There are learners around the world, working for every conceivable type of organization, that become annoyed when training fails to acknowledge their uniqueness. It stands to reason, as it is human nature to consider who you are, what you do and where you come from to be at least somewhat unique and, as such, worthy of special consideration.

By the same token, if you have the responsibility of rolling out a program on a large scale (in a defined time frame with a predetermined budget) to a global audience, you can quickly find yourself a table-pounding advocate for “one size fits all!”

To those of you that have a passing interest in, or direct responsibility for, global leadership training, how small is the world … really? When it comes to the task of training hundreds (perhaps thousands) of leaders around the world, what should you offer, and how should you deliver those offerings?

To answer that two-part question, The Center for Leadership Studies and Training Industry, Inc. conducted research on the trends associated with the rollout of global leadership and influence training initiatives. More than 400 global decision-makers responded to a survey that asked about topics such as:

  • Training offerings and budgetary spend.
  • The importance of training in support of strategic objectives.
  • The top challenges associated with the implementation of successful training programs.
  • Rollout considerations (i.e., modality, duration, language, etc.).

The aim was to garner up-to-date insight on the commonalities and distinctiveness of leadership training in both established and emerging markets around the world. Here’s what the researchers found.

Content Commonality: The What

There is an age-old exercise in which a manager asks an employee to list his or her top five work-related priorities in order of importance. The manager completes the same exercise, and then they compare lists. This activity is a time-efficient mechanism for achieving “same-page status.”

The same is true of this portion of the research results. If you are conducting leadership training across industries and around the world, it is difficult to imagine these five topics being excluded from your list, even if you prioritize them a little differently:

Change Management: The research suggests that change is the most important topic to address when conducting leadership training. It is comforting to verify that the challenges associated with ongoing change are universal. And, if it weren’t for change, people would probably care a lot less about leadership, no matter where they call home.

Managing Organizational Risk: In a world engulfed in the waves of relentless and never-ending transition, leaders need to be able to make decisions that address tactical imperatives while maintaining alignment with strategic initiatives. Effective leaders, no matter where they are, demonstrate the ability to balance the short term with the long term.

Adaptability: The more change there is, the higher the premium on developing organizational resiliency. Simply stated, organizational resiliency is a function of mid-level and frontline leader adaptability. The more effective those leaders are at accelerating the pace of performance development created by the waves of change, the better.

Coaching: Around the world, first-time managers transition into their new role with some sort of technical expertise (i.e., they performed well in their frontline role). While that technical expertise can support their efforts as people managers, their effectiveness as leaders will depend on their ability to become be an active catalyst for the growth and development of others. This skill encompasses the use of every coaching style or approach (i.e., guiding and directing, clarifying and collaborating, and delegating and empowering).

Emotional Intelligence: It is difficult to imagine an effective leadership development curriculum, in any culture, that doesn’t include a personalized journey into the development of emotional intelligence. At a minimum, awareness of self (in combination with an awareness of how your behavior is impacting the people you attempt to influence) is central to the success of any leader, at any level, anywhere.

Distinctive Delivery: The How

Duration

While delivering a recent training program in Italy, the day before the program began, a trainer found himself pressed for time and approached the sponsor with what he thought was a reasonable question regarding dinner: “Since we still need to complete quite a few setup tasks before tomorrow morning, is there any way we can just grab something quick for dinner so we can get back here and finish up?”

The look the trainer received could best be described as a combination of confusion and desperation. He quickly realized that in Italy, “eating dinner” has little to do with the amount of time it takes to order, consume whatever is on the plate and pay the bill. In Italy, dinner is an experience. You can’t “grab something quick” (and the trainer realized later that evening that he was glad you can’t!).

The same goes for leadership training in the markets that participated in this research. In the United States, over the last decade or so, organizations have put great effort into streamlining the learning event by, for example, cutting a two-day program in half or turning a three-day program into four online modules with half-days of classroom practice. However, global markets have not followed suit. In other countries, there is more emphasis on course duration as an indicator of value.

Modality

According to this research, classroom-based, instructor-led training (ILT) is, by far, the preferred modality for global companies conducting leadership or influence training. Assuming the content is good, the overall success of the learning is primarily a function of the interaction that takes place “around the table.”

To be clear, in the perfect world that none of us lives in, U.S. learning leaders would prefer leadership training to be conducted in a live, face-to-face format as well. This is especially true if they measure the impact of the learning based on post-program behavior change, as opposed to classroom-confined knowledge transfer and learner affect. The difference between U.S. and other markets is the evaluation of the gestalt of the experience itself versus the efficiency or expediency of the delivery.

The global perspective of training leaders (regardless of the virtual options that readily present themselves) might be paraphrased as follows: “If we can’t do it right, let’s hold off until we can!”

Localization

Any leadership training initiative requires a rigorous needs analysis to be successful, and global leadership training programs are no different. To make a complicated process sound simple, it’s important to find out from each market if localization is a deal-breaker or a “nice-to-have.” For example:

  • In videos, is subtitling enough, or is voiceover a must?
  • Does localization equate to facilitation and materials or just facilitation?
  • What percentage of the content that was successfully received in the U.S. is “good as is” for international rollout?
  • What are the market-specific learning preferences?
  • What does the involvement of the trainees’ next-level manager look like when it comes to training transfer and sustainment?

A diligent and well-executed needs assessment is valuable regardless of the insight it uncovers. If nothing else, it recognizes that, when it comes to training leaders, one size most certainly does not fit all! In general, the familiar 80/20 rule is a good guide (i.e., about 20% of the content per country will need to be customized, while 80% is “good as is”).

In conclusion and as it relates to training leaders, consider that the world might actually be much smaller than you think. But uncovering the differences that do exist (and addressing them) will undoubtedly provide you with the highest probability of success.

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