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Thinking of implementing standardized training around the globe? Here are some of the challenges you will face.

July 7, 2011

Designing and implementing a global training effort to standardize programs across different geographies sounds like a good idea. The rationale for doing so may include the objectives to  i) reduce development costs for country training centers, ii) ensure the delivery of consistent lessons and services globally, and iii) help develop a common culture and language within the institution.

Such undertakings are often done on a grand scale. Programs are mandated at Group Headquarters, developed at a single location and later rolled out around the world against fixed deadlines.  On paper it looks good. The roll-out strategy is conceptually seductive in its simplicity.

But, will it work?   Will it be a program laced with British or American examples that are incomprehensible to Indonesian, Turkish or Brazilian employees? Will the text read like an instant Google translation of a foreign website?  Or will the program function as planned?

Let’s take a look at some of the issues that will have to be addressed.

Technical terms and acronyms. The first challenge is to ensure that technical terms and acronyms used throughout the training materials are properly translated, explained and listed in a separate document.  Start the translation process with the creation of this document. Translations should be then be approved by the institution’s local subject matter experts.  This will i) ensure consistency in the use of those terms and acronyms throughout all the institution’s materials, ii) identify terms that refer to concepts not relevant in certain countries and allow you to make adjustments for them, and iii) make sure that terms unique to your company are translated appropriately, as they are likely not to be familiar to external translators.  Additionally, designers should stick to a rather neutral language understood internationally and avoid terms or expressions that pack a punch in a local context, but will not be understood by local staff 5000 miles away.

Translators.  Hire translators who are knowledgeable about the technical topics being presented. You may use more than one translator, but make sure each one’s work is coordinated by a central authority, inside the institution if possible, or outside, as needed.

Examples and exercises. Use examples that have the widest spectrum of applicability around the world. Avoid examples and exercises that focus on customer industries that are unique to one country or carry such a high degree of risk that they are rejected in other locations.  Even though you may be using examples that are purely hypothetical, participants often react negatively or have difficulty applying new concepts to industries that they feel are not representative or relevant to their reality.

Products and services.  Make sure the products and services you are depicting during the training are universal in nature. Stay away from references to products and services, systems, practices, and/or legal entities unique to one or very few marketplaces.   Undertake appropriate due diligence in advance by checking with your businesses in other countries to insure relevancy.    

Document format and design. A major challenge occurs when using formats that are specific to one country, usually that of the head office.  In such cases, it is probably best to eliminate these, especially if they add limited value to the training.

Presentation of accounting statements often falls into this category as they vary from country to country. Build in options for alternative presentation formats when designing materials and provide instructions for the selection of the appropriate format to be used in a specific country.

Paper size and page layout. One size or layout does not fit all. Decisions involving i) paper-size selection, such as Letter or A4, ii) PPT presentations (Windows or Apple, Office version 2003, 2007, or 2010), or iii) mandatory use of color or not, all require planning.

Will the training materials be disseminated in a standardized format or customized to each business unit’s capabilities?  Make sure that the material content can be easily rearranged to accommodate changes as a result of customization and/or adaptation.  Also, it is not unusual for the text of materials translated from English to expand (or shrink) when translated into another language.  This will impact everything from page numbering and table of contents to positioning of questions and answers.

These are just some of the challenges that global institutions face when attempting to standardize their training materials across different countries.  These require considerable initial thought and effort during the analysis and design phases of your training materials, but that time spent will pay off later when translating and localizing your content.

Think globally and act locally to produce the best results.

by Gerry Tompkins

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