What Are the Biggest Challenges of Learning for a Global Workforce? Pt. 2

Jerry Zandstra (JZ): Miriam and Nathan, I’m again grateful for your time and your insights. This is the second part of our conversation about creating learning opportunities for companies and organizations that operate globally. In the first discussion, we focused on the challenges common to learning leaders who work in multinational organizations. I suspect many learning leaders were already familiar with why such a thing is hard to do. In this conversation, we will talk about very practical solutions the two of you have seen and implemented for our clients.

Miriam Taylor (MT): I’m glad we are moving to solutions. It is easy to spend time doing what I call “admiring the problems.” As you said, Jerry, most learning professionals are already familiar with them. I know it is important to define the challenges first and I’m glad we went through that exercise, but practicality is what most of our colleagues need.

Nathan Driscoll (ND): Agreed. Clarity on challenges is necessary. Solutions are where we can turn challenges into opportunities. 

JZ: Let’s begin with the beginning of the process: Needs Analysis. What are some of the best practices you have seen when working with a global company?

MT: I think a key place to begin, no matter the geographic footprint of the organization, is with how the proposed learning ties in with the business objectives of the company. If that connection is not clear or if the learning experiences are not accomplishing business goals, then perhaps now is not the right time or some other learning initiative needs to take priority. 

ND: I can add a layer to that. Learning professionals who have done this well not only look at global business objectives but also as regional business objectives. Sometimes what is needed in one region of the world is not a priority for other regions. One very simple way to do this is to create a map with all regions or nations and ask, ‘what is the priority level for this training in each region?’ If a high priority for one region but not for others, focus on developing for the learners that need it. Translation and localization for other regions can be developed later as their priorities change.

MT: That’s an excellent clarification. That can help level out budgets too because when many languages are involved, the translation cost can be prohibitive. Better to build what is needed now and localize it later, perhaps in a different budget cycle. 

JZ: That begs a further question. How will learning leaders know what is needed where in the Needs Analysis phase?

MT: I would start by looking at who is included in the Needs Analysis. Is everyone who will be doing the analysis in the same country? If so, more voices are likely needed. I’ve recently worked with a client who developed a Needs Analysis in the US and then sent it to leaders in four different regions of the world asking for their input. Of course, that assumes the US based team is not isolated and has in place the relationships needed to make this request. Learning leaders need to have global and diverse relationships with leaders in their organization from around the world. 

ND: Part of the Needs Analysis process is identifying all the stakeholders. For multinational organizations, it is likely that stakeholders will be from many parts of the world. I’ve seen both extremes. In some cases, not enough global stakeholders are included and so many important voices are not part of the process. On the other end of the spectrum are projects with so many stakeholders that it is difficult to make any progress. Finding the right balance is key. 

JZ: Let’s move on to the design phase. I know each of you has worked with hundreds of clients in this step. What do the best learning organizations do?

MT: In some ways, the best practices here are related to those in the Needs Analysis phase. Who will be part of the design process? Some companies have centralized learning hubs where all learning is developed by a single large team. Other companies have national or regional learning centers with oversight from a learning team based at their headquarters. If everyone is included in the design process, either option can work.

ND: I’ve worked with clients who are very focused on developing local subject matter experts (SMEs). The learning team is intentional about who is weighing in on their content. This mixture of SMEs increases the likelihood of having truly global learning experiences in which most of the challenges faced by the regional workforce are addressed. 

MT: There are many other considerations for producing excellent global learning in the design phase. Choices will be made about scripting, structure, and delivery methods. The availability of internet connectivity might determine whether a module is instructor led or delivered by eLearning and this can vary by region. Companies that do this well will create a map listing the best delivery methods by region and then develop different modalities based on what they see. Having this conversation in the design phase will often lead to the realization that it does not take a lot more time or effort to build different delivery modalities for the same content. And matching modalities to regions will improve learning outcomes. 

JZ: So, let’s assume a learning team has done everything you’ve described in the Needs Analysis phase and the Design phase.  What are some best practices for moving into Development?

MT: Perhaps you will notice a theme, but inclusion and diversity in the development team will matter. Or at the very least, getting feedback from globally diverse audiences on what is being developed will provide a lot of guidance as choices are made in development. Think about it practically. Once the design is complete, there are still many choices to be made like color, placement of text on the screen, images, voice-over, etc. Each one of these choices will be an opportunity to include a global audience or ignore it. The best learning teams are highly intentional about their choices. 

ND: Think of it like a movie. Everything in the shot is chosen intentionally, from the color scheme to the actors to wardrobe to background music. Everything seen and heard is designed to tell a specific story or support a response the director wants from the audience. Really good development teams are aware of every element they created. 

JZ: Is there anything unique about implementation once the learning experience is created and ready for release in a global organization?

MT: One of the best practices I’ve seen is pilot testing before a wide rollout. These companies chose a handful of people in each region who have not been involved in building the learning. They are truly people who are part of the audience, not the design and development team. They are asked to go through the learning and provide their feedback on what they like, what they don’t like, what is unclear, what does not apply, etc. This is challenging for the learning team because emotionally, they are so close to the finish line and naturally want to move on to the next project. But it is a good practice to adjust based on the feedback of actual learners before taking it out to the entire company. 

ND: The people who are involved in pilot testing can also be helpful when it is time for the wider release. They can become champions in helping to market the learning to their peers. Oftentimes, a local advocate will carry a lot more weight than someone found in a distance office somewhere. They can help get the attention of local learners. 

JZ: A final question. What about evaluations? Once a learning experience is delivered, how do global companies do an excellent job of getting feedback so they can constantly improve?

MT: Continuous improvement is a top goal of good learning teams. One best practice is not only to look at the performance of the learning experience as a whole but divide it up by region or country. The entire data set certainly tells a story, but looking at localized data sets will go a long way toward understanding who is connecting well with the learning the team has created and who is not. 

ND: Diving deeper into the data can include some small focus groups in a region or even an individual interview with a handful of learners from various parts of the world can be immensely helpful. As Miriam said, this is a wonderful opportunity to make incremental improvements to later learning. 

JZ: I am grateful to both of you for sharing what you’ve each seen and experienced in your years in learning, training, and development. 

MT: Leading a learning team in a global organization is one of the most challenging responsibilities in our profession. I hope this has been helpful to our peers. 

ND: I’m happy to have been part of this conversation. It is good to think through these challenges and best practices at a high level. I think it helps all of us to do what is our prime vocation: helping people develop the knowledge and skills they need to help their organizations grow and achieve their goals.