L&D, as global as possible, as local as necessary – Finding beauty in the balance


L&D, as global as possible, as local as necessary – Finding beauty in the balance

L&D, as global as possible, as local as necessary – Finding beauty in the balance

An increasing number of learning and development (L&D) professionals are struggling to find a good balance between their global L&D initiatives and their local and business unit operations.

In this article, on behalf of the CrossKnowledge Corporate Learning Institute, I aim to provide insights and a few proven answers for CLOs to handle the global-local L&D balance.

It is no news that the world is changing at an accelerating pace. In order phrase these complex changes consulting firms and researchers have identified several megatrends that lead to the main challenges for corporate organisations to adapt to in order to stay competitive (fig 1).

Technological convergence: New technological breakthroughs transform many   areas of everyday business.

Digitization: Work goes remote, and people increasingly live online.

Individualism: Growing freedom of choice and options for work

Demographic change: The population is aging and the workforce is composed of 3 to 4 different generations.

Economic downturn: Climate  change and scarce raw materials.

Globalization 2.0: Economic power shifts and growing competition.

(Source: Hay Group, 2015)


Within corporate organizations, L&D teams are being asked to do more with less, produce higher quality, and achieving greater consistency which puts them under greater pressure to redefine their roles and reevaluate their structure.

A large international Telecom provider faced major challenges in the L&D area following a recent acquisition: L&D was managed at a business unit level (strategy, content, budget) and skills training was not consistent across those BU’s with the outcome that workforce exchange between BU’s was challenging in terms of skills gaps – common capabilities. Recommendations from a global L&D review included:

  • Develop & implement a global core skills curriculum
  • Determine the optimum for design & deployment for the core curricula: what’s global, what’s BU
  • Improve the curriculum design: blend classroom & digital learning and add social and workplace learning elements

In today’s globalizing business environment it is a risk for the L&D function to hang-on to traditional structures and remain focused on the local workplace.  There are opportunities in building on local best practices and leveraging these at global L&D level, linked directly to the core business strategy. In order to achieve this, the L&D organization must find the best possible balance between Global and Local (local can also to be read as Business unit).

The Pros and Cons of centralizing L&D

The challenge is getting the balance right between local autonomy and global scale and in recent years there has been a swing in balance from local to global L&D. In the case of a global bank a review revealed 12 LMS systems, overlapping technical, skills & leadership curricula and a lack of clarity on measurement and governance. In reaction a 1st time global L&D strategy was developed and launched which implied a shift away from local to global which turned out to be a rough ride in practice. Despite the efficiency opportunities it quickly became clear that there were downsides to centralization: loss of flexibility and commitment at local level were prime examples. It took the bank in question approximately 5 years to get its balance right and benefit from synergies.

Conversations and surveys with various Chief Learning Officers in Europe provided a high level overview of the pro’s and con’s of centralizing L&D (fig 2)

Pros Cons
Efficiency – cost saving at global level Increase of local costs (short-term)
Scale and consistency Reduced flexibility
Global control Loss of local commitment (L&D + sponsors)
Clarity on decision making and investments Loss of local autonomy
Quality of technology and content Standard <> customized solutions
Elevate best practices Reduced time-to-market
Vendor sourcing – preferred suppliers Flexibility of local vendors

How to map Global-Local “As Is” and “To Be” – a CrossKnowledge Corporate Learning Institute (CLI) model

Recognizing that globalizing L&D in a corporate environment is a long and painful journey that should be tuned to both the structure and culture of the business it became apparent that the only answer to where the optimal balance lies is covered by “As global as possible, as Local as necessary.

This in essence does justice to both the Pro’s and Con’s stated above and provides corporate L&D leaders the opportunity to define the gap between reality and ambition in their business environment. A deep-dive into a professional services’ global L&D operation revealed all the described opportunities and challenges and led to the initiative to develop a model that could be used by CLOs to identify the global-local ‘gap’ and use that as a basis to develop and implement action plans to progress. This model has now been optimized by the CLI for the needs and challenges of global companies (fig 3)

The Way We Do Business

The beauty of the model is that it provides insights in the core L&D drivers: strategy; technology, measurement; governance; methodology (702010); L&D staff and its steps on the bandwidth global > local without being directive.

The model provide the opportunity for each corporate organization to define both the As Is and To Be for each L&D driver and develop an action plan. The model does not have the rigour to globalize in every dimension: 100% globalized strategy and technology can go hand-in-hand with a more collaborative governance.

Various CLOs have used the model successfully in the past 2 years to plot their specific L&D situation and make Current and Future of their L&D operation transparent. In addition they’ve identified where and how they could progress towards as global as possible, taking the pro’s and con’s into account.

Global L&D strategy and local optimization are twin goals attainable through exploring the “as global as possible, as local as necessary” balance.  Local flexibility drives agility, growth, and L&D community and business sponsor engagement. All these ingredients are necessary to develop an L&D organization that is globally “fit for purpose.” In one of our next Learning Wire articles we’ll explore how CLOs can achieve higher efficiency, higher quality and consistency in their L&D operation by leveraging the a global-local technology and content framework.

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