The writing is on the wall. If corporations plan to maintain a leadership role internationally, employees have to acquire a global perspective. For years, executives have questioned the return on investment for soft skill education and in particular, scoffed at the idea of cross-cultural trainings. However, as our business world becomes increasingly interactive and internationally focused, culturally sensitive approaches are essential for professional and respectful communication.
Beyond raising corporate reputations to a more sophisticated level, cross-cultural education maintains profitable relationships. As many in global entities already know, one inappropriate email, comment or interaction can easily damage or even ruin an international relationship. Basic cultural education, such as the significance of color selection when sending a package to Tokyo, understanding email verbiage from Mumbai, how to properly return a banquet toast in Shanghai or how to better understand business norms in Cairo not only cultivates and strengthens relationships, but eliminates costly misunderstandings.
Strengthen your Market Position and Prepare your Company for the Future.
As global mergers, alliances and agreements become common practice, the need for cross-cultural knowledge will become increasingly important at all levels. But the clock is ticking and the likelihood that executives may have to learn cross-cultural awareness under extenuating circumstances is a growing concern.
For example, stories abound regarding Detroit-based Chrysler executives who struggled in Daimler’s corporate culture. Not only were seasoned American executives surrounded by another language, leaders were stunned by German corporate norms and many floundered in the new environment. It’s hard enough to adjust to a new corporate culture during a domestic merger, but when a partner is from another country, an entire new set of obstacles quickly becomes evident. It takes training and education for individuals, departments and organizations to progress down the cultural learning curve.
Global Education Increases Service Levels, Builds Stronger Teams and Maximizes Revenue Potential.
Companies who set aside ethnocentric tendencies and better connect with international partners and foreign investors will flourish and succeed. Managers who fully understand a range of cultural behaviors- from Japanese negotiation techniques and Chinese superstitions to Middle Eastern norms and South American communication styles – will become the visionary leaders of tomorrow. Additionally, future leaders will get a leg up on their competition by including outsourced workers (who typically provide customer service and reservations functions) into cultural trainings and global networks. Certainly all organizations can benefit from higher service levels, stronger teams, increased revenues and a unified corporate culture.
Standardizing Best Practices across Corporate Divisions will Improve Quality Control, Streamline Operations, Enhance Customer Service and Create a Unified Corporate Culture.
Another key to global success: Organizations with international sites should solicit and value input from all employees in all divisions. Although creating and facilitating international focus groups sounds like a simple task, the endeavor contains inherent challenges, including conflicting cross-cultural communication styles, differing cultural attitudes towards hierarchies, navigating levels of fluency and methods to overcome cultural norms that inhibit communication.
The best way to maximize quality input from a diverse cohort is to hire focus group facilitators based on their individual understanding of cultural dynamics. Or better yet, as recommended in the Harvard Business Review (11/06), contract the endeavor to an outside consultant (when dealing with multicultural teams, outside consultants do not represent a hierarchical threat and thus, focus group participation increases).
The time is now to raise the bar for global business. The formula for success is simple- quality cultural education and cross-cultural focus groups. Follow the lead of progressive companies like HSBC and Novartis– and get on board. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best investments you can make to position your company as a savvy and sophisticated leader.