Companies increasingly operate internationally and have communications needs across borders. A number of factors hamper effective communication skills development and research reveals that this is less about technical issues and more about human factors.
HR directors and managers, L&D professionals and C-level executives responding to the 4th annual Speexx Exchange survey1 in December 2015 cited lack of support by management for communications skills development as their major obstacle (27 percent). Almost a quarter (24 percent) thought intercultural differences had a negative impact on organisational communications, while 21 percent cited lack of foreign language skills among employees. By contrast, only 12 percent of respondents thought technical obstacles were getting in the way of communications.
Many organisations have made the mistake of viewing improving their communication skills as a one-off exercise. In fact, boosting the communication capacity of a global organisation requires much more than simply commissioning training or implementing an e-learning system. A long-term, continuous focus on communication skills from the recruitment stage onwards should be an integral part of the broader talent management strategy.
The workplace is changing. Millennials are focused on work life balance and value personal development alongside monetary reward. Language and communications training offers those young employees the chance to work in a more international workplace and gives the organisation an edge when it comes to recruitment in the world marketplace.
Over estimating the language skills of the workforce
There has been a tendency for organisations, especially in the Western world, to overestimate the language and communication skills of their employees. In particular, there is an assumption of a high level of skill when English is a second language in a professional environment. Yet that is often not the case and the employee’s untested level of English may not be good enough to operate effectively in a business environment.
Here are some tips for organisations looking to build up their multilingual capabilities:
- Consider a cloud-based solution if you are aiming to deliver training internationally. That way all your employees will be able to access standard consistent training wherever they are, even on mobile devices, and you will be able monitor results of learning delivery centrally. Technology can enable a widespread audit of language ability to get a consistent, reliable picture of language ability across the organisation.
- Tailor language and communication skills training to suit people in different territories. Having built a standardised foundation, then tweak learning delivery to embrace different cultures.
- Implement blended learning. Getting the right mix of e-learning, classroom learning and coaching and mentoring, perhaps by peers or managers, is key to building an effective language and communication capability. E-learning alone is not enough.
- Prepare to navigate data protection regulations. Some areas of the world have more stringent regulations around privacy and consent. European citizens have the right to be forgotten, for example and data must be deleted after six months, while in other parts of the world companies are encouraged to store data as long as possible. Get all the stakeholders involved – internally legal and IT people should have an input, while externally it is a good idea to tap into the expertise of an international supplier of learning systems, as they will have long experience of integrating systems within the law.
- Use big data to inform plans to develop an effective language and communication capability. Traditionally HR and L&D professionals have taken a business need perspective or delivered training to meet demand from individual line managers. Big data – learner data metrics straight from the learning solution – reveal the way in which individual learners are embracing and using e-learning. Big data enables HR to monitor results of e-learning and respond quickly to changing learner needs. Data gathered from e-learning systems not only helps predicts learner behaviour but can assist with broader talent management objectives. Learner data might highlight behaviour that indicates an employee is disaffected and at risk of dropping out of the training or even leaving the organisation.
Even if you assess skills effectively and skill up staff to speak the same language and share a cultural understanding they may not necessarily need to move geographically to work in different territories. Their new skills will stand them in good stead for working together in virtual global workspaces. As long as the organisation can locate the workforce or employee that has the right skillset somewhere in the world, with good language and communication skills that workforce or employee can contribute their skills to a global team.
Forward-looking organisations know they need multilingual and multicultural employees to reach out to new markets and build strategic relationships Blended learning delivery and cloud technologies are a powerful combination, boosting communication capabilities and enabling HR to develop true talent mobility. And consistent blended learning delivered globally from a cloud platform, enables HR and L&D to map existing language and communication skills and match them with requirements and opportunities throughout the organisation, pinpointing skills that require development. This in turns helps to create a truly flexible talent base to underpin agile international operations.
1 The 4th annual Speexx Exchange survey (December 2015)