|More than handbook translation - making training programs work everywhere|
Catherine Mercer Bing, John W. Bing and Lionel Laroche
Training programs designed by a corporation or in one business unit of that corporation and then shared around the company, and around the world, often are adopted with limited modification to approach, content, methodology or delivery. One version is created, approved, and then trainers are prepared to deliver that program throughout the company and around the world completely as is.
Designing effective training requires a thorough understanding of the needs of the trainees. And knowing what outcomes are expected helps inform content and the design methodologies used. Modification becomes even more critical to the success of a training program when it is presented to audiences of different nationalities or audiences of multiple cultural backgrounds within a single program.
In choosing methodologies, designers of domestic programs already understand the importance of sensitivity to the needs and preferences of the trainee. Designers must consider regional preferences, levels within an organization and/or differences between functions.
Senior management usually wants training in shorter bursts rather than full days. Middle management and lower levels of the organization seem to prefer the opportunity to practice what they learn, which takes more time than many executives are willing to give. Short trigger stories, which are designed to stimulate thinking and learning, should contain different content for training software engineers than they would for those in marketing, customer service or facilities management.
Some program designers use information about the variety of personality style preferences, as measured by assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to help inform their choice of varied methodologies for exercises. For example, participants who prefer extroverting their thinking may prefer brainstorming (or anything where calling out the answer quickly first is the goal). Those with a more introverted thinking preference may prefer to think through their answer before presenting it in front of colleagues.
Okay. So let's say the domestic program was a smashing success and now the company wants this terrific program offered to subsidiaries all over the world. We've done all this work on being sensitive to audience differences so we just translate the program into those local languages, right? Wrong!
Understanding cultural national preferences is a critical part of knowing your international audiences. Training delivery style preferences vary greatly from country to country. In countries with cultural preferences for hierarchy (like Japan or France) "good" training tends to be defined as a transfer of information and knowledge from the professor to the students with limited interaction with the students. In hierarchical countries like Japan and France, training design tends to incorporate a higher proportion of lectures.
The teacher/ trainer/ professor commands more respect in countries like Japan and France than in other countries. Students expect a large power and knowledge distance between participants and teachers. A facilitator who tries to become "close" to the students, because he or she comes from a more egalitarian country, may be considered negatively by such students, who may think the instructor is too "informal".
In some countries, students are trained to listen and ask few, if any, questions. In extreme cases (in some Far Eastern countries, for example), students may not feel comfortable asking the trainer any questions at all.
In countries where people prefer to act in groups rather than as individuals (where a more collective norm obtains), students may prefer not to be called on in class. In these countries, asking a student a direct question to test his or her understanding could make the person "lose face", which would embarrass everyone else in the class who understood the loss of face.
About content: like politics, almost all examples provided within programs should be locally derived. To cite Martin Luther King Jr. as an ideal for leadership is meaningful, to Americans, but means less to the French or the Japanese. Ask a local trainer or resource expert to go through the training outline to provide more appropriate examples.
A final word on e-learning. Internet and computer usage varies significantly from country to country. Some countries, like the U.S., Canada and Scandinavian countries, have embraced these technologies and are pushing for more training delivery using technology. Usage in other countries (including developed countries like France and Italy) is usually limited to younger generations. As a result, on-line training programs designed for mid-level executives are likely to be received rather positively in the U.S. but could be received quite negatively in France or Italy. Many French or Italian executives have secretaries to whom they dictate or give hand-written documents for typing. As a result, on-line learning isn't an option for them. So, make sure that the audience has the infrastructure, the knowledge of how to use it, and the willingness to use it before investing in on-line training delivery.
It's an old story: know your audience and your students to ensure your work will be both appreciated and understood.
This article originally appeared in the July 18 - 20, 2000, Princeton Business Journal, a publication of the Princeton Packet.
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