From the Mailbag: Advice on Working with Foreign (ex-US) Experts

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Last week, I tapped into the Wisdom of the Working with SMEs Crowd for advice on how to work with experts who are non-US natives and non-English native speakers. Several of you stepped up to serve! In our first-ever guest blog post, Mr. Martin E. Gilligan Jr. generously shares a wealth of international experience with us. Should you care to contact Mr. Gilligan directly, his contact information is below his blog.

Thanks to all of you for your readership and engagement.

Guest Blogger: Martin E. Gilligan, Jr.

Since I got my first foreign sales assignment purely by unfortunate circumstances (for me, the company, and the CEO) – I didn’t even have a Passport, only spoke “pigeon Spanish,”  and only had US/Canada sales experience. BUT, I ended up getting 102 country pins on my travel map and setting sales records in the ten+ years I was responsible for sales/marketing of boilers, HVAC, and Alternative Fuel systems – this was selling capital goods w/ value of $250,000 to $5,000,000 each. Following that, as a consultant, I used to do two to four US / Foreign licenses and/or strategic relationship agreements per year and still do one or two a year for my long-term clients.

In dealing with foreign training, selling, and technical support I learned (the hard way) the following – do it or you’ll pay for it later.

1. Research the country – music, food, culture, customs. Luckily, I was so terrified of my first trip (to Peru for the fish meal industry) I did this without having to be told. Absolutely mandatory for anyone traveling to do the actual teaching/service work and/or supervising such effort – whether or not he/she is on the trip or does it by text/e-mail or Skype from the home office. It can avoid a LOT of “foot-in-mouth” problems. The goal for each of your team members is to come out of the meeting or training session with at least one good personal relationship on the other side. You do that by eating, drinking, socializing with people on their terms, not yours. I always stayed in a local business hotel (not a big US chain) that usually didn’t speak English, but my host (customer, sales rep, distributor) took care of me. You don’t have to speak the language to enjoy a great meal, listen to good music, or watch local happenings or a game with the other person’s kids. These experiences create “bonding” connections which may save the day when you are in deep-doo-doo and need a favor, or when someone is being stubborn or thick-headed and you need advice on how to break the logjam. The other person realizes that it works that way for him/her too so it is not unfair to either party.

2. If you have access to a native language speaker in your industry for that specific country, use them to the hilt. If you don’t, do the research to find a good, competent (in your industry) professional translator. The American Embassy and your Industry Trade Journals that publish in that country are good places to start looking.  Set your schedule so that you have more than a couple of hours alone with the translator to go over what you intend to present and the key points you want to make. It may cost you extra dollars, but you can’t imagine the cost and lost sales and implementation problems a wrong translation can cause, which will usually come back to your account – regardless of what your English Terms & Conditions say. DO NOT use university professors, relatives, or foreign customer employees unless you are sure that they understand the business or subject matter you are going to present. Company employees and professors will “color” their translation with their own opinions and prejudices (especially if they know that you don’t have a clue what they are saying). These comments are especially true of printed or recorded “leave-behind” materials. They should be vetted by someone who will understand something that will come across as “wrong,” “stupid,” “prejudiced,” or “insulting.” The classic example is Chevrolet naming their South American export car NOVA which roughly translates into “no go” or “does not go.” Or the Mexican Restaurant Chi-Chis  which is a crude slang term for breasts in Mexico and Central America.

3. The English as a second language audience is a separate (and often more difficult) case. Many times the so-called English speaking person does not dare to admit that he/she did not understand what was presented due to their status within the company as knowing English. The answer here is the same as # 5 below. Secondly, the English as a second language person understands English in a very specific, exact “dictionary” manner so avoid slang or technical jargon and use simple terms.

4. When scheduling the program, double or triple your normal presentation and break time. After each topic change, stop for questions and to repeat segments that were difficult to understand.  Unless you have been the recipient of an incomprehensible briefing or program in a foreign language with English subtitles or through a translator, you can’t imaging how exhausting it can be – particularly when someone’s company or department or personal success depends on getting it right. Plan on at least one “pure” follow-up session to make sure that the basics “took” and monitor implementation on at least twice the normal frequency as in an English-speaking country.

5. When preparing written documents or brochures/posters,  OR briefing charts/slides, OR scripts for spoken presentation (and there should ALWAYS be a script or detail notes for any spoken briefing in case you have to go back and repeat – prove you made – a specific point) always use very basic and simple English language and sentence construction. Make it easy to translate and/or be understood by the second language person. Many times, to make an important point, you need to repeat it several times using different words and/or illustrations to make the point. NEVER use slang or highly technical jargon without multiple explanations about what it means.

