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Bonus Focus - Going Global: 10 Fatal Mistakes


By Barri M. Blauvelt

Everyone knows when a learning initiative is successful … but we learn most from mistakes. When it comes to global training, do we really have to learn to learn the hard way?

After 30 years of developing customized learning solutions for global healthcare corporations, we would like to share what we observe are some of the greatest mistakes made when "going global” with learning initiatives, from origination of a project to execution and evaluation.

1. The global executive wants it

Many L&D professionals follow ADDIE, a widely known and followed instructional design model. The first step – "A” – is Analysis. Simple enough. A need analysis is the starting point of most learning initiative. That's also when the first mistake happens when doing a global project. How does a global company decide what global training priorities should be? Do they poll the world? No. They are usually top down – beginning with someone at the head of regional or global operations telling Global L&D, "We need X.” Regardless of what triggered the request, or the legitimacy of the need, the result is an analysis that is designed to prove the executive right.

2. Lead-country centrism

Have a German or US or Japanese company? Chances are the global team will be developing the global training tailored to the first country or countries to launch. Will that be seamlessly transferable to emerging markets? Highly unlikely. Consider a major driver of the need for global training – a new product launch. Global new product training usually is created by global HQ – which (let's face it) means USA, Germany, Switzerland, France or Japan – with first country to launch being the same. Global L&D solutions therefore often are grossly biased by the first launch country's program.

3. Training to the lowest common denominator

The nirvana of some global L&D organizations is to develop a one-size-fits-all solution. This may be efficient, but it is certainly not effective. The end result is something so basic as to be benign and relatively useless to most countries.

4. The one-country pilot

How do you pilot a global training program? Most companies pick a "friendly” country to start – one which already usually has had some level of input to its making, has identified the need and is positively biased toward the program. It also is probably "free” meaning global is paying for it. That is a great start. Everyone is happy. However, then the roll out occurs and results no longer look rosy. The mistake? Simply put, one country should not serve as a pilot for many.

5. No speak English

Most global programs are created in English, then translated. While Google Translation functions are great up to a point, for life sciences and business training they are not a great solution. For example, the word "Marketing” in Mandarin is "Marketing.” It actually does not have the ability to be translated into Chinese characters. It is just a phonetically-adopted word. For lesser well-known words, this can be a real problem. For example, one global company had a key word that was mandated to be the main theme of the training, including in the title of the program: "Transformational.” Translations of that word around the globe were nothing short of bizarre, not to mention that in many languages this could not be done in one-word. That, in turn, made the development of program content and graphics go wacky, too.

6. Slippery slang

Global programs often are filled with slang and acronyms, and these can be deadly. HQ or country-centric learning program developers rarely have global or international training. (The average American, don't forget, only speaks one language – English.) So no wonder global interpretation and implementation may fall short of the mark.

One global training lead who had created a global OTC program was piloting it in Hong Kong. Every time he explained a unique industry term (e.g. "shelf-talker”), he put his hands in the air and motioned quote marks to highlight that this was slang or a unique phrase. At lunchtime, he noticed a table of Chinese trainers giggling and motioning with their hands in the air by their heads. He asked them to share the joke. They became silent. Finally one of them said, "We have given you a Chinese name.” "What is it?” he asked. "Rabbit ears, because you keep putting your hands in the air next to your ears and wiggling them.”

7. Ethnicity errors

The program design and content have been finalized. But the graphics are all wrong. Even worse, they are considered offensive to the users of the program. Why? Cultural, religious and other ethnic considerations that should have been considered from the start weren't. Is the program going to be used in the Middle East? Make sure you don't show bare-armed women in skirts or with low necklines or in sports clothing. Using animals to represent types of competitors when training in Africa? Don't show tigers (and only show African, not Indian, elephants). Training in Indian or Thailand? Make sure you don't show a "time for lunch” slide showing a hamburger or something made with beef. A training program developed globally by a Swiss firm, for a new medicine for pregnant women, featured beautiful European models with serious demeanors. When the sales launch training was conducted in the Philippines, the Filipino salespeople lost all confidence in the product. Why? "If this is a good medicine, why aren't the women smiling?” they responded. Finally, clip art and photo shops used to source graphics for training programs are often lacking or demeaning of non-Caucasian/non-Western cultures, or worse, cartoonish. The result is growing resentment by the non-Western, non-Caucasian learners that they are being treated as second-class citizens or, worse, as less intelligent.

8. Global L&D is training the industry

Global learning initiatives, to be effective, need local, professional trainers with the capability of taking a core program, tailoring it to local language/needs/compliance, selling it in locally, managing it and even delivering it. However, what constitutes a professional trainer is something that varies dramatically across the globe. In fact, the majority of trainers in the healthcare industry are good reps being given the chance to rotate through training as one step in a career path. And if that career path is stymied by lack of career opportunities, then that trainer will be one of first to jump to another company.

Beyond the lack of true professionalism, here's the real global issue – there are no copyright protections when training a trainer. Once a company's proprietary training is in the trainer's head, there is no way to extract it when the trainer goes elsewhere. Compound that by the very countries most likely to want to use the global training: Emerging Markets (where intellectual property rights are largely ignored).

Case in point: We were helping one of our clients in China set up a dedicated sales force, complete with reps, managers and trainers. Our job was to interview the final candidates, evaluate them for the company, and once hired, to train them to get up to speed and productive as quickly as possible. In one such interview, the candidate listed one of our other client's training product that we customized for them as something she could do for this company. We expressed interest and the next day, she brought in our program, with the client's and our watermarks and © symbols all over the place. She proudly explained that she could adapt this to the current company, and in fact, bragged that she already was training local companies on the side using these materials (watermarks and all)!

9. Archaic incompatibility

With the rapid advancements in IT come rapid evolution of e-learning, virtual classrooms and greater blended learning options. However, the biggest problem that most companies have NOT resolved is their own IT platform and security challenges. Want to email a file that is larger than 10MB to another trainer. Forget it. Want to use Dropbox or Webcargo? No, no, says corporate security. Want to use the latest games based and other virtual world technologies? No way! Want automatic voice interpretation in local languages? Impossible! One major global corporate client requires its vendors to work on antiquated versions of PowerPoint – so old, in fact, that we have to keep a 10+ year old PC with an equally old version of Windows Office in our office, just to be able to do all the final formatting work to ensure global IT compatibility!

10. Where's the ROI?

There are up to five levels of evaluation of training, with levels 4 (learner results on the job) and 5 (corporate level results) being the ones that really demonstrate ROI. However, few global learning and development organizations ever go beyond Level 1 ("smile sheets”). In this era of big data and the Cloud, why not? With L&D management software off the shelf, why not? With pressure by companies to operate service divisions in their companies as profit centers, why not? We get lots of reasons: Impossible to keep track; global does not want the countries to feel like they are watching and judging their local trainers, participants of the training don't want to put their evaluations into central databases (so the only ones who make the effort to, like most in-bound customer service surveys, are the negative ones); lack of capacity to track and maintain; not the responsibility of global to evaluate local benefits of training; requires reporting that may be in violation of local laws; and on and on. A simpler truth may be that if the global L&D does not try to demonstrate the impact of global training on local learning and company performance, then they won't have to evaluate ROI. On second thought, maybe that is not a mistake after all!

What are your experiences or ideas about going global with L&D? Your mistakes made and lessons learned? Please do share!

Barri M. Blauvelt is CEO of Innovara, Inc. Email Barri at


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