Expedia Group’s Learning Department Leads Pilot Program on Cross-Cultural Competency - Senior Executive

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10 min

Expedia Group’s Learning Department Leads Pilot Program on Cross-Cultural Competency

The global director of inclusion and diversity learning shares three tips for getting a new learning program off the ground.

by Molly Cohen on June 16, 2023

Zack Rubinstein

Zack Rubinstein

Global Director of Inclusion and Diversity Learning
Expedia Group


  • More than five years of experience leading global inclusion learning at Expedia Group.

  • Diversity graduate fellow at Harvard University. Created a multiculturalism curriculum and manual for Harvard’s community dialogue group.

  • Contributor to Hive Learning’s State of DEI 2021-2021 report of insights.

At Expedia Group, Zack Rubinstein, global director of inclusion and diversity learning, is leading a new cross-cultural competency pilot program. The learning program involves Globe Smart, a cross-cultural learning platform where managers and employees can assess their working preferences to better understand and support intercultural differences.

Since launching in mid-May, the pilot program is open to select managers with direct reports in two or more country locations. Its goal is to improve communication and team effectiveness among cross-cultural teams. The pilot is slated to wrap around mid-July, and data assessments will continue until September. Once complete, there will be a follow-up survey open for two months to gauge competency and organic engagement. Retention, the long-term goal, won’t be proven until much later.

According to Rubinstein, May and June are often the busiest months for program launches and offsite strategy building. For context, the DEI department at Expedia has four buckets: 

  1. Global social impact and sustainability
  2. Disability inclusion
  3. Communities (known at Expedia as global inclusion business groups)
  4. Talent and learning (where Rubinstein works) 

The four groups are led by the chief people, inclusion, and diversity officer, Michael Davis Velasco, alongside Ally Siegel, vice president and head of global inclusion and diversity talent, who leads the talent and learning division. Expedia also has a separate enterprise learning team, which has the capacity to do content creation and in-house facilitation.

During a discussion with Senior Executive L&D, Rubinstein shares a firsthand look into Expedia Group’s latest learning pilot program, as well as how his team collects ideas for future learning and development programming. Read on for an edited excerpt of our exclusive interview.

Senior Executive Media: How would you describe the global inclusion learning team at Expedia Group? How does the DEI learning team function with the enterprise learning team?

Zack Rubinstein: I view us as an inclusion learning team almost as a small set of consultants. We’re subject matter experts specifically in DEI learning, so anything outside of that purview, we go to what we call the enterprise learning team, which is the large learning team for all of Expedia Group. That’s under the people team. They’re our closest partners. We all report up into the same leader, but there’s a DEI side of the branch, and then the people team’s branch holds the really big enterprise learning team — and they have the funding capacity and the vehicles to do all the content creation, large-scale learning design, and they also have all the facilitators.

We have a process flow that we’re new to testing… When we as inclusion subject matter experts recognize that the business needs something like a bias training within the performance review process, we will start that off as subject matter experts saying, ‘Okay, this is what sort of biases will show up; this is probably what people are experiencing; and this is what we need to solve.’ Then we’ll pass that over to the enterprise team, who has more people and time and capacity to then say, ‘Thank you for the intake.’ We’ll start building out what we know needs to be done, whether it’s an e-learning or a workshop, and they’ll start building all the content out. Then they send it back to us for review as subject matter experts… Then at the end stage, we’re collaborative. We discuss: What’s the population size? Does [the program] need to be global? Do we need to add in cultural nuances? Who facilitates? 

Senior Executive Media: Can you provide an overview of the cross-cultural competency pilot program you’re leading?

Zack Rubinstein: It’s based off of the book called the “Culture Map,” which takes in a bunch of research of how people across the world communicate differently within business — why some people might dive into an email at bullet points where somebody else might say, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ [The book] looks at different aspects of how you build trust [in] working relationships. Really, the end goal [of the program] is to understand the different sides of two people showing up to the same working group and knowing how to be flexible.

“Our real metrics aren’t going to be measurable until a year or two [after the program], because ultimately, what you really want to measure is retention, and you can’t measure that without some time. You need to understand that the needle has been moved.”

