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Culture is an Essential Consideration for Global Training Roll Outs


In a global marketplace, companies are increasingly rolling out training courses across international offices with the intention of providing consistent and homogenised messages to all their staff – regardless of location.

There is sometimes little, if any thought, given to whether the materials will be well received by the recipient's international office.

Indeed, the expectation of the central office is most likely to be that, what works for them, should work for others.

This approach may work in some cases but it’s likely that it won’t in others.

Why not?

Quite simply, global employees have diverse expectations of training packages and are unlikely to connect as effectively with training materials if the content fails to align with these expectations.

The following points are robust indicators as to whether global delivery of standard training materials has fallen flat:

  • Lower numbers of employees in international offices sign up for the training
  • Poor pass rates for employees in global locations who take post-training tests and exams
  • Fewer people in the international offices signing up for further or additional training
  • Training evaluations that demonstrate a poor reception of training, materials and the like


So, how do you avoid the pitfalls and instead ensure that your global training rollouts are a success?

Pay Attention to the Language

The most obvious place to start is language. Ideally, you should arrange for the training materials to be localised as learners naturally learn better in their native language.  

The process of translation and localisation is valuable as translators are typically adept at commenting on key constructs/images which may offend or confuse learners within a given culture.

If you choose not to translate and localise, then ensure the language used is written in such a way that second language speakers can easily understand it.  Avoid unnecessary descriptive or complex terms and keep them simple.

Pay Attention to Culture  

Culture is an essential part of localisation.  If you're preparing programmes for a Thai learning audience, for instance, then take the time to understand the cultural values and preferences of the learning group. 

Assuming that the approach you'd use in your home country, such as the USA, or the UK will not necessarily resonate with your target learners. 

Audit your Images

Think about the images being used within your training material and ensure that they are culturally appropriate.  For example:

  • Images of scantily clad men and women may cause offence in countries where religion is prominently practised.
  • The use of gestures such as the ‘Thumbs Up’ image may cause offence to individuals in Greece, the Middle East, Latin America and Russia as it has the same connotations as the middle finger sign in the West.
  • Images of individuals smiling and showing their teeth may be perceived as crass by some cultures who find it offensive for individuals to show their teeth when smiling.

Sense Check Your Content References

References to particular topics should be sense checked in training content to ensure they don’t inadvertently offend. Take for example the following:

  • Reference to the USA as ‘America’ will undoubtedly be offensive to South Americans.
  • Reference to ‘death’ as part of a case study or example will not be received well in certain countries where mention of death is taboo.

Are Your Platforms Fit-for-Purpose?

If you are rolling out online training programmes and webinars, then ensure your overseas offices can access them. Access to platforms that are taken for granted in the West, such as Skype, may not be available in the countries of your overseas offices. 

Likewise, consider your expectations of participants during webinars.  In some counties, it’s very unlikely that you will get much verbal interaction from learners over webinar, but they may be more forthcoming via the online training platform with written feedback and comments.

Consider the Politics of Learning

To ensure engagement and ownership, it is important – where possible - to ensure content is in synergy with the cultural expectations in respect to look and feel.  Overtly Western training content, with Western cultural images and content, may cause local offices to feel disenfranchised and unimportant.

Couple this position with the assignment of content ownership to the central or disseminating office and resentment to the perceived power of this entity may fester and become a problem that grows over time.

Adapt any Face-to-Face Training

If face to face training is to be carried out, then ensure the trainer considers local learning preferences.  In some countries, individuals prefer traditional classroom-style training formats whilst in others, they prefer more role play and active learning. 

Consider the impact of imposing an all-day classroom style on Americans with little activity and they are likely to resent the training.  Tip this scenario vice versa with an Asian audience and you are likely to garner the same output.

Globalisation requires us all to be far more culture-savvy if we are to get the best of our multinational employees.  Although standardisation of training may be considered innocuous, the negative and stifling implications on employee engagement can be considerable.

Take the time therefore to think beyond standardisation and truly create content that delivers as intended.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

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