6. If at all possible, especially under license implementation situations, bring a key person from the receiving group to a good example situation in the US or some other English-speaking country so that you have someone in the room who understands most of what you are trying to get across to the others, but don’t let them make the briefing unless he/she has actually run your operation in the US.

This sounds like a lot of work and expense, and it is; but it pales to insignificance when compared with re-doing, repairing, re-training, undoing and re-doing stuff with a 10,000+ mile one-way trip for each session that is not going to be paid by the licensee or customer. As the saying goes: “You can pay now or you can pay later, but you will pay!!”

 

Martin E. Gilligan, Jr., is the Owner & Principal Consultant at MARTIN & ASSOCIATES “Who you SHOULD see before you HAVE TO SEE an attorney”. Mr. Gilligan can be reached directly at martinejr@comcast.net. For more information, visit his website at http://www.martingilliganconsulting.com

Looking for Your Advice and Opinions on Working with Foreign (ex-US) Experts

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The topics for this blog often come from you. Usually a conversation or an email results in ideas, and commonly the same issue will surface a few times within a week or so. This week, several American colleagues mentioned challenges in working with foreign experts who speak a primary language other than English.

As a result, I am going to try something new and start a discussion around the challenges in these situations by creating two hypothetical case studies for you to consider. The readers here have similar interests, so please share your advice, recommendations and opinions with others. Sometimes you respond with comments on the website, other times I hear back personally from you responding to me in email. Either way, if you’d like me to share your comments with other readers, let me know. Hopefully, we’ll all benefit as we learn from the wisdom of the Working With SMEs crowd.

Case Studies To Consider

Case #1: An American English-speaking training company is dealing with Japanese experts in Japan and working remotely with them using Zoom, so they are seeing each other and sharing slides. The training company has a team consisting of a designer and writer both on the calls. The Japanese experts have English skills and the American training team has no Japanese. The trainers are having difficulty understanding the experts’ accents, and the experts present their slides written in Japanese.

Consider: Taking the situation’s perspective from either the training company or the Japanese company, what would be your next move and how would you salvage this relationship so it results in an effective training outcome?

Case #2: An English speaking training company based in the UK with offices in the US has been contracted to build a series of training modules for a company of 150,000 employees located in 75 countries. Many of the employees speak English as a second language. The training company has been hired due to their strength in visual training modalities. They are excited at the opportunity to work with this global corporation and to explore the potential of their cutting edge technology.

Consider: What are some of the first steps you would take to ensure a smooth process? Who should be at the table from the training company and its client company? What kind of safeguards and procedures would you put in place so language and cultural sensitivity is built into the process at each phase?

General Questions to Consider

When an English-speaking American is working with foreign-speaking experts, whether within the U.S. or in another country, how do you build cultural and language supports into your training development?

Do you:

Hire cultural competency experts to ensure sensitivity and eliminate cultural bias?

Hire foreign language or translation experts to assist with non-native English speakers?

Provide cultural or language education for your English-speaking, Western-based training team?

Prefer to work in person as often as possible to develop and strengthen relationships?

Explore the issues openly with clients at the beginning of your relationship, looking for places where you can establish processes and provide additional supports to reduce cultural and language differences or misunderstandings?

Specialize in working with non-native English speakers or outsource your work to training companies that do?

Wisdom of the Working with SMEs Crowd

Instead of our usual offering of advice and opinion, we are turning the tables on you this week. We have a lot of questions. If you have opinions or experiences to share – or even other related questions and issues – we look forward to hearing from you.

Episode 10: What is Your Competitive Advantage?

In this episode of the Working with SMEs podcast, cohost Nathan Eckel and I talk about how to decide what to capture for business continuity by determining your competitive advantages.

We start by talking about Nathan’s book, Open Source Instructional Design, in which he discusses the people skills of working with subject matter experts. His book is available here.

Not all businesses in an industry need to preserve the same knowledge. Here we discuss how to think about about your competitive advantages so you know what to spend your valuable, finite training dollars to preserve.

Thank you for listening! Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Setting Up Your SME for Success

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If you plan to set your SME loose to build your training program from scratch, give them some upfront direction to get them off to a sure start. Perhaps you are asking them to do a knowledge dump into your software or learning app or will they be delivering audio, video, slides or articles. Before you send them the log in information and disappear, make sure you have given them enough direction so they can be successful in their efforts to build a great knowledge resource.

Here are a few essential Do’s and Don’ts to keep them out of the weeds and focused on the task at hand.

