As the old saying goes, there is good news and bad news for those who lead learning efforts in global, multicultural, multilingual companies. For the sake of positivity, let’s begin with the good news.

The Good News

The most recent LinkedIn Learning Workplace Report found that “82% of global leaders agree that HR function is more critical now than it has ever been.” HR ranks highly because attracting, retaining, training, reskilling and upskilling workers is mission critical to every global organization. Learning plays a huge role in achieving these objectives. According to Simon Brown, chief learning officer of Novartis, one of the five largest pharmaceutical companies in the world with over 100,000 employees, “In challenging economic times, there is a strong argument to invest in building critical skills.” Few would disagree that these are anything other than challenging economic times.

LinkedIn’s report provides further evidence of the rising importance of learning and development in organizations. From 2022 to 2023, there was a 16% increase in the number of learning leaders who regularly meet with their chief human resources officer. Even more significantly, there was a 13% increase in the number of meetings learning leaders have with C-suite executives. Not surprisingly, almost 50% of learning leaders surveyed anticipate that their budgets will increase, while only 8% believe their budgets will decline.

The good news for learning leaders is that training is seen as critical to the success of their companies which is demonstrated in more time devoted by those who are executives in those organizations. More attention, more access, and more budget. Who could ask for more?

The Not so Good News

The bad news comes from Willis Towers Watson, a multinational company providing insurance services. Their research reportedly found that among global companies, nearly 75% of all change initiatives did not actually create sustainable gains and nearly 50% produced no measurable results of any kind.

Of course, not all change initiatives are related to learning, so perhaps learning leaders are off the hook to some degree? More data from the global consulting company, McKinsey, closes off that option. They surveyed 300 senior executives at global companies and found that, “few surveyed executives felt that their companies were good at transferring lessons learned in one emerging market to another.” In other words, even when learning worked well in the location of their headquarters, it most often did not achieve its objectives in other regions of the globe.

Perhaps even more distressing news, according to the researchers at McKinsey, is that, “Barely half the executives at the 17 global companies we studied in depth thought they were effective at tailoring recruiting, retention, training, and development processes for different geographies.”

The summary of the state of learning in global companies is that it is highly valued, seen as critical to organizational success, has the attention of the C-suite, and is receiving increased budget but, in many instances, is not delivering. This does not mean global learning efforts never have any impact. It does mean that there is a great deal of room for improvement.

The Challenges

Developing learning in a global company is one of the most difficult challenges for learning professionals. The causes are not difficult to understand. Anyone who is responsible for working in multiple languages knows that translation quality and accuracy require a robust process, experienced translators and an array of the right tools for the job. But bringing learning to a global audience requires more than translation.

Even when a learning experience is translated accurately from one language to another, it does not mean that the learners who received it will understand or connect with it. Cultural differences are significant between regions of the world. Idioms, slang, colloquialisms and even humor will likely cause learner confusion or worse. Graphic sizing, voice-over choices, colors and more may require adjustments depending on the learners’ culture. What emotionally connects in one culture may cause offense in another — and often does.

For many learners who work for a global company, from a location different from the company’s headquarters/in other regions of the world, and who speak different languages and come from different cultures, it may seem like their learning was developed for someone else, somewhere else. Some things don’t make sense because they are poorly translated, badly localized or, in some cases, inaccessible. They are consuming a learning experience as best they can, but it was not truly made for them — and they know it. They feel like an afterthought. Few things are deadlier to a healthy culture of learning.

Moving Forward

Global inclusion matters. We need to consider not only whose voices will be part of the conversation, but when they will be included in the process of building learning. Rather than creating a truly global learning experience, it is more common that learning is developed by people in the same culture in a single language. Translation and localization happen after the analysis, design, and development have already occurred. The problem has already been identified, possible solutions have already been considered, and decisions have been made. Translation and localization too often happen in the implementation stage, or, best case scenario, near the end of the development stage.

Global corporate learning will make progress when it becomes more inclusive along every stage of the creation process. Multilingual, multicultural companies need learning teams that are multilingual and multicultural.

Global learning needs to evolve, and that process will be advanced when analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation includes people who are part of the cultures of the learners themselves.

Learning professionals are passionate about people’s development and growth. They want learners to do their best work and have opportunities for advancement. They also want their companies to thrive and meet their objectives. Achieving these goals in a global environment is not easily done, but it is certainly worth our best efforts.