How does your company manage training? If you have remote employees on the payroll or your employees work in different locations around the globe, chances are your training isn’t happening in one place anymore. So what do business leaders, HR pros and trainers need to know about training a global, virtual audience?

In her career as a global trainer, Donna Steffey has visited 25 countries over 25 years. I asked her advice on building a global mindset and applying it to training and learning.

Build Your Cultural Intelligence

Before you start working with people in another country, you just need to read up on that country’s culture — right?

That’s a common misconception, Steffey says. But it’s not enough to have knowledge; you also have to be ready to take action. She says she’s studied David Livermore, an author who breaks down “cultural intelligence” into four competencies:

  • Drive
  • Knowledge
  • Strategy
  • Action

“Before I started researching his work, I didn’t realize that desire was important,” she says. Cultural intelligence is about more than just gathering knowledge. “It’s having that drive and desire. It’s about having a strategy and a game plan for when you work with people from other cultures, and then putting that plan into action.”

Tune into Cultural Nuances

Steffey has learned volumes about the subtle differences between cultures, especially when it comes to learning. As a trainer, her students expect her to handle the same situations completely differently based on where she is in the world.

“If you as the instructor embarrass a participant in the Middle East, you should acknowledge it immediately and apologize. But in Japan, you shouldn’t acknowledge it and apologize. You should wait until you can have a private conversation,” she says.

“In South America, if something goes wrong — like let’s say you have participants who come back late from lunch — what you want to do is acknowledge those people who came back on time from lunch, and not say anything about the people who came back late.”

These kinds of subtle differences and expectations can be tough to parse, so Steffey suggests talking to a local manager before you start training a new group.

For example, she might say to a manager, “Help me understand about your culture. You’re sending three participants from India. What do I need to know about Indian culture in order to be able to serve their needs in the classroom?”

Then, she pushes for a real answer. “They’ll probably say, ‘Oh, nothing. Everything is the same.’ And that’s just simply not true. I think as trainers we have to say, ‘No, I really want to understand the folks that are coming to training. Tell me what they like, what they don’t like. What do I need to know about their culture?’”

Understanding those cultural differences is so important because they’re deeply ingrained in learners. “We can’t change our learning style. We can’t change what our culture was, how we were brought up and how we learned to learn, just because we’re traveling to the U.S. or we’re getting on a webinar based in the U.S. The learners have their own style, and we have to respond to their style.”

Engage Virtual Learners

A recent ATD report shows that only 51 percent of corporate training is face-to-face — and that number is dropping fast. If you’re leading a virtual training, Steffey suggests thinking about how to modify your in-person curriculum to better suit the remote format.

“For instructor-led virtual training, the key is to engage that learner every three to five minutes,” she says. “So often, the trainer thinks they can lecture, and they just can’t. They have to use the tools available in order to engage that learner in the virtual, remote word.”

Stay Flexible

Even the best-prepared trainers have to respond to unexpected situations on the fly. Steffey describes a common experience among global trainers: Someone is preparing for a training in a different country, using English because English is the global language of business. They’ve been told their participants are going to speak English. But when the training starts, they realize the learners’ English is not strong.

So, the trainer has to adjust quickly. Maybe they change their slide deck to be more visual, with less text. Or maybe they change their activities to involve more group work so participants can speak their own language and process the information together.

“That’s part of a good global mindset, because what it means is I have a plan, but I am aware enough of the situation to select different actions to make the training work instead.”

Finally, she says, the most important part of having a global mindset is to treat everyone, everywhere, with respect. “Allow your learners to preserve their dignity, no matter what.”

Listen to the full #WorkTrends episode with Donna Steffey:

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