program. She knew that the degree would open even more possibilities in the future. 

As the grocery chain grew, learning needs expanded. The next job that became available was chief learning officer, a role completely new to the company. Again, Lisa applied and again, she was offered the job and accepted it. 

Meera watched Lisa’s progress with pride. They spoke often in the times when Lisa was contemplating the next move. In her tenure as CLO, Lisa frequently called Meera looking for friendly advice and an outsider’s perspective.

Meera’s career had developed rapidly too. After completing her degree, she spent a few years working for a small learning company but was then offered a role at Ingenuiti, a company that served corporations by creating custom learning solutions and then translating and localizing them for any audience. Ingenuiti was larger than her first company, with offices in several countries. This meant more opportunities for Meera. Her initial role was a senior instructional designer but, like Lisa, she moved up quickly and was soon a director. In this position, she worked as a consultant for some of the largest companies in the world: household name brands and multinational corporations.

Meera found the work rewarding as her job encompassed not just instructional design but also the challenge of creating learning experiences in many languages for a variety of cultures. While she did not follow Lisa in the MBA program, she did become an expert in translation and localization. Lisa could not have been more proud of her.

Once Lisa accepted the CLO position at the grocery store chain, more opportunities came her way quickly. After leaving the retail grocery store chain, she spent five years as the chief learning officer of a US-based hotel chain where she applied what she already knew while also enhancing her skills. One of her biggest achievements was perfecting the systems that helped her team deliver excellent learning experiences. 

Lisa’s next career move was to a tier-two auto parts maker just outside Detroit, Michigan with more than 10,000 employees. It was her first real experience working in a company whose activities included non-US locations. Her company worked in the US as well as Canada and Mexico because of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Spanish and French were now part of her everyday life as she and her team designed and built a variety of learning assets.

Then came a phone call Lisa did not expect. A recruiting firm reached out to ask if she would be interested in talking about a CLO role in a global enterprise-level pharmaceutical company. The recruiter was not at liberty to identify the company until Lisa agreed to and completed the initial screening process, but she did learn that it was one of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies in the world with more than $100 billion in revenue and over 50,000 employees. The company had manufacturing plants in twenty-seven different countries with fifteen global distribution centers.  It was headquartered in New York and supplied one hundred and fifty countries with needed pharma products.

The final comment from the recruiter stuck in Lisa’s head long after the phone call ended, which was already swimming from this initial contact. The company produced learning in fifty-five different languages. In her current role, she and her team worked with only English, Spanish, and French tailored to the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Lisa told the recruiter that while feeling a little overwhelmed, she was interested in continuing the conversation. The process had begun.

Her first call was to her husband. The call went to voicemail, and she simply said, “Exciting news! Let’s talk tonight.” Her second phone call was to Meera. Obviously, she could not talk about this to anyone on her own team and she knew that Meera would give her some perspective. 

“So,” said Lisa after summarizing the conversation with the recruiter, “what do you think?”

Meera had been quiet while Lisa provided details. She had a lot of questions but thought it best to let Lisa tell her story without interruption. 

Meera laughed out loud. “What do I think?” she asked. 

“I think what you think matters a lot more! Who would have thought something like this was even possible all those years ago when we were getting our degrees together? On the other hand, I’m not really all that surprised. You have faced every new position with skill and determination. It should not be a shock that you are in the running for a job like this! Do you have any idea what the company might be?” asked Lisa.

“I do, and I suspect you do too,” replied Meera. “It has to be Delpharma. At least that is a top contender because they are based in New York City and they are about the right size.”

“Honestly,” said Lisa, “I didn’t think of that but of course you are right. It has to be them.”

“What happens next?” asked Meera.

“I go through the initial screening and then begin the interview process,” said Lisa. “I’ve been through some intense interviews in the past, but I’m guessing this will be on a completely new level.”

“I’m sure you’re right about that. This is a very different level of complexity,” said Meera, smiling. 

“Do you think I even have a shot at something like this?” asked Lisa.

“Of course you do!” said Meera. “You are a serious candidate, you have the right experience, and you interview well. Just be yourself, say what you think, and see where it goes. It will be a great experience no matter what happens.”

“That’s what I needed to hear,” said Lisa. “I knew you would be in my corner.”

“Always have been and always will be. Well, I need to get to a meeting, but before I hang up, let me ask you something. You can answer now, or you can think about it and get back to me.”

“Fire away,” said Lisa, “and I’ll do my best to give you a thoughtful answer.”

Meera paused for a moment, not for effect but because she wanted to make sure she phrased her question correctly. “I know you’ve got a lot of processing to do with the information you just received,” said Meera, “so I’m just asking for a first reaction. What is making you most anxious about this job?”

“The whole thing!” said Lisa, laughing. “ I don’t need to think about it. I’ve led learning teams in high pressure situations and my teams and I have put in place all sorts of creative solutions to learning problems, but I’m sure this new opportunity will be more intense if I get the job. It will be a bigger team for sure!”

“You haven’t really answered my question,” said Meera, “and you’ve already said you know the answer. So just say it.”

“Fifty-five languages,” said Lisa with a sigh. “I’ve worked in English, French, and Spanish and that was a big challenge for me and my team. Fifty-five languages? How is that even possible?!”

“If you get the job, said Meera, “there will be people there who already know how to do that.”

“I know that,” said Lisa, “but it would be my job to lead them. I have my processes and structures to work in producing three languages and they are all in the same continent, but I have no idea if they will work in a multilingual, multicultural global company.”

“And that is why you called me, right?” asked Meera.

“That’s only partly true,” said Lisa. “I wanted to share this news with you and get your perspective. But yeah, I also need to talk about how to build learning that I know will be translated into almost five dozen languages. This is what you do, and I assume you can get me started.”

“Of course, I can!” said Meera excitedly. “If the interviews go well and you are offered the job, we can set up some time to talk through all this. I’ll even take a few days off so we can meet face-to-face.”

“I so appreciate you and your willingness to help me,” said Lisa. “Stay tuned. I’ll either text you or call you and let you know the latest. Wish me luck!”

“Wishing you success!” said Meera. “Can’t wait to hear how it goes.”

After the phone call ended, Lisa had a sense of calm about whether she would be qualified for the position, but her level of anxiety grew about the fifty-five languages. She was confident that Meera was in her corner and would be helpful, but she also knew that she had a lot to learn about leading learning in a global, multicultural, multilingual company.

If you are interested in learning more, we invite you to contact us at 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.

Jerry Zandstra
AUTHOR: Jerry Zandstra is Ingenuiti’s Senior Director of Learning. Dr. Zandstra holds two masters’ degrees and two doctorates, and he has been in the learning, training, and development space for more than thirty years. eLearning Industry has named Dr. Zandstra as a Global Learning Trailblazer for 2022 and 2023.