Developing a training program that has the power to improve business results is difficult in its own right. Developing a global training program that has the power to improve business results presents a new set of challenges for learning leaders, such as language barriers, cultural differences, time zone differences and more.

In this episode of the Training Industry podcast, Jacqueline Bhavaraju, CPTM, a learning and development director at KPMG, and Jonathan Fear, vice president of Coupa University at Coupa Software, share their thoughts on:

  • The importance of cultural intelligence.
  • Topics cross-cultural training programs should address.
  • How to localize training programs.
  • Why it’s important to celebrate both similarities and differences.

Listen now:

The transcript of this episode follows.

Taryn:
Hello and welcome to the Business of Learning, the learning leader’s podcast from TrainingIndustry.com. I’m Taryn Oesch managing editor of digital content at Training Industry.

Sarah:
And I’m Sarah Gallo, associate editor at Training Industry. Before we begin I would first like to say that this episode of The Business of Learning is sponsored by The Certified Professional and Training Management (CPTM™) Program.

Taryn:
Developing a training program that has the power to improve business results is difficult in its own right. But developing a global training program that has the power to improve business results across regions presents a whole new set of challenges for learning leaders such as language barriers, cultural differences and even time zone differences. So how can learning leaders navigate these challenges and develop and implement a successful global training program? Today we are speaking with two experts to find out. Jacqueline Bhavaraju, a Certified Professional in Training Management, is a learning and development director at KPMG. And Johnathan Fear [is] the Vice President of Coupa University at Coupa Software. Jacqueline, Johnathan welcome!

Jacqueline:
Thank you!

Johnathan:
Thank you! [It’s] great to be here.

Sarah:
And to get things started today, why don’t you go ahead and tell us how you define cultural intelligence. What are some common traits of culturally intelligent leaders? Jacqueline, let’s start with you.

Jacqueline:
Alright. I did look up that term on Google, I will say, and it says that cultural intelligence can be defined as the “capability to relay and work effectively across cultures.” So, I’d say I agree with that very simple definition. But I’d also define that on an individual level, cultural intelligence to me is the ability to reflect with self-honesty and become self-aware, and that ability is crucial in leaders as leaders are really the ones who set the cultural tone of an organization.

Sarah:
Definitely. And Johnathan, what do you think?

Johnathan:
Yeah, I mean, I agree completely with Jacqueline and, to add to it a little bit, EQ is very, very similar to CQ, or emotional intelligence related to cultural intelligence. I think that the primary difference there is that many folks are used to hearing the term emotional intelligence, and that really deals with the individual level whereas with cultural intelligence, what we’re really trying to do is tease out the underlying other cultures and/or influences that may affect that persona behavior, so that I think that the common traits of people who really reflect a strong cultural intelligence, you know, are those that are observant. They’re empathetic. They have a strong intelligence. I mean, it really just boils down to curiosity and common sense. You can refer to a lot of folks that will say that it’s the three traits of cognitive, physical and emotional or motivational that allows them to blend in [with] unfamiliar context. I think it’s just a matter of being empathetic, and truly understanding the needs of that particular culture or the expectations of that culture to be able to mimic the dress, body language, the language [and] to understand the cultural influences that may motivate them.

Sarah:
Great. So with that in mind, do you think it’s maybe more important, now [more] than ever before, that organizations develop this awareness and this cultural intelligence in their employees? What about today’s corporate environment makes that type of intelligence so important? Johnathan, why don’t we start with you since you were just talking [about that].

Johnathan:
Yeah, thanks. It’s not just for the employees. It’s both for the internal and external customers as well, and so I think it’s essential for any organization to succeed in the global market to have some sort of cultural intelligence or intelligence program. Internally, if you look at [even] just the influence of the people [communicating differently] between different floors within a single building, it doesn’t even have to be across geographies necessarily, but really if the sales force can’t talk to the engineers and marketing doesn’t understand the services team, you know, departments, offices, geographical regions … each has their own interpretation, if you will, of the company culture with its own manners or histories, that can confuse folks who are not familiar with that, and that is [difficult to understand]unless somebody has a higher cultural intelligence. It’s something that I think accelerates the speed of communication, ultimately the speed of business, is if you’re considering the other person’s expectations, you might change the way that say, an email could cause unnecessary time delays during [training] because you’re not aware of how an email might be read in Japan  that was sent in California and or an email might be read from Germany that was sent from California. So those are important aspects to just understand, that [with] the speed of business and the global nature of our economy, it’s just important to appreciate those differences.

