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Aligning Global Training with Local Culture

Aligning Global Training with Local Culture

In our increasingly interconnected world, businesses are not confined to geographical, lingual, or cultural boundaries. When it comes to training, one size doesn't fit all. Global organizations need to strike the right balance between maintaining consistency across regions and tailoring their programs to suit regional requirements.  

We know that localization matters in training, and organizations need to adapt training content to fit various cultures without losing the meaning of the messages. This article addresses how to ensure your training programs are globally standardized and locally adapted using examples and best practices. Learn more as Dr. Charles Dye discussed this topic in depth on the InSync podcast Modern Learning on the Air. Click below to watch on YouTube.


What is regionalization vs globalization? 

In the context of learning and development, regionalization refers to the process of creating and strengthening economic, political, and cultural practices and performance connections within a specific region, whereas the overall implementation of learning and development globally refers to performance and coordination worldwide. 

Regionalization has to do with establishing messaging that is consistent with the cultural, societal, and behavioral expectations within any region of the global economy. Globalization has to do with an enterprise-wide strategy. Regionalization is NOT just translation – rather, it’s an incorporation of regionally relevant practices, anecdotes, and practices that remove barriers to learning for the learner in a particular region. 

So, how do you make team members in a transnational corporation work towards the same goal? In the context of learning development, it's more nuanced. The idea is that every region, whether it be the European Union, USCMA, or the Pacific Rim, have expectations about what training will accomplish or what it is meant to do. 

Our goal as learning and development professionals is to make sure that the training meets the needs of each learner in each region. Again, it’s important to understand that regionalization isn't simply translation. A lot of people hear a word, and they think, oh, I'll just translate it to French or German or Russian or Chinese. Certainly, translation can be part of regionalization, but it's not necessarily a requirement. Regionalization ensures the training provided is relevant for the learner in that region, aligned to the overall objectives of the global strategy. 

Tailoring the instructional delivery (and assessment) to regionally appropriate guidelines does NOT mean every region gets different instruction. Instead, the learning objectives remain the same, but how they are implemented may involve alternative of supplemental materials. Regionalization has to do with bringing out regionally relevant elements in your instruction and making sure that the learner understands what is conveyed to them because they're a part of that region.  

As an example, how you teach someone in the European Union about the handling of personally identifiable information (PII) might be different than how you teach someone in Australia, versus someone you teach in China or Japan. In implementation, one effective approach to design starts with common elements across regions, then provides regionally-specific information and practices as a supplement. 

The approach requires designers to think about what is common versus what is unique to a region, then sequence the instruction in such a way that a coherent instructional narrative is delivered. 

According to an article by Raju Chebium for SHRM.org,” most programs offered today focus on ‘cultural congruence’ or the assimilation of workers from a variety of cultures into a common corporate culture. But to be truly effective, programs should also teach ‘cultural differentiation,” or how to maintain one’s own culture while recognizing the value that other cultures bring to the company. Combining the two types of training might be the best way to produce a workforce that will succeed anywhere in the world.  

Click below to listen to the podcast.

Why is regionalization important? 

For the past 50+ years, the global economy and the large organizations operating within it have increasingly relied on a global structure to grow. In the past five years, the emergence of a robust hybrid work force has accelerated the need for consistent, meaningful learning and development practices around the globe for these organizations. 

Three studies completed in the last few years found that organizations that effectively accommodate regional requirements into their learning and development practice are more profitable, more productive, and enjoy higher rates of growth. Related research supports the broader implications of tailored learning and development strategies on organizational success. 

The importance of adapting learning and development (L&D) practices to specific needs, which could include regional requirements, is underscored by the evidence that companies committed to continuous learning and development see significant returns in terms of productivity and employee satisfaction. For example, the LinkedIn article by Danielle Farrel, MA titled "The Pivotal Role of Learning and Development in Organizational Success" highlights how continuous learning and development are crucial for organizational success, suggesting that tailored approaches, potentially including regional adaptations, contribute to better outcomes. 

 A Research Gate article on "Organizational Learning and Competitive Advantage" discusses organizational learning as a key source of competitive advantage. This implies that organizations that integrate learning practices responsive to their unique contexts, such as regional demands, may indeed achieve higher competitiveness, profitability, and growth. 

Additionally, the broader literature on training and development effectiveness, such as the meta-analysis conducted by M.J. Burke and Day (1986), cited in the Sage Journals, points to the positive impact of management training programs on managerial performance. While this research does not specifically address regional accommodations, it underscores the effectiveness of well-designed training and development initiatives, suggesting that customizing these efforts to meet specific regional needs could enhance their impact. 

