Impactiviti recently interviewed John Talanca, Head, Learning Technologies, Novartis Global Sales and Marketing. The topic of this Impact Interview is Global Training, an area of growing concern for many pharmaceutical training organizations.
John’s chief responsibilities include setting distance learning strategy, global LMS management and integration, championing instructional design and blended learning, implementing electronic performance tools, and overseeing interactive module development. An 18-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Talanca has held numerous Learning & Development titles on both the client and vendor sides of the table, as well as roles in field sales and brand management.
Q1: When developing and rolling out training, what are the three biggest differences you’ve seen in working with a global audience, compared to a U.S. audience?
First, global audiences are much more diverse than U.S. audiences, especially when your learning efforts have to span multiple countries or cultures. Therefore, one must be more sensitive to how the training effort communicates information. Second, the uptake and receptivity of alternative ways of learning (i.e., e-learning and mobile learning) by learners is much greater overseas. Not only does this provide training professionals more design flexibility, but it also reduces resistance to piloting news learning tools or technologies. The third (and most unfortunate) difference, is that budget amounts assigned to global learning efforts are typically lower than the U.S. This presents challenges at times, especially when the training effort requires travel and overnight costs.
Q2: In what ways has technology helped your efforts to roll out global training?
Undoubtedly, the biggest impact it has had is increasing access to learning, mainly via e-learning. The ability to post an e-learning course on our LMS and have 90,000 employees have access to it seconds later is all the justification needed for combining technology & training. When you also consider how more and more training needs to be tracked and validated, it also easy to see how technology has made this chore much easier. I also think it’s important to note that technology has not only aided the deployment of learning, but also the development of learning programs. Continued improvements in authoring platforms and web technologies are now enabling higher cognitive learning efforts to be addressed. Examples of these include simulation-based learning, workflow-based learning, and programs where complex algorithms guide learners down a path of mistake-making and educational recovery.
Q3: Can you identify one trend that you think will have the most impact on global training in the future?
There are many trends, so it’s hard to identify only one. Given that, I believe that tools that allow for quick, easy, and affordable localization and internationalization of training courses (WBT & ILT) will be very big. Globalization efforts by corporations over the last two decades have resulted in an openness and willingness to better share and reuse existing training materials, especially across countries and regions. As budgets get tighter and profitability scrutiny increases, companies and training groups that can easily and affordably modify courses across languages and cultures will have a significant advantage. This will be true whether a company is modifying an existing course or creating it for first time use.
Q4: Have you had any strange or amusing incidents stemming from your work in a cross-cultural context?
A few months ago a colleague and I became locked in an underground parking garage in Switzerland at 11:00 PM in the evening. Due to my weak German language skills, we didn’t realize that once we entered the garage, we couldn’t exit until 7:00 AM. (I’m still trying to understand the rationale of that garage policy!). After about 90 minutes of aimlessly traveling about the garage, we managed to find a manageable (and highly illegal) way out of the garage. This wouldn’t be quite as funny a story if it didn’t happen again last month in a parking garage in Germany!
Q5: What has been your biggest challenge so far in this role, and how have you dealt with it?
The biggest challenge has focused on developing strong personal relationships with the global counterparts I interact with. Specifically, I’m referring to the importance of relationships among co-workers. Few would argue that employees that know each other well, work better together. When your colleagues are located in the same office or city as you, it is very easy to accomplish this and leverage it. When 90% of the people you interact with live around the globe, the fact that you don’t see them often means that it takes longer to develop these strong corporate relationships. While various communication technologies these days can help people more easily interact with each other, there is definitely a benefit to face-to-face relationship building. Throw in differences in language, culture, and lifestyle and this challenges becomes even more difficult.
Q6: What word of advice would you give to someone contemplating a move into a global training role?
Despite how globally-focused your organization may be, someone entering a global role needs to be open-minded from many different standpoints. You can’t assume that different cultures or nationalities approach projects with the same thinking as you or other countries. You also have to realize that some global stereotypes and assumptions are incorrect while others have some truth to them. Most importantly, you need to be able to adjust your leadership, project, and personality skills to maximize your interactions and successes with global counterparts. Your ability to be a “corporate chameleon” is very important.