Sarah:
Jacqueline, anything to add?

Jacqueline:
Yeah, I would say you know, the differences that we see and that we hear, those things most people I feel [like] get a sense as to I need to be aware of what this person may expect from me. And I think, also, that in people who are culturally intelligent, these are kinds of people that have a self-discipline, a level of self discipline [in] that they can listen fully. They can address their colleagues with respect and give each other the space to express themselves, [their] ideas [and their] concerns because we may be born in different countries and have very different habits … and that all is to be respected but, essentially, we’re all human. So, deep down we are all really quite the same, and I learned that quite a bit. Working with different cultures in a large organization, you use a personal story and often times get people around [you] to connect to you immediately, and that drops any barriers straight away and makes people feel comfortable. So, I would say some of those aspects of being culturally intelligent … it is just being human.

Sarah:
Definitely. I really do agree that stories can connect people across cultures and backgrounds, for sure. And going off of that, we know that cultural intelligence is such a vast subject area, and there’s a lot of ways training managers can approach the subject, but what specific topic areas do you think they should focus on in their own cross cultural training programs?

Jacqueline:
So you want me to kick off on that one?

Sarah:
Sure, you can go ahead.

Jacqueline:
Okay, so I think with cultural programs, [where] you’re going to take something broadly, it really begins with the company’s values, and underpinning those values is integrity. So, the topics all then to [should] address how a company gets its work done within that frame [of reference]. What is the common thread? What’s the heartbeat of a cross cultural program, so [learners] can start to contextualize it locally. And a company can use that spread, or that thread, to sprout off concepts into local business practices, technologies to use, [and for] some awareness building of products and services in certain regions. Other particular services that can be used to help communicate to the market, for example, [are] using qualified and accurate social media posts about what your company can do for the market place. I think it’s finding that underbelly, or that thread, that ties the company together and the values and integrity [of the company] is very, very essential to that.

Sarah:
Yeah, and Johnathan, what do you think?

Johnathan:

Yeah, I agree. I think awareness is where you have to begin with cultural training programs. So, you have to first raise awareness. You have to address things like [you would] unconscious bias [and] go into areas of empathy, awareness and openness. All that while providing some strong situational examples that are going to only work within your particular environment. So, to tie back to what Jacqueline was saying earlier, think about the stories that she uses to help approach those topics and begin to bind people together, I mean we want to celebrate the similarities that we have and similarly within values, and let’s take Coupa as an example. We have three core values, and that is our cultural binding force. That is what ties us all together, and we know the culture is going to evolve and grow as we add people into the organization both organically as well as through [talent] acquisition, and the reality is that everybody has a role to play in a positive addition to that culture. We have a phrase at Coupa that says, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” And so, by focusing on those core values just as Jacqueline was saying, we can celebrate those similarities to say that, “This is something that, culturally, we are all part of, and then have conversations around the differences and how to celebrate those differences as well.” One thing that we do as well, just as a best practice if you will, is in any of our learning or development programs or workshops that we host, we are always looking to include the cross-pollination of regions, departments and roles because we don’t necessarily want group thinking in any of these workshops. We want to hear differences of opinions. We want to hear different perspectives [and] different cultural influences to make sure that we are spreading the word and raising awareness either directly or indirectly through that type of activity.

Jacqueline:
And just to touch on one of the points you raised earlier as well, Johnathan, is around what are the nuances of that culture that they appreciate? Language being one of them, I was trying to think of it from being human, being what are the sense[s] we all have? Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, and we typically use sight, sound and touch in many of our learning programs regardless of where we are, but imagine taking a cross cultural program and adding taste and smell and especially if you’re doing live training events, so live cultural programs and people being able to explore their full senses because they are learning something about the other culture that may not be directly related to the content, but in some way [you] can start to weave it in, and [then] it becomes much more of an experience.

