Organizations with a strong learning culture feature high up in Bersin By Deloitte’s Talent Management Maturity model. These more mature organizations generate 2.3 times more cash flow per employee and 1.4 times more revenue – and rate themselves 170% better at innovation. And these more mature organizations typically demonstrate more sophisticated communications skills.
But what impact might better communications – both internal communications and external-facing corporate communications – have on global organizations? The impact of not having these skills is clear. The UK economy is losing around $63.7bn a year in lost contracts because of lack of language skills in the workforce while over 27% of admin and clerical jobs went unfilled because of the languages deficit.
Global professional services recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley points out that many recruitment ads are increasingly stipulating multilingualism. It blogs: “From a business perspective, it is important to understand your client and what type of person they are, in order to further enhance the relationship.” Morgan McKinley believes that the impact of language skills on effective internal communications and corporate communication may be subtler than we first realize: “The impact of language is definitely innate; we don’t notice the effect it has on the workplace. It has the power to not only reduce the stress of an employee, but it can create a positive work environment that benefits the company in many ways. In this sense, the power of language sets the foundation of the work/social experience they will feel.”
The language people use in the workplace is vitally important, but equally important are non-verbal means of communication. It is no good taking the attitude that fast-improving translation software can fill this gap. Many of the nuances of communication that result in good customer service or effective partnerships are cultural and behavioural as well as language-related.
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The European Union has long identified the need for better language skills across Europe and set up the Erasmus program thirty years ago to fund youth training in languages. Yet, when a 2012 European Survey on Language Competences tested students aged between 14 and 16 on competency in their first foreign language, it found massive variation. Malta and Sweden averaged 82% for English as the first foreign language across reading, listening and writing at the most difficult level, while Spain and France averaged 29% and 14% respectively.
In England, less than 9% of teenagers have achieved more than a basic level in the foreign language they are studying. This is despite the fact that a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) survey of businesses found that close to half of businesses (45%) recognize foreign language skills as beneficial to them, with European languages heading the list of those in-demand – French 53%, German 49%, Spanish 36%. Yet, there is no doubt that employers cannot rely on the post-Millennial Generation Z entering the workforce having language skills that are any better than their predecessors’ skills.
Take Action And Engage Your Learners
There are immediate steps learning and development professionals can take to start building a strong foundation for communications skills. The first is to put in place a globally consistent means of assessing the current language skills of all employees. The next step is to deliver targeted digital learning that employees can access on their mobile at the point of need. Back this up with human mentoring and coaching from managers and peers. Then keep on assessing and revisiting employee language and communication skills and mapping them against business strategy.
Learning to speak another language and communicate effectively with people from another culture is not a trivial task. It’s important that each individual employee is motivated to persevere with learning. One way to build strong employee engagement with the task in hand is to make sure that people understand clearly why they are learning another language and what’s in it for them. If they understand that the business has a new target market that will help grow the business and ultimately deliver a more rewarding working life, they are likely to be much more receptive to the idea of learning.
In a mature organization, language and communications learning is all part of making the business an attractive place to work, a place where employees get a chance to work abroad, for example, and broaden their horizons. Marketplaces in most sectors are becoming increasingly multinational and complex. Organizations with strong language and communication skills base are best placed to navigate this.
Speexx offers a free eBook that can help organizations improve their workforce’s language skills.
Andi is the Director of Global Services at Speexx, the world’s leading online language learning and business communication skills training service. He writes, speaks and occasionally hosts webinars about learning languages online and the secret of the Perfect Blend and global talent management, Speexx and e-learning. Follow Andi on Twitter.