Did You Remember to Plan Your Language Communication Strategy

Working across borders is fun! Right?

Imagine the following scenario….

Your company has grown over the last few year and you have added several offices in other countries to the central organization. It is exciting and inspiring, to work with people from different backgrounds and cultures. You have hired new talent, trained existing team members and prepared everyone for the new configuration. You have everything in place: team members are appointed, everyone understands their role and responsibilities, the task list is on paper and communicated to every employee and at management level.

A few months into the new situation and you start receiving signals that after some minor miscommunication hick-ups, the initial enthusiasm has grown into a mild irritation on both sides. A few months after that, the irritation has grown into mutual accusations and conflict-driven misunderstandings. A year later cross-border departments and teams have stopped sharing, stopped asking for feedback and have started limiting their emails to cooled-down interactions, requiring only a simple yes or no. There is an overall sense of disappointment.

Avoid the inevitable communication silos

What has gone wrong? You invested in preparing your employees for this merging of global teams and according to them, they were able and willing to communicate in 1 common language.

And yet…you might have skipped a crucial step in this organization change process: did you test if your employees and new team members were actually as language savvy as they said they were?

Working in the different language in an organization is a lot more demanding on the linguistic and cultural skills set than most people realize. When people write on their CVs that their English is fluent, does that mean that they are fluent enough for the requirements of your organization and their job? And are they able to read, interpret and communicate about a complex topic, a proposal, a negotiation? And beyond their technical language skills, are they able to manage other people, handle conflict situations? Beyond building working routines, are your employees truly able to move around in the organization without being impeded by mismatching interpersonal communication?

Fail to plan, plan to fail

A very common mistake we all make is to assume people have the proper communication skills in times of organizational transformation. Per default, every person is to a more or lesser extent a communication driven character. And not in every function everyone needs to be top-level eloquent. But it is a must to define explicitly what the requirements are when you are growing your business across borders. You need to assess the current skills of your workforce and then set up a strategic communication strategy to close the skills gap.

Armin Hopp discussed in an article in HR Review in May 2016 on how to support communications across the global workforce. One of the steps he describes to driving Workforce Mobility is to ensure a working language and communications development strategy. “Success on the global stage demands a long-term talent management strategy that focuses on developing the language and communication skills of each individual employee.”

A crucial step to ensure efficient and effective, quality collaboration across borders is having a language communication strategy and development plan, which assesses the actual skills level of all of your employees and then defines to set up a minimum required level for each individual learner. It is vital not assume that everyone can speak the chosen business language at the level and efficiency you require them to.

Read more about the 7 steps to empower global communication and support communications across the global workforce in HR Review here.

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About the Author:

Marije Nieuwenhuis is Senior PR Manager at Speexx. She holds an MA in Business Communications from the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands and has lived and worked abroad for more than a decade working within international teams. Marije has worked in the fields of international PR, promotional marketing, B2B promotions and events, and project management.