Taryn:

That’s so interesting, the idea that experiential learning, we can take that into this area of training and really provide that immersion. I love that. So, we know that localization is critical for the success of global training programs, could you talk about, first of all what localization is and then what that process looks like for learning leaders.

Jacqueline:
Sure, do you want to go with that one Johnathan or would you like me?

Johnathan:
Sure, yeah I’ll take that one. So, you know, I wouldn’t even necessarily call it localizing a training program, but it’s rather developing a global training initiative. At Coupa, we are a global organization. We are lucky enough that English is used as a standard [language] across the globe. So, what we try to do rather than localize the language that it’s delivered in, but rather [we try to] work with cross functional teams to contribute to the overall effort because we were talking just a minute ago about situational examples. We need to make sure those examples resonate across the globe. The things that we’re seeing here in California are absolutely different that what is seen in our Uppsala office in Sweden or [in our] Pune office in India. And, so, understanding what type of individual story and/or events are strong examples to help communicate what it is we’re looking at communicating. I think that’s really critical and then, more importantly, or equally as important is [that] we always ask for local leadership, not only to participate in the development, but [to help with] the execution of the programs.

Johnathan:
So, when we are looking at a global learning initiative, we want to make sure the local leadership is present not only during the construction of the course material and/or workshop, but rather they are an active participant, if not a presenter. Or, we can bring in additional people from that region to help present [the content]. What we really want to do is ensure that the delivery of it doesn’t always come from a single, central organization, but rather [from] the entire Coupa village. [We want to say that] the entire globe has contributed to this single activity. So, we’re not necessarily localizing by the language, but we are absolutely localizing by region, by department [and] by culture. And when I say department, in some cases when you look at a strong cultural intelligence, it’s going to be important to understand what a developer might be looking for [in a] class versus somebody who is looking through the sales lens or looking through a marketing lens. When we look at developing and overall localizing, if you will, training initiatives, it’s more about developing a global learning initiative.

Jacqueline:
Yeah, I would agree, and you touched on leadership there. If we assume we’re taking an existing global program that needs to be customized for a range of local audiences, that role of [the] essential L&D governance body is so key. We’ve learned many lessons from not having that in place before in organizations where I have worked. So, this governance team, they will ensure that the learning and performance outcomes remain consistent across the locations even though they are going to take on different and unique contextualization and some of that contextualization might include the look and feel, the leadership champions to Johnathon’s point. The language to Johnathon’s point again, imagery, certain course elements and content for customization and that governance body should really provide specific guidance on learning outcomes because that’s their professional capability. That’s what they were. That’s what they built experience in, or went to [a] university to get [a degree in] and, in order to ensure the integrity of that instructional design and the design standards around format, you want to have a treatment and a modality that matches the local needs. That’s that professional learning advisory that every company needs today more than ever — because everyone wants to scale and how you’re going to get line of feedback. You know, what level is it? One, two, three, [or] even four? What kind of completion recognition will they be awarding the learning? Are they going to get a credit, [a] certification, [or] a healthy bench marking against some of their peers? Or [is] transparency with leadership special because people want to be recognized in their career? And last but not least, how do you report the success of that program to those people who invested the funds — the leaders? Again, going back to why did it even come up in the first place. And, [it’s important] not to overlook the importance of governance to play this role of what is the best time and method to deploy this program because, if you think about it, a lot of companies have got other things going on like time pressures, quarter-end financial close[s], [and] holidays that are in conflict [of the training]. Being localized doesn’t just mean that it should be delivered through [a] separate channel and I think, on the contrary, that it’s essential that a minimum number of access points or interfaces are used for learning today. So, finding a way to weave a local course into an existing populations learning journey that is motivating [and] that is meaningful … it’s going to help justify delivering it in the first place and, at the same time, not run the risk of breaking the [learning journey] or having it fall flat. And so I think governance plays a big role in a local program.

