In the last installment on this training series, I'd like to cover a grab bag of cultural considerations that I have come across in my career. These relate strongly to last week's article about hardened sales guys and how to get through to them. This time around, we look at how to manage the coach-team scenario in a cultural context and how to avoid predetermined or possibly negative outcomes.
* Male reactions with female coaches. While we'd like to think that our staff are open minded, the fact is that if you have been recruiting from the open market, then many of your male employees probably come from conservative companies with their cultural indoctrination. Among other things, this means that women have to work a lot harder than their male counterparts to win respect, and that applies equally to your female coaches. Therefore, if you have more conservatively minded males, you might want to compensate for their mindset by having a male conduct their early training - particularly if the training requires them to reach deep down emotionally - and have a female coach take over the team after they have had a couple of breakthrough sessions.
* Junior coaches. While you might imagine that the prevalence of the seniority system would mean that older people are resistant to coaches who are younger than them. On the contrary I usually find that it is the younger coaches who sometimes have to do the readjusting. The realities of ageism in the marketplace have definitely leveled the playing field age-wise and older employees are now used to the idea of younger (within reason) bosses. The exception to this is where a coach is perceived by all of the team to be too young or inexperienced. My rule of thumb is that the coach should be in their 30's at least and have a minimum of 10 years working (or coaching) experience.
* Japanese-speaking foreigners versus Japanese as coaches. Since formal regular coaching of employees, versus mass OJT training upon graduation, is a Western concept, it is not surprising that many coaching firms servicing multinationals tend to have more foreign coaches than Japanese ones. This is a reflection of the shortage of suitably educated Japanese coaches. My experience is that using a Japanese-speaking coach with a multinational team will work if there is a predominance of foreigners. However, where most of the team is Japanese and especially where the message is subtle or packs an emotional punch, you need to communicate the message as fluently and convincingly as possible, and a native speaker will go down much better.
* Getting female participants to step up to the plate. One of the challenges with female employees is that cultural conditioning has convinced them that they should be followers not leaders. This is frustrating for the foreign boss, and an attitude that many are tempted to train their staff out of. One way to do this is to take the gender dynamic out of the equation, by restricting sessions for teams with aspiring female leaders to women and younger (under 30) or older (over 50) guys. This way alpha males asserting themselves won't daunt future leaders.
* Guiding versus self-exploration. The classic western approach to training is to start with a self-discovery or interactive exercise then to build on the fun with a formal lesson and discussion on that aspect of human behavior. While this can work for western-educated employees who are used to having to think independently, it can be quite confusing and discouraging for Japanese more used to receiving instructions. So should you persevere with the self-awareness approach, or should you revert to telling people how they should be reacting? I think the answer lies with just how deep you're trying to dig into the psyches of these people. If you have a limited budget and time period, sometimes it can be more productive for process-oriented groups to be briefed first about the point of the exercise and what the range of reactions might be. Then at least people will be able to enjoy the experience within their comfort zone.
* During or after hours? Many companies put off training because their employees are too busy to attend. While this is understandable, it is not excusable. There are several solutions here. First, make sure that the session is scheduled well ahead of time, inform the customers, have someone else in-house act as backup, and get the team off site. This off site location should be far enough away that the person couldn't make it back to the customer's office even if they tried. The second idea is to offer the entire team to be paid overtime and conduct the training on a Saturday. Yes, it eats into everyone's free time, but with overtime in the mix, there is a twin benefit that will usually get most people on board. PLEASE try to resist doing training in the evenings! Everyone is tired, and the training will be viewed as both onerous and forgettable - basically meaning that you'll be wasting your investment.
Lastly, how much should you be paying? There is no real guideline to how much a training course should cost, because prices are all over the map. However, it is probably fair to say that if a training course results in an extra year of longevity of your staff and a 15% increase in productivity, then you can budget for each person to receive about one month's salary worth of training every two years and still break even.