One of the things that makes training a very exciting career is traveling to different places and training people from different cultures. Having lived in 3 cities in my life, I am not easily prone to cultural shock. Depending on the location, I do some research and try to keep the local habits in mind. I usually train in the west zone and the tweaking in content and style is minimal. From Gujarat to Goa, the cities are cosmopolitan and the society is quite open minded. The first I got a little apprehensive was when I had to train in Chennai. What bothered me a little was the language barrier. But having lived in South India and being intuitive with language, I managed to get them to do their role plays in Tamil and gave them feedback without much need for translation.
The real experience came when I got called to train employees of the biggest bank in Srinagar, Kashmir. The program brief was fine since I have trained on customer service in banking extensively. But anyone who has grown up in the 90’s will have a certain perception of Kashmir, which is hard to shake off. It did not make things easier in my head to be introducing them to concepts of customer service on phone – something that we take for granted in cities. Anyways, I did read a bit about the society and culture of the place. My major focus remained in meeting the objectives of the program, which is always the benchmark of a successful program. The program went great. I still came back with a few precious lessons, which have helped me a better trainer and be better prepared for my future programs in general. And I thought this should make an interesting thing to talk about here.
Here are 3 things I learnt, some afresh, about training from my experience in Srinagar
1. Culture affects people more than we think it does
In a lot of places, the culture is more or less the same. But in some places, the difference is more evident than in others. Chennai is a great city but is not as active in terms of night life as some other cities I know. But Srinagar was a different ball game altogether. Political and social conditions in the city make it very different. Srinagar is a town unlike any I have been to. There are no malls, cinema halls or the concept of eating out as much as in some larger cities. The gender dynamics are different and hence care has to be taken to avoid certain references. Some of the women participants were burqa clad and have had a conservative brought up. Since the exposure to technology is a new one, only a few were aware of how phones and emails help brands keep up with customers. All this put together made a curious mix for me as a trainer.
2. How the location impacts the trainer
One of the challenges in the profession of training is the trainer gets to meet the participants for the first time on the day of the program. And it is the trainer’s experience and expertise in analyzing the class composition correctly and ensuring that the content is moulded to the group. In most cases, introduction is the time when I analyze the group and understand their expectations and mentally plan how the content needs to be delivered keeping the specific group in mind. In Srinagar, the analysis came later. The usually unselfconscious act of walking into the class itself was a different feeling here. Traditionally dressed women, greeting each other with “Assalamalaikum” made me feel somewhat alien in my uber western formals and a laptop stroller in tow! It did not seem such a big difference while I was planning the program in my head. That’s what I wear to classes and it would have required a whole lot of effort and time to get something done to match their attire. It did not completely alienate me from the group but I realized how, in some cultures, just what you wear can be a big deal. If I do it again, I’d like to be make an effort to look like them to bridge the gap, if any, the last time. (I think the bonding was quicker since the class had about 80% women)
3. How the location impacts the training
I have delivered customer service a lot of times before. But delivering it to this group had me customizing the content on my feet to make it more relevant. I wasn’t sure if some examples would work. Some ladies had not been to a movie hall and couldn’t relate to the customer service example I was talking about. The module and handshake and exchanging business cards had to be done only with the few gentlemen in the class. The ladies did not mind since they had no situation where they might require those skills. (And to me that did come across as something I am so unused to living in a society where we fight for and get equality!)
I knew that exposure to technology was at a nascent stage. I had prepared myself to take them through the basics before going to actual pointers of excellent customer service. The class listened with wide eyed wonder when I called up my bank and had them listen to it on the speaker phone. By the end of the session, they were able to overcome their inhibitions and believe in the concept that customer service though phone and emails could be a great medium to stay in touch with customer needs.
Another thing that stands out in my mind is the boundless enthusiasm that the ladies had about learning better communication and do well at their jobs. I was left thinking that given the right encouragement from the society and the members in their family, they all have a great potential to succeed as much as any of us with the full liberty to follow our dreams.
Experiences add new perspectives to life. I guess no one is too experienced to not learn afresh from what we have done so many times before!