Johnathan:
Yeah, I think you brought up a couple of interesting points there related to learner feedback and, for that matter, even stakeholder feedback. I mean, one of the things that we all as professionals need to keep top of mind is [that] we can’t be afraid to fail. As we roll these [programs] out, we’re not going to get it right this first time, [but] we need to pilot [it] and reiterate and be open to change. That’s one of the biggest things that I see if you look to go global, is that you have to be open to “yes, you’re instructional designers, put this together in a specific way,” but the reality is that this particular way it’s being presented doesn’t necessarily resonate in another area of the world or in another geography. So, I think that’s something very important, and there is another assumption that I even made as we were sitting here talking, which is to ensure that it’s not only [paying attention to] the modality, as Jacqueline was saying, but the [ensuring that the] timing works as well. We can’t always do training on our local time. We have to be very, very cognizant of [timing] if we’re doing web-based deliver, for example, [and] we are setting up multiple [training] times all throughout the globe to make sure that, “Yes, we are staying up at midnight to deliver this material” versus having somebody else do so. More often than not for, well actually 100% of the time for instructor-led courses, we’re going to go out and have feet on the ground in their area to ensure that it’s as easy a learning process as possible. We’re not asking them to uproot themselves from [their] family, friends or roll [out] any more than they have to. We will do that to help their learning initiative as well.

Jacqueline:
Yeah, absolutely.

Taryn:
Now Johnathan, I know you said that your audience is all English speaking. So I’m wondering, Jacqueline, if you could talk to any issues or processes that you’ve used or come across to manage the translation process for training around the globe. Or Johnathan, even if you’ve faced any kind of translations, for lack of a better word issues when it comes to different dialects of English, different spellings, different idioms [and] things like that, if you could all talk to that.

Jacqueline:
I’ve worked in a couple of large organizations and, lucky for us, we had the [help of] internal translation services or else vendors that do that kind of work for us. So, analyze and then determine the translation requirement to go with it. But if the piece is purely digital, then a good piece of learning software can often provide translation captioning for videos. At the very minimum, if anything is going into a learning space, a translator transcript is a minimum for accessibility compliance. So, that’s just something that’s a given, it doesn’t matter what format it’s in. Someone needs to be able to read in their own language, even particularly if they have a disability. But let’s not forget either about visual language, conveyed by graphics and I think that came up a few times earlier in the conversation. The consideration that needs to be made around color, the shape [or] certain graphics needed when you need to meet commercial or legal and regulatory requirements across global business. Those are important and that kind of help can often come from internal marketing and communications and legal teams, as well as some companies are now acquiring or hiring resources who are really talented in digital design, [someone] who can understand the user experience and they are trained in those sorts of things … they know what color matches with what local audience, and that can be a part of translation, too. And it’s definitely the whole process of [the] design, development and delivery of custom content [that] needs to have a lens of translation on it.

Johnathan:
I’d say from my end, yes, the vast majority of all our materials delivered internally is all [in] English. But that said, there are those translation issues or “definition issues,” if you will. How we approach those differences as we come across them … I mean, one of the things is, it goes back to the basics of cultural intelligence and a sense of you almost have to assume that everybody is coming from a position of positive intention. And so, we’re not looking in any of our courses that we’re teaching to preach. It’s a discussion. It is a workshop. It’s an opportunity to be authentic and share some respectful authenticity. We have come across challenges, as we’ve seen some delivery of some of the courses. I mean, you look at … and I used the term before [of] “Coupa Village,” and that’s what we used to define who we are organizationally, and we have this concept of, “It takes a village,” where everybody has a role to play in the overall success of our organization. What’s interesting [is] you think that actually, that creation of that metaphor was done with the absolute best of intention[s]. Where “village” meant something that was special to people, it’s almost like a family, and everybody is working together, and we’re trying to do something really unique here. Whereas, you go to certain geographies throughout the globe and you start talking about the “Coupa Village” and “village” isn’t seen necessarily as something that is a good thing necessarily… it could be a small town that lacks [the] infrastructure that everybody is looking to get out of [a town], that lacks education, that lacks medical facilities … right? So, we have to appreciate that “Oh my goodness, we understand that that’s where you’re coming from but, now that we know that, let’s talk about why we think [the word] “village” is more about how we can succeed as a family with a really good success in that regard.” So, I think it’s identifying those areas of differences or the differences in definition that are also key, and also appreciating the other person’s perspective and, if you think to what Jacqueline was saying just a minute ago, is [when] you think about the imagery that’s presented in these L&D type of activities, and so any time we’re going to be on-site of another location we’re always very cognizant. In fact ahead of time we’re going to load up pictures of the local office or the local community [or] the local sports teams. So, as we’re developing a particular piece of learning content, yes we’re going to pop in a particular visual that ties to the story we are trying to tell in the context of that particular slide. But we actually rotate those images based off of the particular region, department, geography [or] whatever we might be going to.

