Values Training Spans from Boston to Bangkok

Article excerpt

* Grand Circle was committed to seeing that the entire staff embraced the company's values and goals.

Grand Circle Corp. faced a challenge when it decided to open a regional office in Bangkok, Thailand. The Boston-based tour operator caters to 50-something adventure-seeking travelers, and was convinced that a remote office staffed by indigenous employees would assure the company's planned "Jewels of Thailand" tour would provide the authentic cultural experience their customers demanded.

But how could the company transfer its own corporate culture to employees halfway around without trampling on local customs? Success in Thailand was imperative, not only because the tour would be an important source of revenue, but also because the company planned to open local offices in other countries using the Bangkok experience as a model.

For Grand Circle's HR team, training the Thai employees was a call to action. Grand Circle already had in place a training philosophy that was an outgrowth of collaboration between the company's senior team and the VP of HR and VP of corporate philanthropy and culture. They were committed to seeing that the entire staff was aware of and embraced the company's values and goals. It was in this spirit that co-owners Alan and Harriet Lewis created a 12-member team called Winning Operations Worldwide or "Team WOW." Recruits came from a cross-section of departments and were chosen for their expertise in operations at Grand Circle, dedication to company values, and cultural sensitivity.

"The purpose of Team WOW and its cross-cultural training is to build a 'bridge' between Boston and our new regional offices, not to tell others what to do," says Priscilla O'Reilly, director of worldwide culture and communications at Grand Circle. "Our goal is to decentralize operations. We want people in our regional offices to be able to make their own decisions. To do that, we provide the training and information they need to succeed."

An integrated HR perspective.

Grand Circle-facilitated exercises, in conjunction with the company's own center for leadership, taught Team WOW members how to inject corporate values-teamwork, the interplay between speed and quality, risk taking, and thriving in change, and open communications-into their training programs. Team members also received a mega-dose of Thai culture from O'Reilly, who briefed them on the history and current issues the country faced. Team members then honed their presentation and facilitation before packing their bags.

Team WOW left Boston with both a structured approach and the awareness that an adventure is a well-honed plan gone wrong. "We had a feeling of unpredictability so we were prepared to adjust training as needed, which fits in with our corporate values," says O'Reilly.

Team WOW sets up in Thailand.

As a first step, Team WOW concentrated on helping their Thai colleagues set up the physical office space in Bangkok, providing training for each department following patterns set at the Boston headquarters. "We sent the IT people over first to set up the computers and e-mail, to make sure communications were in place," says O'Reilly.

Customer service then flew in from Boston to brief their Thai counterparts on the special needs of Grand Circle's older American customers. To best illustrate the point Team WOW members and new Thai staffers tagged along on one of the company's "Discovery Series" tours led by local guides to experience first hand the kind of travel experience Grand Circle customers expected. …