Posted on December 2, 2011 by Gail Danneman
To remain competitive, organizations have been forced to enter the global market. Competition is fierce in today’s economy, and with global organizations comes a very basic necessity: cross-cultural training. By cross-cultural training I mean training that employees receive on not only how to deal with cultural differences among customers, but also training available to employees that relocate to another country. Sometimes employees moving to another country are known as expatriates because they are leaving their country of origin and traveling to a new place.
Think about your life right now and imagine your organization wanted you to move to Asia. If you had to pack up all your belongings and move to a new country, there would be a lot of changes in your life. First and foremost, you would need somewhere to live, and preferably somewhere safe. Your organization would have needed to assist you in locating a safe housing environment as you likely have no idea about your new home country. How will you communicate with people? Will you know the currency system?
There are many parts of a new culture that we often do not even think about. Therefore, if an organization is going to send someone to a new country, it is vital that the organization prepares the employee for the new culture the employee will be exposed to. Cross-cultural training can vary depending on the new location of the employee and the duration. Sending an employee to a different country is extremely expensive, up to three times a base salary. Because there is a high cost for moving employees, it is important that the employee feels comfortable handling their new life.
Organizations can make the decision to send employees to outside cross-cultural training programs or conduct in-house training programs. Before the employee undergoes any training, the organization should conduct a needs assessment to outline what aspects of training the employee needs. Also involved in the needs assessment should be the employee’s family members that will also be relocating such as a spouse or children. The entire family will be affected by the relocation, so it is important to make sure that all members are trained and ready for the transition.
Following the needs assessment, training can begin. What does cross-cultural training focus on? Think about how we communicate using nonverbal motions in the United States. If I smile at a stranger as I walk by them, this is a friendly gesture. When I hug a friend, this is a sign of affection. Other countries do not interact and use the same nonverbal actions that we do. In some countries, bowing to elders is considered a sign of respect. The employee transferring to a new country needs to be aware of cultural differences to prevent offending anyone especially in the workplace.
Language training may also be beneficial for employees traveling to a new country. Some organizations enroll employees into language programs at area universities. Because the employee will be working in the new country, the language must be clearly understood to communicate. If there is a group of employees moving to a different country, it may also be beneficial for all the employees to practice the new language together.
The last thing an organization wants to happen after transferring an employee to a new country is for that employee to feel so overwhelmed by the new culture that they decide to return to their home country. If this happens, the organization has likely lost a large sum of money and the opportunity to have more established global relationships.
What are your thoughts on cross-cultural training? What is necessary?