DO:

  1. Schedule a pre-launch or pre-build meeting where you familiarize them with the goals of the project. Explain why the project is necessary and what it will achieve for the business.
  2. If you have learning objectives, be very clear about what the learner should be able to DO with the knowledge (assemble a widget, lead a team meeting, sell something, etc) so they can deliver steps or information that leads to outcomes.
  3. Familiarize them with the software or whatever platform they will be using to impart their knowledge. Make them aware of all its features, shortcuts and capabilities so they can be most efficient. Make sure they have access to a tech person to answer questions.
  4. Give them an approximate length of either the full project or chunk it out in time or word count limits. A general outline can help keep them on track.
  5. Give them a deadline and check in (at least!) at the halfway mark to make sure they can meet it.

DON’T:

  1. Rely on the SME to give you exactly what you need. Ask specific questions or give them an outline.
  2. Ignore them after they’ve started. Check in with them soon after they’ve begun to make sure they are able to do what you have asked. Provide corrective direction early.
  3. Involve them in discussions about look, feel, graphic design. Perhaps you can share it after they’ve delivered their content if their input is needed, valued or if they are interested.
  4. Distract the SME with unrelated questions or peripheral requests. Keep them focused on the learning objectives and the outline, if you’ve got one.
  5. Ask them to build assessments and exercises. You can involve them in that role after the main information is complete.

Role clarity is key to success in these partnerships. As the training professional and instructional designer, you can keep the goals of the project and the steps in your line of sight and that frees your experts to deliver their content in a structured way under your guidance.

Sex, Drugs and Russian Hacks

As an FYI to my readers, I enjoy receiving comments and having discussions with you. We have a comment filter set because sometimes spam gets through. Some weeks we may get one or two pieces of spam, but some weeks we get more than 50. Usually they are easy to spot because they are advertisements for sex websites, online pharmacies and lately they are in what appears to be Russian, as well. We have to manually delete each one to avoid inadvertently deleting legitimate comments.

If your comment doesn’t appear right away, it is because we go through each comment to separate the real readers from the bots. We will eventually update our system and put in a bot filter on the front end. For now, thank you for your patience.

And please do comment below. We’ll be looking for it!

 

The Disease of Experts

Ronald Reagan is credited with saying the problem with a certain group of people is that so much of what they know isn’t true.

In the interest of bipartisanship, I’ll refrain from mentioning the group he targeted in his remark. But the essence of the remark is pointed: so much of what we think we know ain’t so. Experts aren’t immune to this disease. In fact due to the mantle of infallibility draped on some experts,  they may be more susceptible to error than other mere humans.

“The disease of experts” is a term coined by Malcolm Gladwell.  This morning, leadership guru Michael Hyatt called attention to Gladwell’s phenomenon in his blog as it relates to leadership, and it bears discussion here, as well.

To quote Hyatt’s blog, “Gladwell called overconfidence ‘the disease of experts.’  They think they know more than they actually do. In fact, they make mistakes precisely because they have knowledge.”

Overcoming Overconfidence

Experts are often accustomed to being the smartest person in the room, and this can lead to overconfidence. Certainly expertise in any field by definition requires extensive study. Some say it equates to 10,000 hours of study in one area, which translates to about five years in a full-time job or the years put into gaining a PhD. That kind of work lays the foundation for earned credibility and respect in your field.

Hyatt often talks about the value of humility, and this subject is one that gave him an opportunity to remind his readers, “What we really need are leaders who are humble and willing to listen.”

Beyond that prescription for leaders, I would like to add some advice for experts in any field who are called upon to transfer their knowledge to others.

  1. Question everything. Yesterday’s truth is tomorrow’s myth. See “flat earth meets Galileo.”
  2. Stay current in your field. Some say we now collect as much knowledge in two years as we had from the beginning of human history until today. People around the world are always building on each others’ knowledge. Remain tapped in to other experts in your field so you are aware of the latest developments.
  3. Remember your humble beginnings and treat learners’ questions with respect. Honor the next generation who will build upon your work. They will carry your hard work forward and create the next great leaps in science, technology, education, the arts, business and industry.

After all, it is that student with the perplexing question who leads to the next great leap in your field. Honor the learners and leave a foundation that you have helped build so they can move your field forward to the next levels of innovation.

Answer learners simply and sincerely. Tell them the truth as best you know it, so what they know is so.

Preserving Corporate Expertise is a Risk Management Issue

Risk Management

If you hear something twice, pay attention. In this case, I heard the same comment three times in as many weeks. That comment was about the importance of preserving corporate expertise as a risk management issue. Yes, it is.

