Over the past few decades, technology has steadily transformed the way in which we communicate and do business. It’s increased the speed with which we can respond to and interact with clients, and has enhanced our access to knowledge, training, information and travel. In the business space, it also means that we can leverage talent from all over the world, and promote goods and services to a global network of companies and consumers.
But alongside what seem like endless commercial possibilities, come subsequent communication challenges. By embracing the global potential of our modern day business market, we often find ourselves confronting communication challenges. Opportunities to market services online and overseas, mean that customer facing and support teams have to find ways to address the demands of emerging markets. Additionally, remote hiring measures and multinational expansion can leave coworkers struggling to communicate freely across language barriers. Both internal and external communication needs to be addressed in companies looking to harness the immense potential of an interconnected global market.
This article will examine these points in more detail, and offer practical solutions to ensure that all employees and customers remain engaged, and that businesses are able to fully leverage opportunities that come their way.
Internal communication challenges can reduce productivity and engagement
As LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has frequently pointed out, effective communication is the number one modern-day skills gap for US employees. When language barriers are introduced, they further complicate matters. The spread of misinformation can significantly obstruct internal productivity and hinder client relations. In the worst instances, the breakdown of communication can result in workplace errors, poor customer satisfaction rates and wasted financial resources.
Although communication skills have always been sought after by business leaders, increased global connectivity has meant that more and more companies are looking to recruit not just great communicators, but seek out or train those who are able to operate effectively across language barriers.
As companies grow and change, so can communication needs
Managing global business channels
In order to achieve sustainability in today’s interconnected world, companies increasingly realize the value of developing strong multilingual teams. Since consumers have grown increasingly accustomed to seeking out goods and services online, commercial borders can’t always be easily defined by the limited extent of internal language skills. But promoting goods overseas means also understanding commercial models and regulations. Multinational teams help immensely here, and are better equipped to form successful local partnerships to support logistics where necessary. Being able to extend the marketing focus as well as providing support and engagement tools for customers is also crucial to the success of multinational business operations.
Building relationships with overseas suppliers
Not only can language skills have an impact in the commercial field, but since recent supply chain issues have forced procurement teams to look further afield as well, it’s important to consider that multilingual teams also have increased success in liaising with overseas suppliers. Having a proficient multilingual team, who is able to engage in this way can be extremely valuable in saving organizations both time and money. And so language training becomes most definitely more of an investment than a cost.
Business owners need to make a conscious choice between confining their business and growth potential to home soil, or investing in language training and development to support expansion into an interconnected global market.
Supporting mergers and acquisitions
Mergers and acquisitions are another area to consider. This model of expansion, often triggers increased linguistic diversity across corporate teams. In many cases, companies opt to adopt a corporate lingua franca in such cases, so that employees can simplify their language learning efforts, and there are clear communication channels in place for everyone. Where employees are well supported in their training, they see language learning as a great opportunity to build connections with multinational counterparts, and to advance their careers in the company by building and sustaining relationships across language barriers.
Employees view language training as a way to grow their skillset
There are multiple scenarios in which language training can truly enhance an organization’s success. But how do employees feel about taking on new skills? While of course it can be challenging for everyone involved, it is more widely viewed by employees as a benefit. Since 9 out of 10 employers in the US reportedly seek employees with more than one language, the opportunity to take on new language skills is one that can enhance career prospects and personal growth for many years to come. Not only that, but in a situation where there’s an obvious and immediate need for these skills, employees usually seize the opportunity to learn a language as a chance to support their performance at work and improve relationships with multilingual coworkers and customers.
Supporting communication challenges in the workplace is a key element of success
Anyone who’s worked in a business setting, appreciates that the efficient flow of information, both inside company walls and with clients, is a key driver of success. Many successful company leaders have stressed the vital importance of communication in this regard.
James Humes, a professor of language and leadership from the University of Southern Colorado was famously quoted for saying that the “art of communication is the language of leadership.” So what happens when multilingual teams are unable to get through to one another. If language training is not supported, then company growth can cause even more severe communication challenges and drive down engagement in a major way. As companies extend into other markets, and larger multinational or remote teams are included in the corporate framework, it’s vitally important to overcome language barriers, so that growth becomes the catalyst for success rather than causing divisions.
James Humes. Professor of language and leadership. The University of Southern Colorado.
What research says about language barriers in the workplace
Research uncovers a proven and direct correlation between language proficiency and productivity. This applies at all levels; from multilingual production lines, to high-level executive teams.
In a workplace environment that doesn’t offer language support for its multilingual teams, business outcomes can be negatively impacted by a number of factors.
● Individuals can feel isolated through an inability to communicate with those around them.
● Employees can miss out on gaining a full appreciation for the company’s mission and values. This can have a negative impact on brand identity and business performance.
● Language barriers can make it harder for employees to collaborate effectively with their counterparts and coworkers.
