Few employers would disagree about the need for effective cross-cultural training programs in today’s fast-moving, multi-national business environment, preparing employees for foreign assignments and creating a more effective, happier workplace at home.
But it takes more than just a decision to implement a multi-cultural program. Ensuring success is a process that involves every employee in the company.
First, decide how the process will take place. You can try to do it yourself, but using experienced, professional trainers generally gets the best results, including programs that encourage self-analysis, and an understanding of others’ cultures, such as the Berlitz Cultural Navigator®.
Regardless, there are other important factors for you to consider.
Not Just Another Program
Employees sometimes joke about their company launching the “program of the month,” and sometimes this is true. That’s the kiss of death. Employees won’t take your effort seriously, if they believe this is just another initiative that will fade and go away.
Creating credibility requires strong and consistent support from the very top, at the very start. There can’t be any doubt in employees’ minds about the company’s commitment. They need to understand this is an important, company-wide effort that’s here to stay.
Overcoming Resistance to Change
Employees often feel threatened by changes in the status quo. It may be by cultures they don’t understand, by new employees who don’t act or speak as they do or have the same communication patterns. These can be the cause of misunderstanding and acrimony in the work place.
Sensitivity training is one way to help employees understand the cultures, mores, traditions, working habits and etiquette of others. Along the way, employees often develop a greater understanding of their own cultures and biases, which can help to make them more sensitive toward others.
It’s also vital that employees be told exactly why understanding cultural differences is important, and how it can benefit them by fostering new ideas and innovations, which may help strengthen the company and create greater job security.
The goal of this is to create buy-in at all levels of the organization, from the CEO down, including middle managers who are a key since they generally have the most direct employee contact.
Encourage Personal Interaction
It’s easy to teach people when to shake hands, when to bow, how to sit in a meeting, to have their business cards printed on both sides in different languages, etc. While important, these don’t provide a deeper understanding of subtle, but important, cultural differences.
Some companies create informal sessions, such as lunch and learns, where employees can talk about their specific cultures, work habits, communication styles, etc. These face-to-face gatherings are usually successful at helping to understand and appreciate other cultures.
Often these sessions are run by a professional moderator. In others, a manager may start the process, explain parameters and goals, and then leave, creating a more comfortable atmosphere for a frank discussion.
Recognize What’s Important to Others
It’s key to recognize milestones in other cultures. This may be a religious holiday, or event in a culture with which you are not familiar.
Develop a calendar that lists events important to your employees. Then, recognize them.
Finally, Be Patient
Attitudes, understanding and ingrained biases don’t change overnight. This is a long-haul program.