Working on a Smaller Planet: Global Communities, Global Workforces

We’re a global company. We have teams all over the world. We have managers in the U. S. leading teams in Europe, teams in Asia leading teams in the U.S., teams in Europe leading teams in Asia. We’re having legal and cultural issues springing up all over the place. We need to train everybody and get them all on the same page. How can we get this done fast and effectively?
As the ease of communication continues to accelerate and decline in cost, and international workforces and markets can be more quickly reached than ever, variations of this question will continue to be asked.
The question is easier to pose than it is to answer – it presumes there’s a standard solution, a miracle learning cure that will quickly solve a complex workplace issue. Anyone who can provide a simple two-hour learning solution to change behavior across multiple global communities will be the next social media hero.
There are multiple issues posed as workplaces globalize and most organizations are only now beginning to appreciate the issues presented. Here is a short list of steps that have to be considered.

  • Changing behavior is a process that takes time and reinforcement. Giving people information alone won’t change behavior especially when the information contains ideas that are novel, seem “foreign” in both senses of the word and conflict with longstanding practices. Think about how difficult it is to change behavior in the United States involving U.S. laws with stiff organizational and personal penalties. We still see outrageous violations of employment laws even when those regulations have been in place for nearly 50 years or more. Global communities are no more likely to adapt their practices quickly just because they are told what the new standards are. And for reasons tied to national identity and culture, perhaps even less so.
  • Getting people to adapt unfamiliar cultural or legal standards is a “political” problem first and a learning problem second. No matter where your organization is based, issuing directives from the home office will seem to many as offensive and over-reaching. If you want to maximize chances for success, involve representatives from a range of communities and get their ideas, perspective and commitment to support what is ultimately delivered. Initiatives that start with group involvement from multiple locales are more likely to succeed than those that don’t. Global communities can’t be built by mandates from headquarters.
  • Overly ambitious goals will lead to failure. Organizations intent on adapting global cultures and communities need to start with modest goals in terms of what they expect to accomplish and how long it will take. There need to be a few simple behaviors that are identified, emphasized, and reinforced; the more novel and different the concepts being introduced the fewer you need to have an impact. And behavioral change won’t happen overnight.
  • Leaders at the top must lead but ultimately global initiatives will rise or fall at the local office or shop floor level. Daily behavior is driven by what happens at the level where work is done. While senior leaders must speak about key themes, those who manage team members directly must support and ultimately lead the initiative. What they say and what they do is ultimately more important than what is taught.
  • Global standards involve multiple issues and separate strategies need to be considered for each.Building global communities involves several considerations.
    • What clear behavioral standards must be consistently communicated to build a global community based on values apart from and in addition to legal standards?
    • What legal standards must be communicated and to which specific audiences?
    • How can different legal standards be communicated in ways that make sense, are easy to apply and can be readily reinforced?
  • The easiest part of the initiative is the tactical deployment of information. Consider strategy last in this process. Many initiatives start with tactical questions such as:
    • How do we translate into multiple languages?
    • How do we make sure our videos are culturally acceptable to the audience?
    • How do we deploy instructor-led and online learning?

    These are important questions that affect content, budgetary and logistical considerations. However, they are critical after leaders decide what must be communicated, taught, and reinforced rather than before. Content alone doesn’t change behavior. Meaning, leadership, simple standards, accountability, and repetition are key.

  • There is no deadline. There may be a deadline for delivering information. Typically, deadlines are important for documenting compliance. But building communities and changing behavior has no deadline; it is an ongoing process to be embedded in the way things are done.
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