The conference room buzzed with excitement over the success of the employee engagement initiative. Evelyn, the vice president of learning and development, and Thomas, the senior learning manager responsible for program implementation, made their way to empty chairs. Punctual as always, Terry, the chief people officer, started the meeting.

“As you know, our employee engagement initiative garnered excellent reviews and improved ratings across all major categories in the United States,” Terry began. “We’re ready to push this great learning program and the associated leader training out to our global sites. Of course, implementation will require a lot of coordination across regions. We all know Thomas is up to the task!”

Several colleagues applauded, but as the group dismissed, Thomas glanced dubiously at Evelyn, who shrugged in response.

Perhaps you’ve been to a meeting when an executive announced an ambitious plan that raised several red flags for you. You’re the learning expert, so your senior managers depend on your insights and evidence-based advice to steer them away from potential dangers, especially on a global scale.

Perhaps, like Thomas, you’ve immediately detected concerns that deserve attention to ensure a successful global implementation.

Red Flags: Pushing and Assuming

Regardless of where a company is headquartered, the tendency is for people to believe the company and its employees think, feel and function the same way at every location. This HQ-centricity creates cultural blind spots that hinder the success of global implementations.

For example, a manufacturing company recently intended to roll out a sales effectiveness initiative. In the United States, the corporate university managed sales effectiveness. In the other regions, a learning program manager within the sales function led sales effectiveness. The U.S. team assumed all regions needed a sales skills assessment and prepared to push out the initiative to its globally dispersed sales teams, starting in Europe. This approach resulted in immediate obstacles.

Green Flags: Alignment and Inclusion

The most progressive global companies recognize they must operate globally and act locally — meaning that they can stay consistent even when exact words, activities or metaphors differ, because global collaboration on intent, meaning and method achieve this goal. What does this concept mean for worldwide learning implementation?

First, align your learning strategy across locations. Second, strive for inclusivity.

Reach out to the local learning managers and leaders. What challenges do they face? What are their learning priorities? What cultural expectations need consideration? Ask them what the initiative means to them and how it may impact their region.

Also, reach out to a sampling of the target audience to ask about their work environments. For example, how do employees from different cultures respond to different management styles? Ask your target audience how they interpret the global initiative you have in mind.

To maximize alignment and inclusion, enlist key regional stakeholders to form a guiding coalition. This change management technique works well for global learning initiatives, because the local leaders and target audience know their culture best. It also goes a long way toward setting direction and gaining acceptance. The guiding coalition establishes an open channel for ongoing collaboration and turning red flags green.

In the sales effectiveness example, after recognizing the error of pushing and assuming, the two sales effectiveness teams adopted a more global mindset by reaching out to the other regions and aligning enterprise-wide sales effectiveness goals. The new global coalition included insights gained through alignment and inclusion, resulting in greater credibility and momentum as the initiative rolled out worldwide.

Red Flags: Too Big and Bold

Moving forward boldly and with an “all-in” mentality doesn’t work in every situation, especially when it comes to global learning initiative implementation. Imagine the logistical stress alone! Granted, most companies don’t push for a do-it-all-now approach as Terry suggested; however, many executives want to move unrealistically fast or skip critical steps.

Pushing back against a senior leader who wants to accelerate change can be daunting. How do you shift these red flags to green?

Green Flags: Incremental and Integrated Improvements

Plan for and embrace the likelihood that your project plan will be off course more than it is on course. The more you can anticipate and respond proactively, the more support you will gain for the inevitable delays and changes.

Gathering accurate information pertaining to factors such as travel or shipping times, logistics, expenses, and translation quality can correct an overly ambitious project schedule and decelerate a potentially disastrous implementation. Evidence, especially among senior leaders, trumps emotion.

Planning a rollout incrementally provides more time to respond proactively, which enables you to minimize risk. As you learn about different regions and cultures, you adapt more quickly in the next implementation phase.

Working incrementally and integrating what you learn as the implementation progresses creates an ongoing improvement loop. You can share what you learn with regions that have already implemented the learning initiative, and you develop a broader perspective going forward.

Red Flag: Resistance

In our scenario, Thomas has the monumental task of implementing employee engagement training across all geographies. The only expectation Terry places on him is coordination, which implies no alignment, inclusion or integration. Incremental steps are not an option, as he must coordinate across all geographies.

Each of us has encountered the resistance that comes when a centralized initiative is pushed out to dispersed regions. Regions push back immediately when told they need to change a system or process that works well or duplicates efforts, as with the sales effectiveness example.

Green Flag: Internalization

Resistance is counterproductive to every goal learning strives to achieve. What better way to internalize learning than to relate it personally to your own experiences within the context of your environment?

When learning initiatives expand to include global perspectives and integrate these perspectives to ensure relevancy globally and locally, the core intent of the initiative attracts, rather than repels, the global community. Colleagues around the world embrace learning and respond more willingly to changed thinking and behaving.

Inclusion takes the core idea of employee engagement and asks, “What does engagement mean to you?” Concepts such as engagement are understood and demonstrated differently by different cultures. When a large pharmaceutical company wanted to drive engagement, it worked with a training provider to interview managers, employees and businesses across multiple countries and regions to learn how employees operated. This discovery process, combined with what leaders knew about the expectations of different cultures, helped implement the learning project in a culturally appropriate way.

The Rest of the Story

Thomas stopped midstride. Evelyn tilted her head, a questioning look on her face.

“I’m going to talk to Terry for a few minutes,” said Thomas. “I’ll catch up with you in a little bit.”

Evelyn nodded and continued down the hall.

Resolute in his thinking and knowing he was a trusted learning expert, Thomas found Terry chatting in the conference room with a few people from the meeting. Terry turned toward Thomas as the others politely left the room.

“Hi, Thomas. What’s on your mind?”

“Terry, I feel confident we can achieve success with this implementation. First, we need to address some red flags to ensure success …”

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