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Untangling the Web

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Puttingtechnology into the training mix can often enhance cultural differences.Patrick McCurry looks at the issues thrown up by e-learningTrainingacross cultures is nothing new, but the growing convergence of markets inEurope and other regions is pushing the issue further up the agenda for manycompanies.Anew ingredient in the mix is e-learning and the degree to which web orcomputer-based courses can be used in cross-border training.PaulMorris, managing director at the automotive group for Raytheon ProfessionalServices, argues that cultural differences between countries can often beunder-estimated when companies roll out cross-border training programmes.Thereare major differences between, say, Western Europe and the Middle East, hesays, but also more subtle variances within Europe itself.“Recognisingcultural differences is much more than acknowledging the different languages acompany is dealing with, and sometimes companies seem to take a rathersuperficial  approach,” says Morris, whoused to head training at Renault UK.AtRPS he works with companies such as General Motors and Saab in deliveringtraining across Europe.Whentaking into account cultural differences, much will depend on the nature of thetraining. “If it’s technical training – whether that be automotive, white goodsor other sectors – cultural approaches are not that important. Taking a gearboxapart and  putting it back together isthe same in any country,” he said.Forsoft skills, however, it may be a different story. For example, a course formiddle managers on supervising staff may require a different approach dependingon the region.“Incountries like Denmark and Holland there’s a similar perception of the role ofmanagement, but when you look at Eastern Europe, the Middle East or Africathere’s much more respect for management hierarchies,” says Morris.InWestern  Europe and North America therehas been a huge erosion in respect for rank and position in all walks of lifein the last 15 years, he says, which has not yet occurred in other regions.Whenit comes to training in areas like customer services, parts of central andEastern Europe are radically different from the West, which may require changesin the design of training programmes.“InRussia it is very difficult to explain the concept of customer care becauseit’s not something that many Russians have experienced,” Morris says.Customercare training may also have to be modified in parts of Western Europe in areaslike training salespeople in contacting clients by phone.Morrissays, “In Switzerland, where I’m based, and Scandinavia, customers generallyexpect to get precise and accurate information delivered in an efficient butpolite way. They like it short and to the point.“Butin other cultures, such as Southern Europe and even the UK, there’s moreemphasis on establishing a relationship between the salesperson and customer. Customerswant good quality information, but also attach importance to the tone andfriendliness of the salesperson.”Similarly,customer service training may need to be modified to reflect when clientsprefer to be contacted. “In Northern Europe and the UK, people often prefer tobe contacted during the day, whether at home or work, while in Southern Europethey prefer the evening,” says Morris.Heargues that the best approach is to develop a central training programme butallow flexibility within that for local trainers to adapt it where necessary tospecific cultures.Thedegree to which training needs to be adapted will depend significantly on theorganisation. The strong internal culture in some multinationals cuts acrossmany national differences.Morrissays, “Some companies have a very robust international culture which enablesthem to roll out training without too many cultural adaptations, but others kidthemselves that just because every office has the same colour curtains thecompany has the same culture across countries.”E-learninghas an increasingly important role to play in cross-border training but, again,cultural issues may need to be tackled. An obvious issue, says Morris, is theaccess to technology enjoyed by staff in different countries. Inparts of Northern Europe there may be a culture of encouraging staff to uselearning centres during working hours.“Ifyou’re dealing with staff who are likely to be accessing e-learning from PCs athome you may need to be less ambitious and deliver material in bite-sizedchunks that a home PC can handle.“Theremay also be issues around how supportive local managers are of e-learning.Again, in parts of Southern Europe managers may undervalue e-learning andbelieve it is not as relevant as more traditional classroom training,” saysMorris.CasestudyCulture allows uniform styleAtGMAC, the retail finance arm of General Motors in Europe, a number ofcross-border training courses have been rolled out using Raytheon ProfessionalServices.GMAC’shuman resources director Ken Ulrich says the company’s strong internal culturemeans changing courses to reflect cultural differences is kept to a minimum.“Wehave a strong work ethic and an open and informal culture, regardless of thecountry, which allows us to adopt a more uniform training approach than manyother companies, although we do tailor training to the local market where weneed to,” he says.Hebelieves that Raytheon’s policy of using local trainers to deliver courses is akey element in effective training across cultures.Raytheon’sPaul Morris says, “We’ve found that local trainers understand the subtleties oflocal language or culture and using them often gives the training morecredibility.”GMAC’starget is for 60 per cent of training to be delivered over the Web or fromcomputer within three years. “We’re trying to make sure all employees have thetools and knowledge needed for e-learning,” he says.Thecompany, which operates across 21 countries in Europe, also has a long-termtarget for all its training to be delivered in English. A new software programfor staff will be entirely in English, says Ulrich, but currently less thanhalf the 1,500 staff are proficient enough to be trained in the language.“Aswe recruit new people, having strong English skills will become more and moreimportant,” he says. Untangling the WebOn 1 Mar 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Articlelast_img read more