Sarah:
Yeah, learning how to manage those translation issues I think is definitely critical for the success of any global training program, really. What do you think are maybe some other common challenges that today’s L&D leaders are facing when launching a global training program? Jacqueline, do you want to start with this one?

Jacqueline:
Sure. Well, I think — and this is my humble opinion — [that] it’s absolutely essential for L&D leaders who want to scale learning to global audiences to become a trusted business partner and an advisor to their local business leaders and the learning teams within those, and manage the stakeholder differences or conflict[s] of opinion as a matter of high priority. Because there’s always going to be opinions, and that is of local business importance that will require discussion and even escalation … and the latter may give rise to the need for the presences of a learning counsel. A lot of organizations don’t have these bodies set up, and it doesn’t matter how large you are; it’s often thinking about what is the flow of discussion and decision making that needs to take place, and what bodies do we need set up to help support and navigate that discussion. Sometimes, when an escalation cannot be resolved and there is ongoing friction, that’s when the company’s senior most people need to get involved, and that’s usually the management committee of the company. And that just ensures that everyone is having a say about scaling learning across the globe, [and that] everyone knows how much they have to invest, [and that] everyone knows who has what role and what role they’re playing that essentially, it’s ensuring that the corporate messaging and the outcomes remain that North Star of the program. And I mentioned earlier about good governance. Letting the local leaders, if you have good governance you can let the local leaders and those teams make it their own — and all the while you’re keeping your North Star really shiny and bright [and ensuring] that those learning outcomes can support the business investment and the goal. So, good governance ensures that the learning approach will be consistent. It will use consistent design standards, feedback mechanisms [and] quality controls though these bodies like a learning counsel or a management committee for escalation points and governance and consistency around operating processes and, in particular, reporting. How are you going to prove that that was a good investment.

Sarah:
Yeah, and Johnathan, what other challenges do you think L&D leaders may face when launching a global training program?

Johnathan:
I think first I’d want to highlight the comment that Jacqueline said related to [the idea that] everyone has a say. Because I think that one of the primary problems that I’ve seen in the business environment is having too central a focus ؅— and this applies even at the baseline. You can’t make assumptions about what the learning needs are and then that multiplies or exponentially increases as you begin working through the globe saying yes, you got to get other people involved, [and] you have to make sure there are some stakeholder contribution[s], some buy-in and some interest in pushing this program out. It can’t be a central person just coming and saying, “I know what’s right here.” I think it’s easy for people to fall into bad habits as well. The second problem, I think, I see happening is [that] people [are] really sulking back into their unconscious bias. I mean, when you’re developing these programs, you have to have that curiosity. You have to have that openness, that empathy that we talked about before, because you can’t have bias toward other cultures or traditions. You need to be able to embrace them and incorporate that into your overall strategy and delivery. So, I think that is boils down to folks are, if they aren’t being curious they’re going to fall into some pitfalls because one person or one group, or one team is going to understand what’s going to work through the rest of the globe. It’s something that has to be done collaboratively [and] cross functionally. You’ve got to work together as a cultural team to develop something that’s really going to work well in my opinion.

