Despite globalization standardizing almost every aspect of life, cultural barriers remain an obstacle to proper communication. Companies that plan ongoing global, expanding their reach beyond the domestic market, must take into consideration the differences between their home culture and that of the market they’re trying to enter. Failure to do so can cost companies not only potential revenue but also their reputation, a scenario that has played out many times.
Case in point: in 2015, a supermarket chain in the U.K. attempted to sell bacon-flavored chips in a display celebrating Ramadan. Already, there are several things wrong with this, starting with the fact that Ramadan is an Islamic celebration—and Muslims are forbidden from consuming pork or products that contain pig-derived byproducts. Even as the manufacturer of the chips insisted that the bacon flavoring is artificial, the marketing stint backfired spectacularly.
In most cases, offending companies are caught unaware that their marketing campaigns are doing a great deal of harm to the affected populace. Avoiding these pitfalls, among others, is the objective of cross-cultural training. Simply put, it examines the cultural differences between two locations—communities or countries—and trains people to be more aware of these differences. An employer who’s sensitive to the melting pot of cultures in the workplace makes for a positive image.
Types of Cross-Cultural Training
There are a number of companies like dialogueuk.com that offer cross-cultural training. Typically, the training programs cover at least five kinds of scenarios.
- Cross-cultural challenge – identifies the challenges a company or organization might face in a culturally-diverse workplace and explains possible solutions. This helps foster a sense of fellowship and trust among employees.
- Diversified workforces – lays the groundwork for companies or institutions to deal with cultural challenges between workforces around the world. This is ideal for those who plan to expand or have expanded their reach beyond the domestic market.
- Doing business in a country – raises awareness in doing business in another country that’s culturally different from the home country. This is designed for managers or business teams that frequently perform transactions overseas.
- Management practices – outlines the various methods, techniques, and philosophies used to manage culturally-diverse workplaces. This allows tasks performed to be more efficient and streamlined, which benefits overhead.
- Conducting negotiations – develops skills necessary for handling partnerships, mergers, and other kinds of business negotiations. This focuses on techniques and strategies on how to make sound decisions despite cultural differences.
Depending on the company or organization’s needs, some cross-cultural training can incorporate some or all these scenarios into the program. However, the way the program is employed is typically threefold: (1) raising awareness; (2) education about cultures; and (3) post-training consultation.
When these strategies are employed properly, companies and organizations can avoid the common mistake of making insensitive decisions or remarks. On top of that, the barriers proving an obstacle to communication can be bridged. Misunderstandings can be kept to a minimum, if not averted entirely, which can lead to more lucrative deals and better customer satisfaction.
Evaluating the Return on Investment
As mentioned before, the benefits of cross-cultural training include preventing marketing mishaps and increasing productivity. However, understanding the degree to which the return on investment can be justified requires a look into the status quo of the global economy.
Since recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, emerging economies have rebounded and are now accounting for over half of the global output of goods and services. In fact, across the board, these countries have accounted for the increase in exports and world gross domestic product. As a result, a great deal of labor has been outsourced to these countries, owing to the following benefits:
- Lower operational costs
- More insulated in case of economic crashes
- Potential for high growth
- Diverse investment in case of lack of growth
Most of these countries have plenty of skilled labor and can speak English fluently. However, the ability to speak the lingua franca is only one of a multitude of elements to consider in intercultural interaction. Local customs and routines differ widely between countries; forcing one to accept the other’s culture as the status quo will only result in a non-amicable relationship. Keep in mind that cross-cultural training encourages sensitivity and tolerance of each other’s cultures.
A good case study is Ericsson and how it prepares its employees for long-term overseas work. In a study published by Uppsala University in Sweden in 2009, the company’s cross-cultural training program follows a didactic methodology. The most common form of training, this method uses a classroom discussion or informal briefing setting and is given twice: once prior to departure to the destination country and another after getting there.
The paper also cites the downsides like being unable to cover all the aspects of cultural differences and the language barrier preventing further learning. Even with a program in place, it’s no stranger for Ericsson’s employees tasked for overseas work to return prematurely because of difficulties. Recommendations on improving the program include the addition of culture-specific aspects and language training.
This doesn’t imply that cross-cultural training is impractical. Instead, it must be noted that cultural barriers are difficult to overcome, more so without a program being implemented. It’s also worth noting that, despite these hiccups, the frequency of Ericsson’s employees returning too early have been rare at best.
More companies are investing in cross-cultural training programs as emerging economies stand to remain dominant in the global market. In a 2008 survey, cultural awareness training was ranked the third most important initiative to increase return on investment in international transactions.
It’s important to remember that the benefits of cross-cultural training aren’t meant to be quantified in revenue or monetary capital. Instead, it should be viewed in terms of a streamlined workflow, increased customer satisfaction, and improved sense of fellowship among employees from various cultures. With a comprehensive program tailored to a company or organization’s specific needs, cross-cultural training will be a significant boom in the long term.