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They sat in a conference room, more than 50 of them, discussing the best ways to train employees in other countries and those from other cultures.
They brought up challenges: classroom training vs. online training; providing culturally appropriate training; time management; recruiting; cultural differences; interacting with people across time zones.
“We live on a very complex globe,” Fernando Sanchez-Arias, chief learning officer and strategic director of Grupo Lukiven-E&N, and an expert on global training, said during a session titled the “Do’s and Dont’s of Doing Business and Training Worldwide” at the American Society for Training & Development’s International Conference & Exposition held May 31 through June 3, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
“The world is changing every second,” said Sanchez-Arias. “Social changes are affecting us dramatically; our families and workplaces are not the same anymore.” Productive workers will need new skills to deliver improved results to “co-workers and stakeholders in our companies,” he said.
Yet, in many companies, when business is bad, training gets slashed.
In a blog post on
Renegade HR, noted
HR expert and blogger
Sharlyn Lauby, SPHR, writes that companies “need to quit chopping the training budget every time money gets tight.”
“The future of work is not conducting training,” said Lauby, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Membership Advisory Council. “It’s about changing the perception of training in the workplace.”
Experts said global training requires different approaches depending on the audience.
“We need to be paying attention to cultural differences and languages” said John Lake, master trainer for Trane Commercial Systems. Failing to note those differences can be detrimental to business, he said.
In their new book,
Managing Across Cultures: The Seven Keys to Doing Business with a Global Mindset, Charlene M. Solomon and Michael S. Schell of
RW3 LLC list several case studies in which businesses like Wal-Mart and GE failed to note the importance of cultural differences when entering markets in Germany and Italy, respectively. Conversely, before branching out to foreign markets, the Colgate-Palmolive Co. and McDonald’s took the time to note the differences in cultural behaviors and tastes before moving to those territories successfully.
“When training workers in other cultures, it’s critical for the trainers to recognize and be aware of the learning styles in those countries,” Schell told
SHRM Online. “For example, is it participative learning, like in the U.S., where learning is conducted in practice groups, or is learning a didactic, lecture-driven practice such as in Africa and Asia?”
Such a distinction is particularly important “because understanding culture will affect your training style,” Schell adds. “If you expect interactivity, you may not get it if the class is expecting a didactic professional approach.”
Never Underestimate Preparation
Here are some tips that Sanchez-Arias says HR professionals should utilize when training in another culture:
“The United States is a very time-oriented culture,” Lake added. For example, he said that when he’s conducting workshops in the United States they might last three days, but they’re four days in Europe and five days in Asia. In some cultures, “you can expect a long day and they’re OK with that,” Lake said.
Most of all, Sanchez-Arias said, trainers should always “captivate people with respect.”
And remember your comportment.
“Behavior is a very big deal,” Schell said. On a scale from one to 10, “in some cultures it’s a 10; in some it’s a 5; but it’s never unimportant. A group being trained in a hierarchical Asian culture will be confused if the trainer is casual in his or her demeanor or dress because their expectation of a teacher is one who has all the answers, not one whose role is to help you learn.”
Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Twitter with her at
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