● A lack of understanding can lead to mistakes and accidents, potentially exposing the business to costly liabilities and lawsuits.
● Employees lacking the skills to communicate with confidence are less likely to put forward their ideas. This can lead to missed opportunities and the duplication of efforts across regional offices. In turn this increases costs and reduces performance.
● Poor language skills lead to higher turnover and lower retention rates. This constant drain of valuable talent forces an increased investment in recruitment and training costs. An inexperienced workforce is also less likely to work with the same degree of effectiveness.
● A lack of language skills can lead to inadequate fulfillment of projects, and often cause a surge in budgets.
Despite this realization, in almost every multicultural working environment, communication and performance leaves significant room for improvement. It can be extremely challenging to create an efficient workplace where everyone is able to collaborate to their full potential, and communicate effectively with every other stakeholder in the business.
Since over 20% of the US population are non-native speakers of English, even for companies who operate solely within these borders, language training can be an important way to improve workforce integration and corporate communication.
Language training can enrich and improve the business experience for both employees and clients
For anyone charged with increasing workplace performance, the case for investing in language training is strong. Language training can ease both cultural and linguistic understanding, producing a more inclusive environment for both employees and customers. When internal communication is strong, staff are more likely to put their ideas forward and work collaboratively on teams to achieve successful outcomes and form synergies. This same enthusiasm and efficiency echoes into the global market, and can boost the overall performance of the business.
For all of these reasons and more; companies with a workforce that can operate effectively in a multitude of languages will ultimately prevail in a global community over competitors who don’t invest in this vital skill.
Nonetheless, the process of building a unified multilingual workforce is not always straightforward. Today’s reality makes it hard for busy professionals to find the space and time to take on new skills. Although company leaders widely recognize this need for language and communication training, they are faced with the issue of determining how best to accommodate this aspect of professional development.
Common barriers to language acquisition in the workplace can be addressed through flexible online or blended learning
At Rosetta Stone, we visit a myriad of different companies, aiming to improve communication through internal teams and in the field. Although the companies that we partner with vastly range in focus, there is immense commonality in the challenges and obstacles they face when it comes to language training:
Lack of time
From baseball players to restaurant owners, engineers to financial service providers; working professionals in every domain have multiple demands on their time. To accommodate training of any kind into an already busy schedule can be a challenge. It needs to be done in a way that allows learners to invest time, rather than spend it.
Language training that can be accessed anywhere and at any time means that learners can work on improving their language skills, during time that would otherwise be redundant. Training has a more positive impact when employees are given the flexibility to learn at their own pace and leasure.
The Boston White Sox, for example, describe how players use travel time to focus on language training.
Inconvenient class schedules
With so many conflicting work schedules and time zones to accommodate, training on a global scale is very difficult to implement. Class times often clash with work responsibilities and family commitments, meaning that not everybody is able to access training to the same extent. An online or mobile learning solution eliminates those restrictions. Many are worried that without the personalization of face-to-face learning, engagement and progress will be haltered. Interestingly though, many users have found the opposite to be true. Learners appreciate the flexibility, and are more likely to attend face-to-face sessions that can be arranged at a time to accommodate their needs.
With more people working remotely or at irregular times, it can be difficult to deliver the same level of training to every employee. We’ve mentioned time restrictions, but geographical location can introduce even more restrictive access when it comes to face-to-face training options.
A digital learning solution or blended model can increase the level of engagement in language learning programs, and allow companies to deliver individualized training to employees, regardless of their physical location.
Varied language learning needs
Across a multilingual workforce, language learning needs can vary. Some people require very high-level instruction, while others only need to cover the basics. People also need instruction in different languages. Even among learners with the same level and language focus, needs can vary immensely. By selecting a language training platform that addresses these wide-reaching requirements, companies can reduce costs and offer effective training, tailored to the requirements of individual employees. An employee who needs functional English to communicate with coworkers on the shop floor, in a manufacturing plant, or commercial kitchen for example, can use the same language training solution as a high level executive who requires advanced training in Chinese, Italian or Spanish to participate in multinational business meetings.
A robust blended learning solution like Rosetta Stone can accommodate almost any business structure or language training needs. With over 24 languages and courses spanning beginner to advanced level business language, you can consolidate training and make the best use of company resources, while delivering the most convenient solution for its learners.
How to measure the impact of corporate language training
The best run companies make decisions based on ROI (return on investment). They seek solutions that provide optimum results and the best value for the time, money and effort invested in different initiatives. When it comes to training, the investment in physical and human resources can absorb a lot of the budget and make for complicated logistics. It can also be difficult to gain an immediate and clear measure of face-to-face training. In an online environment with proficient learner management tools, you can gain immediate insights into user progress and proficiency. But how are improved language skills reflected in the general performance of corporate teams, and how can that be measured?
