How companies leading on diversity benefit from intercultural communication training
by Pascale Frické, CSR Europe

In the past few decades, leaps and bounds have been taken in the realm of workplace diversity, and homogeneity within an organisation is evermore becoming a story of the past. From multinational corporations to SMEs, maximising and capitalising on diversity has been hailed as a strategy to increase competitive advantage and yield greater productivity. Beyond these tactical gains, celebrating ethnic, gender, and lifestyle differences produces ample societal benefits, including enhanced inclusion, awareness, tolerance, and understanding.

Organisational diversity, however, needs to be viewed as more than a ticking box exercise. The shift in organisational norms must be accompanied by a dynamic set of organisational strategies, processes, and procedures to handle these changes, including a long-term investment in intercultural communication training.

Intercultural communication training at a glance is the formal effort toward preparing people for more effective interpersonal relations when they interact with individuals from cultures other than their own1. Intercultural training programmes in a business setting should be formal, well-planned, budgeted, and staffed. The benefits of intercultural training programmes are manifested both internally through employee-employee interactions, and externally in forming deals, negotiations, and relationships with stakeholders from diverse cultures.

Adapting intercultural training programmes to the audience

Practically speaking, what goes into creating an effective intercultural training programme is difficult to tie down into a single set of principles or medium of instruction. Successful intercultural training programmes are not one-size-fits-all and an overly-broad ‘everyone is different’ mentality does not capture practicalities nor subtleties2. Rather, intercultural communication training programmes should be tailored to their audience and should take into consideration the specific dimensions of difference that exist. Differences amongst two subsets of individuals can typically be reduced to three or four dimensions, which can then be used to form a specific and detailed training on how to overcome potential communication barriers resulting from these characteristics3.

Whilst diversity can theoretically be cut across countless dimensions, classical cultural dimensions theory by Hofstede suggests employee values differ in regard to power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity vs. femininity, long-term vs. short-term orientation, and indulgence vs. restraint4. More recent research, such as Erin Meyer’s ‘The Culture Map’, looks at metrics such as high and low context communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling5.

Through an online training programme, one large multinational tech firm has narrowed their training focus to the areas of ‘task versus relationship orientation’, ‘direct and indirect communication styles’, and ‘decision-making styles and processes’6. Meanwhile, a vastly different approach has been taken by a well-known multinational beverage company. By bringing in professional intercultural trainers from outside the company, employees and their spouses are delivered special training prior to relocating to new counties, or embarking on any short-term abroad assignments6.

Train the entire workforce in corporate norms

Beyond training employees on how to understand and communicate with one another, effectively establishing and communicating organisational values and culture can help employees worldwide adhere to single set of corporate standards, whether or not these differ from the local norms of any one employee3One of world’s leading cosmetic companies puts this tactic into practice in their Management Confrontation Programme in which a methodical approach is laid out for employees to express disagreement7. Through a common language, all employees engage with a shared set of principles and expectations. The same company has also integrated managers with multicultural backgrounds throughout their entire business, using a strategic approach to ensure that their leaders have innate knowledge about numerous cultures8.

The opening of the chapter of diversity can be seen as a positive and progressive time in which new opportunities have emerged for a great portion of the world’s population. As with any remarkable societal change, organisations and institutions must shift to accommodate these developments or risk closing their doors to those who can. Intercultural communication training programmes, while diverse in nature, are one key solution to overcoming the communication struggles that often come with globalisation. The key to profiting from diversity comes not only from having a diverse workforce but also equipping your organisation with the knowledge and tools to handle the change.

How can Diversity Charters across the EU help your company in this field? They can be a blueprint for company engagement, through disseminating guides and expertise gathered by the pool of best practices they have in place.

Diversity Charters can provide knowledge and know-how policies as well helping to establish the necessary links between governments, NGOs and businesses. They put into place the necessary relationships and links for us to embark on this journey of shared responsibility.

References

Brislin, R.W., & Yoshida, T. (1994).  Intercultural communication training: An introduction (Vol. 2). Sage Publications.

Meyer, E. (2014). Navigating the cultural minefield. Harvard Business Review92(5), 119-123.

Meyer, E. (2015). When Culture Doesn't Translate. Harvard Business Review93(10), 66-72.

Hofstede, G. (1984). Cultural dimensions in management and planning. Asia Pacific journal of management1(2), 81-99.

Meyer, E. (2014). The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business. PublicAffairs.

McMahon, L. (2012, July 19). Three Companies That Are Taking Culture Seriously...and Profiting. Retrieved June 07, 2017, from http://www.englishandculture.com/blog/bid/85247/Three-Companies-That-Are-Taking-Culture-Seriously-and-Profiting

Don't let cultural differences harm your global enterprise. (2016, December 14). Retrieved June 08, 2017, from https://www.leadershipreview.net/cultural-differences

8Hong, H. J., & Doz, Y. (2013). L’Oreal masters multiculturalism. Harvard Business Review91(6), 114-118.

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