Untangling the Web

technology into the training mix can often enhance cultural differences.
Patrick McCurry looks at the issues thrown up by e-learning

across cultures is nothing new, but the growing convergence of markets in
Europe and other regions is pushing the issue further up the agenda for many

new ingredient in the mix is e-learning and the degree to which web or
computer-based courses can be used in cross-border training.

Morris, managing director at the automotive group for Raytheon Professional
Services, argues that cultural differences between countries can often be
under-estimated when companies roll out cross-border training programmes.

are major differences between, say, Western Europe and the Middle East, he
says, but also more subtle variances within Europe itself.

cultural differences is much more than acknowledging the different languages a
company is dealing with, and sometimes companies seem to take a rather
superficial  approach,” says Morris, who
used to head training at Renault UK.

RPS he works with companies such as General Motors and Saab in delivering
training across Europe.

taking into account cultural differences, much will depend on the nature of the
training. “If it’s technical training – whether that be automotive, white goods
or other sectors – cultural approaches are not that important. Taking a gearbox
apart and  putting it back together is
the same in any country,” he said.

soft skills, however, it may be a different story. For example, a course for
middle managers on supervising staff may require a different approach depending
on the region.

countries like Denmark and Holland there’s a similar perception of the role of
management, but when you look at Eastern Europe, the Middle East or Africa
there’s much more respect for management hierarchies,” says Morris.

Western  Europe and North America there
has been a huge erosion in respect for rank and position in all walks of life
in the last 15 years, he says, which has not yet occurred in other regions.

it comes to training in areas like customer services, parts of central and
Eastern Europe are radically different from the West, which may require changes
in the design of training programmes.

Russia it is very difficult to explain the concept of customer care because
it’s not something that many Russians have experienced,” Morris says.

care training may also have to be modified in parts of Western Europe in areas
like training salespeople in contacting clients by phone.

says, “In Switzerland, where I’m based, and Scandinavia, customers generally
expect to get precise and accurate information delivered in an efficient but
polite way. They like it short and to the point.

in other cultures, such as Southern Europe and even the UK, there’s more
emphasis on establishing a relationship between the salesperson and customer. Customers
want good quality information, but also attach importance to the tone and
friendliness of the salesperson.”

customer service training may need to be modified to reflect when clients
prefer to be contacted. “In Northern Europe and the UK, people often prefer to
be contacted during the day, whether at home or work, while in Southern Europe
they prefer the evening,” says Morris.

argues that the best approach is to develop a central training programme but
allow flexibility within that for local trainers to adapt it where necessary to
specific cultures.

degree to which training needs to be adapted will depend significantly on the
organisation. The strong internal culture in some multinationals cuts across
many national differences.

says, “Some companies have a very robust international culture which enables
them to roll out training without too many cultural adaptations, but others kid
themselves that just because every office has the same colour curtains the
company has the same culture across countries.”

has 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 the
access to technology enjoyed by staff in different countries.

parts of Northern Europe there may be a culture of encouraging staff to use
learning centres during working hours.

you’re dealing with staff who are likely to be accessing e-learning from PCs at
home you may need to be less ambitious and deliver material in bite-sized
chunks that a home PC can handle.

may also be issues around how supportive local managers are of e-learning.
Again, in parts of Southern Europe managers may undervalue e-learning and
believe it is not as relevant as more traditional classroom training,” says

Culture allows uniform style

GMAC, the retail finance arm of General Motors in Europe, a number of
cross-border training courses have been rolled out using Raytheon Professional

human resources director Ken Ulrich says the company’s strong internal culture
means changing courses to reflect cultural differences is kept to a minimum.

have a strong work ethic and an open and informal culture, regardless of the
country, which allows us to adopt a more uniform training approach than many
other companies, although we do tailor training to the local market where we
need to,” he says.

believes that Raytheon’s policy of using local trainers to deliver courses is a
key element in effective training across cultures.

Paul Morris says, “We’ve found that local trainers understand the subtleties of
local language or culture and using them often gives the training more

target is for 60 per cent of training to be delivered over the Web or from
computer within three years. “We’re trying to make sure all employees have the
tools and knowledge needed for e-learning,” he says.

company, which operates across 21 countries in Europe, also has a long-term
target for all its training to be delivered in English. A new software program
for staff will be entirely in English, says Ulrich, but currently less than
half the 1,500 staff are proficient enough to be trained in the language.

we recruit new people, having strong English skills will become more and more
important,” he says.

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