– Zack Rubinstein, Global Director of Inclusion and Diversity Learning at Expedia Group

If I come from the United States, I usually dive right into bullets, because I formulate working relationships through the work I do. I’ll know that generally speaking, when I’m working with somebody in APAC [the Asia-Pacific region], let’s say from Singapore, that they’ll want to establish that trust before starting to work. They don’t as easily build trust through the work; they need [trust] in order to do the work well. It’s about raising awareness [of communication styles] and then both parties being flexible. 

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Senior Executive Media: How do you measure the learning program’s success afterward?

Zack Rubinstein: Our real metrics aren’t going to be measurable until a year or two [after the program], because ultimately, what you really want to measure is retention, and you can’t measure that without some time. You need to understand that the needle has been moved. In some of our surveys, we asked about sense-of-belonging scores and trust among the team. You can ask questions, but you have to measure that over time to show or do anything about that. 

In the short term, we want to be able to show that people use the tool, that they find the platform useful, and that they return to it organically without us pushing them to do so because they’ve integrated it into their normal, let’s say, weekly or monthly work lives. Then we have a confidence score, and that confidence is twofold. It’s of a manager saying, ‘I am more confident to manage a globally dispersed team now having gone through Globe Smart.’ And then on the other side, that manager’s direct reports are saying, ‘I am more confident in my manager for them to be able to manage a globally dispersed team. I can see a difference now that they’ve gone through this.’

That’s what we’ll be measuring, and then a lot of scaling… Scaling is going to be really up in the air depending on funding, depending on how many users that we can get access to this tool. We would love to target specifically those managers who have globally dispersed teams, and that’s how we chose our pilot. We only invited people that had direct reports in two or more country locations because we really wanted to see how this makes an impact. If you’re a team that only works with people in the United States, and that’s really all you do, it just wouldn’t be as effective.

Senior Executive Media: What kind of questions do you recommend fellow learning and development leaders ask when they’re measuring a program?

Zack Rubinstein: There are some standard questions like an NPS (Net Promoter Score) — that’s really good for right after competency scores. NPS and competency are all things that you measure basically right after taking a workshop or webinar, something you just attended. Those are standard. Then we built in some specific [questions], of course, around confidence for multicultural teams, but very Globe Smart specific. But then we’re also hoping to do a two-month follow-up survey, which… [include] some standard questions to gauge competency retention. 

Then that organic engagement, that’s something that’s standard for all of our programs. We like to see how people engage with programs… We’re sending them an email, sending them a Slack post… a couple months down the road: ‘Just wondering, do you still use this resource? Has it ever come up in your work where you’re like, oh, I wish I had access to Globe Smart.’ It kind of gives us a gauge for if it’s a good fit for our company or not.

Senior Executive Media: How do you receive ideas from employees for future learning and development programming? Do you have intake surveys?

Zack Rubinstein: We’re so globally dispersed, so we have multiple types of intakes. We have an official electronic intake process and form that if you want to officially go to the inclusion learning team’s site, you can submit a request. That’s one way. You can also do it through our enterprise learning because they naturally house the majority of all learning. For some people across the company, if they’re not familiar or [don’t] know that we have this small little niche inclusion learning group, they might just go to the large enterprise [learning team]. So they have in their intake a dropdown that says ‘inclusion and diversity,’ and then we’re notified that it has to do with us. Besides that, I would honestly say that the rest of the intake we get is through emails, Slack — it’s just normal conversation.

Senior Executive Media: What kind of advice do you have for other learning teams that are looking to conduct a new program? What big lessons have you learned along the way?

Zack Rubinstein: Get in with procurement as quickly as you can [by seeking finance and legal advice]. The procurement process is just lengthy and they will help a lot to determine not only getting approval, but if that vendor is the right choice. Vendor management, they’re great at it. Work with procurement early.

Also, connect with your data analytics partners, or anybody that’s really good with data, even if it’s not a large data analytics team. You want to create those goals and [key performance indicators] early on to know what success means, to know what you’re looking for, because that will influence basically the structure of your pilot in the direction of your programming. You need to know: What does success look like? 

Find strong partners and stakeholders. Establish the ones that you want, that need to be there at the beginning, and then ones that just need to be informed because you don’t want too many people at the table. It’d be really noisy. But there are certain partners that we knew we needed early on, like…our enterprise talent team, because if this is successful, it’s going to in the future integrate with a lot of big processes [such as] talent review. We don’t want anybody surprised by it, because we want them to like the program. Bringing people along with you early helps with the change curve of learning about something new.

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