Expertise by definition takes time to acquire, is rare and is not easily replaced, which translates into expensive. The experts in your organization are holding some valuable cards, and losing your experts and their knowledge could cost you delays, customers, sales and even the competitive advantage you hold within your industry.

To find your knowledge vulnerabilities, make an assessment of your critical assets by stratifying them according to whatever criteria points to your most acute assets. Not all information is important but if you analyze your company by people, products and divisions you are unlikely to overlook anything.  You may not know all the information you need to retain without a fairly thorough organizational analysis, so it is worthwhile to do a periodic assessment of your potential losses.

Any internal knowledge assessment is strengthened by doing an external scan to give you a strong grasp of the state of your industry and what your competitors are doing as well as a grasp of how your business and your industry fits into the larger global economy. You may have cornered the market on dial telephones but you needed to understand the impact of mobile phone technology to understand where your business was headed. That kind of information will tell you what to keep and what new kinds of expertise you need to begin to acquire to stay in your game.

Because knowledge management is (or should be) an integral part of your corporate strategic plan, it argues for making sure your training department remains close to your C-suite to align missions. Such alignment will help prevent wasting scarce training dollars on short-sighted training efforts.

Especially with the pace of change both technologically and geopolitically, you can’t afford to ignore a thorough analysis of your knowledge management needs that considers your company’s vulnerabilities now and into the future. That is why your knowledge management plan should be an integral part of your corporate risk assessment.

Sensitivity, Ageism and Country Music: Should We Provide Tips for Working with Retiring Employees?

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Everyone has a definition of heaven. For some, it’s a golf course or a gourmet kitchen or an endless beach. For me, heaven is a recording studio. One of my hobbies is singing and songwriting and there is nothing like hearing your idea fully developed. About 15 years ago, I went to Nashville to record a song demo at a studio using the local studio talent. I worked with an arranger who also ran the studio session and he organized all the details – chose the studio, hired the musicians, and wrote out the arrangements.

Because I came in from out of town, he coordinated the session so that we could record all five songs to the final mix in one day. That gave us time to do an arranging session the day before and allowed time to set up appointments with song publishers to shop the tunes afterwards.

When he was hiring recording engineers – those are the guys you see behind glass at the big consoles with all the dials and knobs and sliders – he said, “I hired a young guy to stay with us through the final mix. They are the only ones with the energy for a long session like this.”

He surprised me when he said that, but it made perfect sense. It was something I had never considered. But he did this for a living, and he knew how demanding it would be so I trusted his judgment.

The Long Haul

A long session of five songs, from basic tracks through instrumental overdubs, basic vocal and background vocals, and finally to blending them all together, choosing levels at which each instrument and voice will appear and putting it through some electronic magic so it sounds good on a little speaker – takes time. Some big studio albums take months to record. When you are recording a song demo, it needs to be good but not final-product perfection. We flew through the whole thing in about 12 hours.

Nashville studio musicians are some of the best people on the planet. They are efficient and flawless. They record songs all day, every day. Think factory work for people who play guitar. Everyone comes in, does their thing for an hour or two or three, and then leaves. But the recording engineers, they are in it for the long haul. They have to listen to every note, work with every player to get a performance that is consistent with the vision, and keep their ears tuned right up until the final mix. It is exhausting. And they are on the clock. We needed a finished product by morning to get to meetings with publishers.

That’s why the arranger hired the young guy. Even I slept through the final mixes, and they woke me up to listen to the result around midnight. It felt a little like having a baby by C-section, you know, missing the actual birth. Nonetheless, the baby was born and we had a great demo.

The question is: Was the arranger practicing ageism by choosing a young engineer to ride through the whole process? Or was he just being sensitive to the fact that, as he explained, an older guy wasn’t going to last at the board in a non-stop, full-attention session for 15 hours?

Your Retiring Workers

That incident came to mind this week because a similar situation applies when working with retiring colleagues in a training situation. When I mentioned to a group of trainers recently that some retiring or retired workers might not have the stamina of younger workers, and may need considerations and adaptations, some were shocked that I would discuss it. Perhaps I was insensitive in the way I worded my comments. And trust me, in no way did I intend to insinuate that people over 60 are frail or deficient. Quite the opposite. Some of my best friends (ahem) are retired, and yes, they would be the first to admit they have more trouble walking, they go to bed earlier, and find themselves shopping for replacement parts.

One 63-year-old friend who works full time in a job that requires five, 12-hour days and submits to an annual physical requiring he stay in tip-top shape said, “I do everything I always did. I just do it less.”

Another 67-year-old yogi friend tours with rock bands and said, “I am in the best shape of my life.” I have seen him play guitar perched atop another yogi and I would have to agree.

