Digital technology has transformed global business into a fast-paced competitive environment. The workplace has changed dramatically and as more organizations engage with an international pool of customers and staff, communication skills are essential to improving productivity and forging bonds across borders. Most businesses have a web presence now and that means even an aficionado opening a craft brewery in Maine will need to be ready to respond to communications from Mexico or Moscow.
In parallel, a global workplace means greater career mobility within multinational organizations. PwC has forecast an increase of over 50% in global mobility from 2015 yet the importance of language and communication skills is widely overlooked by HR people looking to fill senior overseas positions.
Organizations must recognize the availability of language and communication skills first, before planning how to make the most of staff talent and where to place staff within the company. Too often, an exercise in sourcing candidates either internally or externally involves checking every competency for the new role without including vital language and communications skills.
With English as the dominant global business language, many US organizations have not considered that they need to concern themselves with language training. However, there is a growing need to deliver communications training in business English to employees throughout the world to ensure that the workforce is as flexible as possible.
Communication is more than just a matter of speaking the language. People in different countries conduct business differently and have more or less direct ways of speaking. US organizations who are already adapting their operations across 51 states tend to underestimate their readiness to adapt to very much more widely divergent cultures across the world.
Increasingly, even multinationals headquartered in countries that do not speak English adopt it as their common business language. However, despite the dominance of English in business, there is no substitute for senior employees speaking the language of a country they have moved to work in, to ensure that they integrate well with colleagues and to support their domestic life, too.
IBM has English as its main business language but recognizes the need to train its employees in eight other languages. In the US there is also a growing demand for Spanish speakers but many US employees who claim to be able to speak Spanish (on the basis of ordering a beer in Cancun) would fail to communicate effectively in a business situation. Business English needs to be focused also on the specific vertical sector of the business and the jargon and terminology common in that sector.
Throwing out traditional classroom-based force-feeding training methods and incorporating coaching into blended learning is key. The Millennial generation will make up 50 per cent of the workforce by 2020 and they will expect training solutions to be based on the mobile technology they have grown up with – providing a whizzy technology-based solution is an expectation not a novelty.
Retaining high performing staff is a major issue for all organizations. Enabling employees to develop and use language and communications skills in roles in different countries can be a very useful tool to engage and retain people who would otherwise look for opportunities elsewhere –PwC found that 71 per cent of the Millennial generation want and expect an overseas assignment during their career.
According to one US study, the costs of replacing a manager average 150 per cent of salary, including costs of hiring and intangible costs such as the new worker’s initial inefficiency and lost productivity while the job is vacant. Increasingly organizations have to look across borders to source replacement staff with the specific skills to replace staff moving to new jobs or retiring. Employees leaving the organization often take with them lots of vital knowledge and IP – communication skills are important to ensure effective knowledge transfer from these people, especially in highly specialist sectors such as engineering.
HR and learning and development managers can play a vital part in encouraging staff to not only use and develop the communication skills they have already acquired, but also to offer language and communication skills training in ways which are both motivating and compatible with a dynamic and diverse workplace. Typically, organizations that have a mature talent management strategy, with a talent pool and succession planning in place do best at fostering a culture where language and communication training and development is an expectation. These organizations tend to be the most e-enabled and are ready to use technology for effective communications and workforce development. They recognize language as a key factor in creating the business agility that is essential to underpin success.
In part 2 Mehdi Tounsi, VP Americas and Global Alliances at Speexx, sets out how HR professionals can set up an effective language and communications development strategy.
About the author
Mehdi Tounsi, VP Americas and Global Alliances at Speexx. Speexx helps organizations to drive productivity by empowering employee communication skills across borders. For more information, visit www.speexx.com. Mehdi is contactable on M.Tounsi@speexx.com
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