Having cultural awareness used to be seen as a prerequisite for employees going on international assignments. But in today’s global marketplace, it’s quickly becoming a necessity for all employees operating in a multinational organization, even if they never leave their desks.
“Because of the changes in business, [cultural competence is] becoming very important for people who never even leave their home country,” said Charlene Solomon, executive vice president of RW3 LLC, a provider of interactive tools and resources for online cultural learning, global business effectiveness and international relocation support. “Organizations are finding this is a useful skill for people in their everyday work life.”
According to a recent survey of 107 multinational organizations by RW3 and ORC Worldwide, 95 percent of the respondents said cultural competency is an important or very important skill for business leaders in today’s organizations. As such, 80 percent of the respondents said international work experience also is important for a business leader to have. And 85 percent of the larger organizations that responded provide some form of cross-cultural training.
But there’s an inconsistency. Even though cultural competency is important, the study found that only 20 percent of the larger companies included a cultural learning course in their e-universities.
“It means there’s a large opportunity to bring the learning facility in line with the perceived need,” said Michael Schell, CEO of RW3.
It’s critical for organizations to teach their employees about the nuances of culture because these subtle nuances affect business behaviors. And just as business becomes more globalized, these skills will become more necessary, even in the rudiments of work life.
“Business behaviors, as well as social behaviors, are almost all culturally based, so it’s anything from adherence to schedules to the manner of communication. They’re all culturally based and culturally bound,” Schell said. “For example, Americans are quite transactional. They want to get right down to business; they don’t need a lot of time to build a relationship, and a relationship is not necessary to work together. The exact opposite is true in Asian cultures, where the notion of trust needs to be established.”
When providing learning to employees in other countries, understanding culture becomes even more critical. It’s not enough to just translate the language. You also must change the style.
“If we expect to train Asians using an American cultural style, we’ll fail,” Schell said. “Any training curriculum has to be made culturally appropriate for the environment it’s going to be delivered in. You can’t imagine a trainer in the [United States] not developing interactive, participative exercises as part of their training. But if you take that same exercise to Asia [or] to India, you’d need to modify it significantly because people will not comfortably participate. They look more for an instructor-led design.”
The best way to provide intercultural training is to give your employees a blueprint for understanding culture so they can recognize certain behaviors, what those behaviors mean and then adapt to them.
“So if you notice that people are very deferential, refer to each other by their surnames, use honorifics and titles, you recognize that you’re in a hierarchical society,” Schell said. “It’s recognizing the manifestations of cultural values and then knowing what they mean and how to adapt to them.”