We’ve already discussed that companies come out ahead in several ways when they build a proficient workforce that is able to communicate effectively, both internally and with clients. So, when it comes to measuring the impact of language training, there are a variety of perspectives to consider.
In internal teams trying to operate effectively across language barriers, increased language proficiency can result in a more cohesive and better integrated workforce. The impact of teams who can communicate effectively and form constructive working relationships with one another, can be felt across whole organizations in all kinds of ways.
By prioritizing language training, companies not only demonstrate their ongoing investment in employee development and satisfaction, but they also reap the benefits of financial gains associated with:
● Improved productivity
● Fewer mistakes
● Reduced safety issues
● Better workplace satisfaction
● Stronger employee harmony
● Lower staff turnover
External or customer-facing teams
In customer-facing teams serving individuals from a multitude of language backgrounds, the impact of language training can also manifest through:
● Better customer satisfaction
● Reduced client churn
● Improved corporate image
● Higher profit margin
In companies with multilingual teams or clients, language skills have a clear impact on productivity and performance.
What is the best way to grow successful multilingual teams?
The first place to start is by finding an effective language training program to address the needs of your current employees. This requires an in-depth understanding of the language focus that employees need in order to excel in their position of work, and their current level or understanding of the language in question. It’s one thing learning a language for simple verbal communication, and can be quite a different process if the end goal is to be able to participate in a high level meeting, or draft complex written correspondence in another language.
Determine your starting point and learner objectives
This analysis often requires detailed testing and questioning of potential learners. If you opt for online or blended learning, then opting for a platform that includes placement testing tools can be helpful. After completing the placement testing process, individual learners on Rosetta Stone for Enterprise, for example, have the option to orient their learning based upon the skills and vocabulary they need to practice, and the primary use they’re going to make of their target language.
A truly effective language training solution will provide a cost-effective solution that caters to the needs of each individual learner. Online learning environments often provide measurable results and detailed insights into where corporate language learners started, and will carefully trace their path towards fluency.
Accommodate the requirements of your learners
Giving your employees the flexibility to learn anytime, anywhere and across multiple devices is also essential. Selecting a digital learning solution will make it easier for them to accomplish their learning over a morning coffee, on their commute, or over lunch. It shouldn’t be something that requires more time in your employees’ day, but rather makes a better investment of the time they already have.
Choose the right learning model for your busy employees
Consider the skills that your employees will need. Most will probably want to prioritize spoken communication in order to improve their ability to interact effectively with team members and clients. To help your employees to develop these skills, you may want to consider the additional benefits of blended learning, with the opportunity to add real time tutoring sessions that support spoken fluency and confidence.
Consolidate costs by finding a robust language training solution to match all of your needs
Finding a program that will deliver training in multiple languages and with a focus that accommodates learners at all levels of your organization is also important. You may be looking to support both Limited English Proficiency (LEP) team members in some cases, while allowing other members of your team to learn new languages and work better with colleagues and clients worldwide. Digital language training with Rosetta Stone allows you the scope and flexibility to address diverse learning needs.
In addition, while some learners may require basic skills, others will want to dive deeper into advanced vocabulary and conversational skills specific to their role within the organization. Whether your business is looking to expand internationally or support multilingual teams on a local level, Rosetta Stone gives you the flexibility to grow your employees’ skill sets to match.
Establish and measure learning objectives
Finally, the ability to measure performance and proficiency is paramount to the success of any language training programs. You should be able to incentivize your employees to learn, and celebrate their personal accomplishments alongside the benefits those bring to your business.
Language training is an integral part of prolonged business success
If your business is serious about remaining competitive in today’s interconnected world, then language training can contribute towards sustainability and performance across the board. As more and more companies occupy the global marketplace, companies who are able to meet the needs of their multilingual customers, will ultimately have more opportunities to increase their market share, and be more likely to prevail over those who don’t invest in building these skills.
In a number of cases, we have witnessed the value of language training first hand. From better collaboration in internal meetings and more effective written and verbal correspondence between executives, to improved efficiency through multilingual production teams, and better customer service. Although language training cannot trigger these improvements overnight, it is certainly a step that reaps cumulatively stronger rewards for businesses over time. In addition, it demonstrates a recognition of the potential behind the personal and professional growth, and which can immeasurably boost the satisfaction of employees across the board.
By recognizing the impact of language training on your business, you’ve already taken an important step in the right direction. Conducting a language audit to measure the current skills of your employees is an important next step. Next, by choosing a program that works in unison with your corporation’s goals and objectives and allows you to measure employee skills growth, you will discover that the long term increase in productivity, satisfaction and collaboration, far outweighs the initial investment of time and financial resources. Not only will this growth in skills impact your bottom line, but you’ll undoubtedly notice a measurable improvement in employee satisfaction levels and on the reputation of your employer brand.