Ah, that recipe for the perfect meal. We’ve all had one. Perhaps you’re imagining it right now –cooked to perfection, beautifully presented, wafting delectable aromas signifying just the right amount of ingredients, time, and preparation. Diving in, you notice your taste buds sing and immediately know that recipe will be used time and time again. For once you find the right recipe for anything in life, you hold onto it.
Just like that perfect food recipe, there is a better, more improved recipe for creating a cross cultural training program. Many programs companies implement fall flat like a souffle following a hasty peek into the oven just to check. Some companies turn off the heat halfway through leaving the it half-baked. Others don’t use enough ingredients to ensure the program gels into a scrumptious feast of cultural acumen. Today, we will be giving you the ingredients and the steps to ensure your program is a hearty, full-flavored recipe with many positive outcomes!
But why the fuss? When it comes to cross-cultural training, all you need to do is teach people how to shake hands, mumble certain niceties and stay away from negative topics of conversation, right? Maybe sprinkle in a few choice phrases in a foreign language to show you understand your audience and your cross-cultural bread should bake up nice and fluffy and just perfect right? Well, no. That is just etiquette training. It needs more ingredients than the basics, a lot more thought and kneading to get it just right and to help it nourish your company (and its people) for years to come.
Our world may be shrinking thanks to globalization, its gaps narrowing daily when it comes to commerce and communicating. But, the cultural gaps are still there. Less deep, but conspicuous enough to warrant some intense concentration. And it is more important than ever that today’s global workforce understand subtle cultural nuances. Cultural training programs need to be put in place to prevent misunderstandings and boost corporate competitiveness in the global marketplace.
Okay, so what are the other steps and ingredients? Glad you asked.
First assess the ingredients you already have Assess your workforce and its needs. Your Human Resource Department needs to have one-on-one talks with randomly selected employees. Ask them what cultural issues concern them. Embrace a process that guarantees confidentiality and anonymity to all employees who provide input. Perhaps use a third party which can write a report on the strengths and areas where your company can improve its cultural effectiveness.
Next, add the answers to important questions For international employees dealing with different cultures, be sure they add heaping cups of these questions to their recipe: In this other culture I am dealing with, how is trust built differently? And what is the most constructive way to provide criticism?
These questions will have wildly different answers depending on where you are in the world and the answers are vital to building rapport and professional relationship success.
When dealing with an employee from France in the United States, do you know that the American tendency to accentuate positive and minimize negatives to soften the blow in a performance review may be misconstrued by French employees? French managers tend to provide more direct, blunt feedback, so anything couched in euphemisms may cause the French employee to think they are doing a great job, when —in fact—you really need them to improve their performance.
Look within and tweak the recipe Improving internal and external cross-cultural communications must be a priority for your company. It must become part of the everyday and be applied to everyone from the CEO down. If it is embraced by the CEO, there will be less of the dreaded employee indifference. The last thing you want is employees rolling their eyes at “yet another training program.”
Instead, get creative and offer more interesting intensive choices. Here are a few options to consider:
Offer lunch time cultural talks. Have staff from different nations of origin or cultural backgrounds share critical cultural information with other employees
Hold an international food festival geared toward the sharing of cultural traditions
Send employees to foreign language training
Connect new employees with existing employee networks—everything from female business leaders to book clubs
Allow overseas staff to work for up to 18 months in the U.S. or elsewhere
Offer structured, classroom-based training sessions or online cultural briefings
Contemplate a company-sponsored exchange program, where children of overseas employees temporarily stay with U.S. employees and vice versa
Bring in cultural sensitivity trainers who can teach linguistic differences and dig deeper than simple etiquette. Customize this training to each destination and employees’ needs.
At a minimum, you should create a respectful environment towards each employee, vendor, and client. Most of all, keep the conversations flowing. Be sure to introduce employees to other cultures before they ever begin a single conversation.
Throw in a handful of uncomfortable The best training programs make employees uncomfortable. If this is done in a supportive environment, your employees will thrive. Focused role play can be part of the recipe. For example, an employee who is not comfortable giving feedback could practice using more active communication skills. Or an Asian employee used to remaining quiet unless asked a question could practice speaking out at meetings without being prompted.
Lastly, garnish with The Golden Rule The Golden Rule’s “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” really comes down to common sense, decency, and courtesy. It is more than a handshake or the right way to say thank you in a foreign language. Whatever you do, don’t pull out this recipe only once. Build on it. Improve upon it. The key really is embracing each other in the cultural training program process in order to create a successful outcome and a delectable meal.
By Ilona Knudson