Taryn:  I love that idea — that curiosity can combat the unconscious bias that we all sometimes experience. So, to wrap things up what advice do each of you have for L&D leaders who are developing and implementing a global training program, maybe for the first time in their careers? Johnathan, do you want to start?

Johnathan:

Sure, I think the first is just get something done right? I think we all suffer from that I need to have it perfect nature. The thing is I heard an analogy earlier today which I thought was wonderful, it’s like waves on a beach in sense that you just try something and then you try again and try again and you’re constantly moving forward so don’t get caught up in analysis, but rather just try things and be as inclusive of others. Going back to what I talked about early on is, you got to celebrate the similarities, bond over the similarities and celebrate the differences. There is just so many things you can do to put your arms around why having different views and perspectives on culture is a good thing, as long as you have that binding values systems that is going to work together. We just covered it as well, but it is also having that open mindset, building cross-functional teams, getting people together to do this and not develop things in a vacuum. And then as you’re developing that, ensuring that you got, that you’re addressing the objectives from the leadership team, [and that] you’re getting local leadership buy- in and guidance on the best way to do things. And I would say, finally, it’s just, don’t be afraid of change. In fact, don’t be afraid of cultural exchange or cultural exchange programs. We need to be able to make sure that people are able to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes for day. That is one of the things we really try to focus on at Coupa, is to allow people as part of a training class, as I said before, for every training class we have we try to have some cross-pollination. Yes. We’re willing to make the investment to fly somebody from an office in Boston to Pune just so they can understand a little more of the perspective of the Bostonians and then, in turn, we understand a little more of the Pune folks. And so, it’s not always just intact departmental trainings or geographic trainings that are best but really taking close look at whether or not some cross pollination is something that will also help streamline the overall cultural intelligence of the organization.

Jacqueline:

Well I guess, [my advice] would just [be to] say, do have a plan. Think about [it] as a new leader. [To] believe in yourself is the very first thing. Believe in yourself [and] believe in your capabilities. Create a loose plan, and then start building relationships. Often times, you build a stakeholder map or something like that, and you start to understand who is who and what are their [main] points. Try to have conversations with them if you can and then you start to get a sense as to what their needs are. Because again, the word “empathy” has been spoken many, many times throughout this podcast and that is the key to everything. Empathy means you’re a human being, and when we’re dealing with people from other countries, it’s our humanity that bonds us together, and if you can respect and be kind and just be able to try to understand another person, you will be able to do whatever you need to do. And then have a plan. Take it one day at a time, and if anything happens that doesn’t go your way … that’s fine; you just go back onto the path and continue. Make mistakes and admit to them. That’s one of the best things; is showing humility. Everyone feels like they have the chance to breathe when you show humility — because no one is expected to know everything. No one can know everything. And I think if you’re able to follow your plan, and share it and get feedback as well, that gets people involved in the process. Those are the kinds of things I would advise a new person chomping at the bit of a new program and put your creativity cap on because people are so busy today [that] they want to be entertained. They want to smile. They want to be happy … and this can be fun. Learning can be really fun. So, I think I would end it on that note.

Taryn:
That’s some great advice. Thank you, Jacqueline, for that. As we do know that today’s digital business environment is allowing for greater connectivity with learners from all around the world, learning to develop and implement a successful global training program is so critical for the success of today’s learning leaders. With that in mind you can learn more about emerging L&D trends in our 2020 trends report, which is now available for download in the show notes.

Taryn:
Jacqueline Bhavaraju of KPMG and Johnathan Fear of Coupa Software, it was great speaking with you both today. Thanks for joining us.

Jacqueline:
Thank you!

Johnathan:
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure!

Sarah:
And of course, you can find additional resources for developing and implementing a successful global training program in the show notes at trainingindustry.com/trainingindustrypodcast.

Taryn:
And if you’re enjoying this podcast, we do encourage you to rate it and leave a review on your podcast app to help other learning leaders find us. We’ll talk to you next year.

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