The world is becoming one global interconnected village. Because of compelling necessities in business and related matters, more and more companies are moving their operations offshore and expanding their footprint into new and unfamiliar geographies. A big challenge in managing this change is how to deal with a diverse workforce. This has to be managed well for the company to successfully achieve its business objectives. The company has to ensure that there is clear and transparent two way communication between the headquarters and the branches or subsidiaries, and also strong ties with the Leadership.
(Lisbeth Clausen, “Corporate Communication Challenges: A ‘Negotiated’ Culture Perspective”). To make this happen, all staffs require a certain mastery of cross cultural communication skills. They have to be well trained to empathize with different cultural makers so as to keep communication open and effective without letting it affect business performance. Why are companies facing cross-cultural communication challenges? Companies become multi -national and move overseas for various reasons.
With advancement in technology and a driving business need to stay competitive and ahead of competition, they set up operations and expand to newer geographies every day. It could be because they sell a product or service which they feel has potential to be marketed overseas. The company may perceive a big business opportunity in doing this and decide to set up a network on foreign shores. Or they may decide to off-shore their operations in order to leverage skills availability or even for labor arbitrage.
Whichever the reason, once an office is set up overseas, this typically means that management and staff from the head office or flagship have to interact on a regular basis with local staff in the new countries. And if the business opens up in more than one country, it has to deal with multi cultural staff and or customers – a situation that calls for adroit handling of culture sensitive communications so that all business activities like decision-making and problem-solving take place without any gaps and in a way that is best suited to business needs.
It is natural that people from different cultures to react differently to situations – for example, when the SHOE Company from Denmark entered the Japanese market, it found that many local business practices, like the hierarchical style of management, were creating barriers to quick brand penetration. The Japanese on the other hand felt that the Danish were not open for negotiation; that headquarters was ‘sending mixed messages’. (Lisbeth Clausen, “Corporate Communication Challenges: A ‘Negotiated’ Culture Perspective”).
Leadership will have to patiently and successfully overcome the challenge of building the company culture amongst new staff in a foreign land. The new staff members have to embrace the company’s values and work style; this is critical for delivering good business results. Similarly, the Danish were impatient with Japan’s ceremonial approach to business; they just wanted to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible without partaking in social obligations. . How do these challenges affect an individual’s performance and effectiveness?
Clear and lucid communication of business goals and corporate expectations of how staff can help achieve business goals is critical to the successful running of any business. Ineffective communication can lead to a lack of understanding of what is expected of a person in the company and how he or she should contribute towards achieving the business objectives. Many times a feeling of apathy sets in when staff feel left out and consequently their performance suffers, hurting the company’s business performance as well.
When Jesus Ricardo was sent on a two year assignment from North America to South East Asia, she was one unhappy expat. It started with the very basics – her name; none of the people she worked with could say it right. It was simply a matter of her co-workers not being aware that in Spanish, the ‘J’ is pronounced like an ‘H’. She ended up having to explain this repeatedly and correct every person she met. This annoyed her tremendously although the locals did not think much of it.
They did not understand that where Jesus came from, it was important to pronounce one’s name correctly. Then in the office, Jesus found her colleagues (all local), always spoke in Chinese. She felt terribly left out and sometimes even ignored. Often she wondered if they were talking about her, especially when the conversation was peppered with giggles. She consequently made no effort to get to know her team mates and insulated herself in her own world. At the end of three such trying months, she decided to quit her job if her company did not move her back to N America.
Could the company have avoided such a situation? Yes, if it had been better prepared to handle a diverse workforce. As part of the relocation exercise, the company should have put both Jesus and the team in Taiwan through cross cultural sensitization. The host team should have been given a detailed briefing about the new member from N America and a ‘buddy’ could have been arranged to soft land Jesus into a completely new culture and living. How do these communication challenges affect the business objectives of the company?
A person’s behavior – his attitudes, his beliefs, life style, his thinking, and his responsiveness are all influenced by his cultural background and markers. (Madelinde Daane-van der Houwen, “Understanding of culture optimizes a global communications strategy”). As companies start to do business with other countries, it becomes evident that there is a compelling need to understand local culture and habits. To persuade people to contribute fruitfully to business objectives, it is important to establish credibility and trust. This is best done by exhibiting an understanding of local habits and ways of life.
To be able to recruit and retain the best employees and successfully achieve its business goals, an organization has to value the diversity of its employees and customers and communicate effectively to them. It is true that a diverse workforce helps to build respect for the company brand both internally and externally; through proper handling of cultural sensitivities, misunderstandings can be avoided and closer relationships can be cultivated between the company and customer. Such teams enhance productivity and spur creativity and innovation.
And because of a variety of thinking styles and opinions they lead to effective problem resolutions and better decision outcomes. Organizations that believe in espousing cultural diversity and communicating effectively across differences of race, gender, religion, age, geographic background, education, economic and cultural background, and thinking and communication styles. will be committed to creating an inclusive organization where the differences of all people will be respected, valued and utilized towards achieving a common goal adding tremendous value to the way the company conducts its business.
References: 1. http://www. thelatimergroup. com/aboutus/newsversions/spotlight_v5issue5. html, 2007 2. http://www. immi. gov. au/media/publications/multicultural/confer/01/speech5a. htm, 1995 3. http://perspectives. larryhollon. com/? p=414, 2006 4. http://journals. cambridge. org/action/displayAbstract? aid=1740740, 2008 (COSTAS M. CONSTANTINOU, OLIVER P. RICHMOND and ALISON M. S. WATSON (2008). International Relations and the challenges of global communication. Review of International Studies, 34 , pp 5-19 doi:10. 1017/S026021050800778X)
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