In summary, related research supports the notion that tailored learning and development strategies, potentially including those that accommodate regional requirements, are beneficial for organizational profitability, productivity, and growth. 

Organizations that implement effective region-based instruction more effectively coordinate between regions on a global scale. Economic regions are increasingly and actively regulating global economic activities (GDPR is a great example). Even though the US has its own regulatory schema for PII handling, when GDPR came out, anyone doing business in the EU essentially adopted it globally because of how the regulations were written. 

How does a development team approach regionalization? 

Start simply – something as easy as accommodating regional calendars and workforce practices in a region or acknowledging the upcoming holiday during delivery. If translation is not either appropriate or available, ensure the learning audience is supported by a native-language speaker even if the delivery is in English. 

Similarly, ensure regionally conversant subject matter expert (SME) reviews the materials for accuracy and relevance for the region of delivery. Generally speaking, approach the design as you would for a multi-threaded interdisciplinary delivery – some people get modules A, B, C, and D, while others get A, C, and G. Build on commonalities across the entire organization, then drill down where appropriate. 

Another way of thinking is that this is a different kind of blend – rather than integrating multiple delivery methods, you’re integrating multiple regions into the design. Universal design provides a meaningful framework with which to approach this design requirement – building so that interpretation and interaction is seamless and intuitive. 

Every class may be different – so your instructional team of a facilitator and producer or other supporting roles must be able to accommodate and anticipate the regional questions and concerns. 

What are the consequences if we don’t regionalize learning and development implementations? 

Failing to regionalize places an undue burden on the learner. They have to filter out the disinformation or irrelevant information and determine (in their imperfect judgment) how to adapt and apply what they’ve learned in their region. The evidence is clear that failing to regionalize produces uneven instructional outcomes – these differentiated outcomes tend to produce uneven performance in the workplace and reinforce barriers to global cooperation across the organization. Regionally blind instruction may be “negative training” that subjects the organization to additional regulatory oversight, litigation, or penalties. 

What are the pitfalls in regionalizing content? 

Assumptions are the biggest pitfalls in regionalizing content. These can be assumptions about infrastructure, cultural norms/mores, or capabilities. Be sure to design and implement instruction for the worker you want, and let the learner audience rise to the need. Similarly, assuming that practices and procedures (even within the same organization) can vary widely in different regions, so ensure the training is correct for the region in which it is delivered. 

Regionalizing corporate training content can be a strategic approach to create more relevant and effective learning experiences for diverse employee populations. However, it comes with its own set of challenges or pitfalls beyond assumptions about infrastructure, cultural norms/mores, or capabilities.  

Here are several additional pitfalls to consider: 

Overgeneralization: There's a risk of overgeneralizing the needs and preferences of a region, leading to content that may not fully address the specific nuances or requirements of all learners within that area. This can result in training that feels generic or irrelevant to some participants. 

Language Limitations: While translating content into the local language is a critical step in regionalization, nuances in dialects, idioms, and cultural references can lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the training material, potentially reducing its effectiveness. 

Resource Intensiveness: Developing and maintaining region-specific content can require significant resources, including time, money, and expertise. Organizations might face challenges in allocating adequate resources to ensure the high quality and relevance of regionalized training materials. 

Compliance and Legal Issues: Different regions may have varying legal standards and compliance requirements related to training content. Navigating these differences and ensuring that training programs meet all regional regulations can be complex and challenging. 

Technological Disparities: Access to and familiarity with technology can vary greatly across regions, affecting the delivery and accessibility of digital training content. Training that relies heavily on high-bandwidth internet or the latest tech may not be feasible in areas with technological limitations. 

Cultural Misinterpretation: Even with the best intentions, there's a risk of misinterpreting or misrepresenting cultural elements, which can lead to content that is perceived as insensitive or offensive, undermining the effectiveness of the training and potentially harming the organization's reputation. 

Scalability Challenges: Tailoring content for specific regions can make scaling training initiatives more difficult. Organizations may struggle to find a balance between customization and the creation of universally applicable training content. 

Inconsistent Learning Experiences: There's a risk that regionalizing content could lead to inconsistent learning experiences across the organization, potentially creating disparities in knowledge, skills, and performance standards among employees in different regions. 

Addressing these pitfalls requires careful planning, cultural sensitivity, and a commitment to continuous evaluation and improvement of regional training strategies. 

In summary, companies that do accommodate regionally-relevant requirements into their instruction perform better. If your organization isn’t looking at regional differences, your competition that is has a workforce better adapted to outperforming your team in-region. 

Click below to listen to InSync’s latest Modern Learning on the Air Podcast, “Aligning Global Training with Local Culture.” Here we discuss the impact of regionalization on global organizations, and the need to ensure global training programs resonate with local cultures. 

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