My company has had the pleasure of helping develop new employee onboarding programs (many times called orientation or induction programs in other parts of the world) for several global companies with headquarters in the United States. During our analysis, a common complaint we hear from the company’s international locations is that the current onboarding program is too “U.S.-centric”—not just in language, but in culture and processes.

In short, they feel undervalued. It’s nice to think that all your employees believe you to be one big happy global family, but more than likely they feel detached. Developing a new employee onboarding program for employees in locations across the globe is very challenging for several reasons:

  • Language often presents a barrier. 
  • In-person opportunities are limited. 
  • Virtual opportunities are hampered by time zone differences. 
  • The mountain of paperwork involved is doubled for each country because of different employment laws. 
  • What makes a new employee feel welcome in one country might not be the same in another. 
  • Employees might “view” the company differently from one country to the next. 
  • Rarely are global locations carbon copies of an organization’s headquarters.

Bottom line: Your global locations may simply do things differently for a variety of reasons. So what do you do? Here are some best practices:

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  • When translating, don’t rely on Google Translate or other automatic online translation services. In our experience, native speakers can tell. 
  • Divide the information a new employee needs into corporate information (company-wide across the globe) and country-specific information, and account for those differently in terms of delivery. 
  • Early on, invite country representatives into the development process. Communicate with these reps to manage their expectations. In other words, you are all part of the same company, so while you appreciate their differences, they need to understand you can’t manage an onboarding program that has 50 different versions. With that said, allow in-country people to manage the program, but have one global overall owner. 
  • To help you better manage the program, use a learning management system with international capabilities. Or at least sync whatever data you can. 
  • Make global employees feel welcome by including case studies, data, imagery, and videos from global locations, as well as the headquarters.  
  • Leverage online learning, which can be easily translated and customized. You can get new global employees to interact with their U.S. counterparts through in-person, virtual, or social media means.

The truth is, it’s not easy. To be effective, you need to line up each location’s needs side by side to determine the commonalities and differences. This can be burdensome and time-consuming, leading some companies to simply leave it up to each location to do their own thing. But that, unfortunately, leads to more disparities and feelings of detachment.

But don’t give up! The benefits can be fruitful, as the data show in the work we have done with other organizations.