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Global challenges call for a global approach to learning

by Ana Lopez
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René Janssen, founder and CEO of Lepaya, is passionate about human and business potential enabled by technology-based L&D.

The war in Eastern Europe that started in the spring of 2022 caused commodity prices to spike in the United States. A steering error of a large container ship in the Suez Canal has disrupted global supply chains for months. A virus first discovered in a Chinese city led to a global economic and cultural standstill for nearly two years. And only recently, the launch of a commercial AI-driven large language model with the potential to disrupt entire industries has made us rethink the concept of real versus artificial. From the impact of climate change to technological advancements and digitization to the battle against talent, the people you work with, the challenges you face and the competitors you face transcend national borders.

In a world where change can be initiated anywhere, anytime, the agility and adaptability of your business model and of your employees is the most important source of sustainable competitive advantage. Having the right people with the right skills can determine tomorrow’s success. The best way to tackle this is to continuously invest in the further training and retraining of your employees. If you haven’t already, I think now is the time to reset your board-level priorities and put learning and development at the top of the list.

For internationally operating companies, it is easier said than done to make L&D a strategic priority. Applying a truly global approach to upskilling requires scalable and contextualized solutions. Traditionally, we see L&D being approached at a country level, designed and executed by local HR staff, using local providers and local content. But many believe that responding to global threats through locally coordinated action will yield little result. These threats often need to be addressed at the highest level using global solutions.

Upskilling on a global scale, however, poses specific challenges. Traditionally, we see offline driven L&D solutions that focus on multi-day, face-to-face training events. This type of learning can be limited by the lack of scalability. It is well suited to training a group of people in a specific set of skills from one location, but often lacks the space to serve thousands of people. These methods generally take the form of one-time, isolated training sessions without tracking the long-term impact on behavior or business results. At the same time, they come at the cost of workflow disruptions that lead to lost productivity. What makes offline-driven L&D solutions even more complicated is that the providers in this area are highly fragmented. Imagine a company with offices in Buenos Aires, New York, Berlin, Johannesburg and Singapore that wants to invest extra in further training. Setting this up through the traditional channels takes local HR across all five locations to find a local provider and a lot of coordination to ensure quality and consistency.

So, how can you strategically execute L&D across multiple countries? Here are three best practices for creating a globally scalable and contextualized learning approach.

1. Design a blueprint for upskilling tied to business goals.

The first step is to develop a clear business strategy. Based on what you want to achieve in business, you can determine what skills you want to build in your organization to excel in the long run. The starting point for answering this question is a better understanding of the challenges your organization is likely to face, possibly differentiated by the different markets in which you operate. Based on that, you can design an upskilling blueprint that describes the capabilities you can build into your globally dispersed talent.

2. Select workouts that effectively build the necessary skills.

The world is full of training that does not deliver demonstrable skill improvement. In my experience, some traditional providers can overload students with content and leave it to students to process and apply the concepts in their work without support. Digital content platforms, on the other hand, sometimes do not allow customization and their content is mainly focused on theory.

A traditional provider makes sense in cases where live interactions between colleagues are crucial; however, they should always be complemented by L&D interventions before and after class, as regular reinforcement is needed to ensure that students do not forget and apply what they have learned. A digital content platform might make sense for teams working completely remotely to deliver hard skills or technical skills training at scale, but I also recommend monitoring learner progress on a regular basis to ensure employees are actually learning the curriculum to follow.

Another effective approach is to release short and specific pieces of content over a longer period of time. This allows students to internalize the theory and practice its application in everyday situations, likely leading to the adoption of new behaviors and sustainable performance improvements.

3. Roll out your curriculum worldwide.

Build capability academies that separate understanding, which can be individually driven, and actual skill development, where instructors are needed. If you look beyond traditional training providers and conventional learning methods, you will find new ways to create effective learning modules worldwide. Combining digital tools and deep human interactions can result in engaging, self-paced and contextualized upskilling solutions that drive lasting behavior change and improve individual, team and company performance. Examples of new digital tools are AI algorithms to help students develop their presentation skills and VR modules that create real-life opportunities to practice professional communication.

When budgets are tight, HR expenses, especially L&D budgets, are generally the first to be cut. Even though these costs feel like luxury expenses, they certainly aren’t. Especially in times of turmoil, doubling down on agility and adaptability through skill development of your employees can help you outperform your competitors and come out on top. Redesigning your L&D curriculum based on these three best practices can also mean cutting the slack and replacing ineffective – and generally expensive – programs with scalable and more effective solutions, potentially lowering L&D costs.

Scaling L&D requires a contextualized approach that takes into account your company’s specific challenges and is delivered through effective methods that drive lasting behavior change. I believe that those multinationals that succeed in building a flexible and adaptable global talent pool will achieve dominance in their industry and sustainably improve their business performance.

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