With markets going global, companies have had to deal with increasingly diverse, multicultural, and multilingual teams distributed around the world. Talent retention and employee engagement problems remain, but they get a whole new, global scale.
How can chief learning officers (CLOs) continue to design training programs that are relevant to teams everywhere and effective at retaining talent? Human beings everywhere have some common needs of appreciation, recognition, and fulfillment. But one global formula is not always likely to engage and retain talent. What, then, does it take?
We’ve all heard of ‘Think Global, Act Local’ but how can we apply that to employee education? It’s okay to have some baseline training material that’s common to all employees and helps them get oriented with the company’s products, processes, history, and so on. Beyond that, use these five approaches to create learning programs that motivate your international personnel:
1. Translation and localization, for sure
This should be a no-brainer. To serve your multilingual employees, you must have in-language training material that is also culturally sensitive. Trying to thrust English or any other language from the headquarters country may be seen as talking down. Plus, there is often a lot less motivation to read and digest something in a foreign language.
2. Language training
In 2014, approximately 1,000 Sony employees used the company’s training programs to improve their English-language capabilities. But it’s not just English; Sony gives its people the opportunity to learn any language. Chinese is, unsurprisingly, a favorite along with English.
As author and professor Andy Molinsky succinctly said, “Companies don’t go global, people do.” And knowledge of another language is important in understanding the associates’ culture and set of behaviors. Yet a word of caution is in order: being fluent in a language does not always mean fluency in the given culture.
In a similar vein, foreign language fluency may be important for global organizations in hiring, but it should not be a higher priority than candidates’ actual skills and long-term potential.
3. More direct connect with customers
In a distributed production environment, your employees may be quite cut off from the people who are actually using the product or service. Depriving them of active customer feedback and interaction can hurt their innovative abilities, as they may get in a rut.
Get creative about how you can give your employees more access to what customers think about their work. While in-person meetings are nice, they’re not always feasible. Including international employees in the feedback loop can be a good way of fostering ownership as well as providing a hands-on approach to learning.
4. More exposure to international culture
People get a great kick out of learning something new, especially when it comes with the opportunity to explore another country. Take advantage of your being global and encourage your employees to work from at least one overseas location. It can inculcate a sense of pride in the company as well as provide an opportunity to see and learn how a foreign market functions. Your employees may return with a fresh perspective and new insights to use in their home countries. Research has shown that people with international experience are more likely to create new businesses and products and to be promoted.
5. Foster local leaders and trainers
Don’t let the word “training” be associated with headquarters only. Help your local employees become trainers — they will fit in better with the staff when it comes to training them on issues they have to deal with regularly in the local markets. This step will also help foster local leadership, something that Nestlé strongly believes in.
On its website, it says, “Recruiting and developing local talent with local knowledge is … crucial to the success of the business, especially in developing countries where the proportion of native employees at management levels lags behind that of more developed countries. In 2014, 56% of [Nestle’s] Local Management Committee members in developing countries were native to that country.”
Lastly, don’t let training become a one-way process or get trapped in silos. Your international employees are closer to the ground reality in a foreign market than you are. Provide them easy ways to give feedback on not just the training material but also the business processes themselves. Remember, a company that learns together stays together.