All that aside, I am suggesting that when you work with older workers, you may need to consider things like stamina, eyesight and hearing. It’s just a biological fact. As I age, my eyesight isn’t nearly as good as it once was. I need to compensate for that.

I have worked with people in their 80s who have more to offer than they ever did, with perspective and wisdom and humor that comes with age. They are the most brilliant people, and I have learned most from them. But I paced interview sessions, allowed for hearing issues, and so forth, not to pander to them or to be condescending but rather out of consideration and sensitivity.

It isn’t ageism, as I see it. By mentioning the fact that older workers might (I emphasize MIGHT) need some considerations regarding the biological realities of aging, my intention is to invite sensitivity from people who work with older colleagues.

If my remarks- written or spoken – imply any inherent insufficiency of older workers, I apologize to anyone I’ve offended. I also hope that as we work with people who are approaching or have well surpassed the legal age of retirement, we consider different levels of physical tolerance than we expect from colleagues in their 20s.

Please comment on this issue. I invite a discussion and other perspectives.

 

 

Company Culture Promotes Right-the-First-Time Attitude

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Last week, I attended the AGXPE regional meeting where we had info-packed sessions on the process of getting compliance documentation right. It was a pharmaceutical-focused group so we had a lot of discussion around FDA inspections. But, as any industry under regulatory supervision knows, the kinds of best practices and standard operating procedures that guide safety can be found in any manufacturing environment where employee and customer lives are on the line.

Two perspectives emerged from the sessions. First, the group discussed the many issues involved in getting data right the first time. Second, the group wrestled the issue of quality control checks on the back end. In both cases, many of the same attitudes and issues underlie the problems that result in faulty data and information capture that, in the case of pharmaceutical manufacturing, often result in lines shut down, batches thrown away, lots recalled or patients injured.

To get to the heart of the accuracy of initial data entry and quality control, you have to take a close look at what causes human error. Causes are almost as varied as the humans involved.

The AGXPE group had its share of trainers in attendance, and training people know that they are the first stop when a performance issue is uncovered. Training people also know that often the problem can’t be solved with training alone.

A complex human problem, especially this one, cannot be narrowed down to one or two specific issues with a couple of quick and neat little fixes. What really is going on is a complex web of human knowledge, skills and attitudes that come both from the personal background and experience of individual employees combined with the culture of the organization.

This is where the organization can affect the outcome. The one thing organizations can address and control is the culture. A right-the-first-time mentality can be cultivated, encouraged, rewarded and modeled from the top down. In fact, it is the only way that a company can reinforce behaviors that it values.

After employees are imbued with the company culture of responsibility and accountability at the source where information is captured or products manufactured, then training can come in and do their jobs by providing guidance and methods for achieving excellence the first time.

If solving the complex reasons behind human error were simple, the problem would not exist. But if solutions were impossible, near-perfect performance would not already be happening in plants around the world where examples of human excellence abound.

 

Podcast 2: Capturing the Right Knowledge at the Right Time

Welcome to Episode 2 of the Working with SMEs Podcast. Today, Nathan Eckel and I talk about 4 questions that commonly arise when we talk to corporate executives about managing the knowledge of their internal experts. (Listening time: 16:25)

Listen as Nathan and I drill down into these four questions:

1. Are we talking to the right experts?

2. What knowledge should we capture that is most important to the business going forward?

3. What knowledge needs to be captured immediately as opposed to eventually?

4. If we have limited resources or limited time, which experts should we speak with first?

Are you using your valuable, finite resources to capture the right experts?  Please comment below!

Corporate Advisory Council Conference

Twice a year dozens of professionals in the field of e-learning travel to Bloomsburg Pennsylvania to attend the Department of Instructional Technology and Institute for Interactive Technologies’ (IIT) Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) Conference.

The three-day event provides corporate professionals with an opportunity to see the latest in e-learning software, learn the latest thinking about learning and to become educated in instructional technology as well as give back to the field. The event allows professionals in the field to directly interact with students who are preparing to become instructional designers and developers. The students prepare a 20 minute presentation and are then asked questions by the Corporate Advisory Council members, in turn, the students and CAC members interact, exchange ideas and learn about the field in the energetic three-day event.

Date: April 12, 2017
Time: TBD
Event: Corporate Advisory Council Conference
Topic: 3 Clear Strategies for Finding , Capturing & Transferring Retiring Expertise
Sponsor: Department of Instructional Technology and Institute for Interactive Technologies
Venue: Bloomsburg University
Location: Bloomsburg, PA
Public: Public
Registration: Click here to register.