Lessons learned in going global

Elva Ainsworth discusses a few of things you will have to address if you want to scale your L&D business internationally.

Like many of our L&D peers, the vast majority of our work has always been UK focused. However, a new global contract for one of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations, suddenly meant a genuine transformation in terms of a truly global team and service.

The following are just some of our learnings that might be of interest to other organisations in the L&D sector having to cope with a similar transformation.   

  • Having a global mindset. Every decision made now has to consider the fact you are now delivering internationally and, having been British and UK-focused for so long, that’s something that is easy to forget. Designing in the functionality for users to choose their own time zone when they use specific tools is just one of the outcomes.
  • Consideration for religious festivals. Your knowledge of the religious holidays around the world needs to be accurate. The obvious issue was the fact that the weekend in the Islamic world is mostly Fri/Sat. You need to really capitalise on the four days we all work and be prepared to answer emails on Sundays. Planning needs to take account of the key festivals everywhere and recognise that the UK is somewhat unusual, for instance, in celebrating Christmas and May Day. Just assuming everyone has the same holidays as us is clearly wrong.
  • Cultural adaptation. Different cultures respond differently to being asked to complete something. Compliance varies across the globe as does the length of the planning cycle. The agility and ability to respond to these differences has become important. A ‘polite reminder’ in one culture is offensive in some parts; just the right touch in some, it can be totally ineffective elsewhere.
  • True diversity. The need for true diversity in terms of ethnic origin becomes more than just ‘a good idea’, it becomes critical. For example, in our case, a PowerPoint slide showing the three team members to manage an account was pointedly deleted by a client on the basis that we were too white. Quite right.
  • Dealing with the time zones. Again, in our particular case, Zoom meetings and webinars needed to accommodate the west coast of the USA right round to Japan (an 18-hour difference) so we soon realised that just ‘running a webinar’ actually meant hosting two. One first thing ‘our time’, and another as late as we could cope with. Client-facing team members have to get used to critical calls starting at the end of our day and to having a full inbox when they wake each morning. And you have to learn is to pace yourself to cope with the long days.
  • 24/7 service provision. Sticking to standard office hours for the UK is just not going to be enough anymore. Finding resources to cover the core hours outside of these can be interesting as there are rather more options than expected. The emergence of virtual working has really helped and onboarding new team members is challenging but possible.
  • Communicating in international English. Emails and Zoom calls with clients fluent in English often seems OK but, when you start to work with language in surveys and communications, it became obvious that their command of English can be more limited. Keeping to simple English has been key (and a great overall lesson in keeping everything as simple as possible and not overcomplicating things) but it is always tricky to correct a client’s grammar.
  • Multiple languages. Even though clients may have a stated corporate language of English, there are many people who choose to communicate differently – French, Spanish and Arabic being the key languages we have needed to work with. Being confident enough to understand the written word is clearly different to writing in your second language yourself. Bilingual coaches and translators can be valuable additions to your team.

It’s crucial that your breadth of perspective expands along with your capacity, knowledge, coverage and your clients’ expectations. The journey to being a virtual, global company is just beginning and our learnings will, of course, continue.


About the author

Elva Ainsworth is CEO at Talent Innovations




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