Cross cultural training comes of age?
In the last couple of years we have seen a resurgence in cross cultural training, as cross cultural working becomes business as usual for many companies. Companies are now realizing that cross cultural competence is part of their core skill set, not a “nice to have” add on to their training curriculum.
For some companies cross cultural training is something they did once, tick the box and move on to the next management fad. But once you are an international organization then cross cultural competence needs to be a part of all you do. All your people management processes and skills development training needs to be adapted to work with a range of cultures.
We are seeing a move away from an ex-patriot focus in training. Ex-pats are usually focused on one or a limited number of cultures, so you could go on a five day training course to learn about living and working in Nigeria, for example, and it would give you good advice on inoculations and what you should wear and when are the post offices open and all those kind of things.
Now we see many more regular travelers and managers who are looking after multiple cultures. These managers can’t afford five days of cross cultural training on each of these cultures – they need something much faster, more focused and much more practical.
The second trend is that cross cultural working has become much more embedded in the organization. It is much more business as usual and evident at all levels of the organization – aspects of cross cultural training are needed by receptionists, call centre workers, as well as managers.
Our clients are saying – “we understand the cultures are different, we have got the diversity piece, we have got the awareness and understanding, what we want from our training is practical tools to diagnose what is going on and to give us some choices on what to do about it.”
We also see more desire for practical applications in cross cultural awareness and skills training. Rather than culture as a stand-alone tick box, how do we run a cross cultural meeting? How do we make decisions.
People are becoming less tolerant of just hearing lots of interesting stories to illustrate that people are different – they know that already.
Smart people will, of course, eventually work out how to manage across cultures for themselves but trial and error takes a lot of time and it is a pretty expensive way of learning. The cost of one transatlantic trip to recover from a cultural problem can be ten times more than the cost of the training needed to stop it happening in the first place.
Experienced managers have often worked out some of the principles for themselves and assume that others have the same understanding.. We meet some very experienced managers on our cross cultural skills training and they tend to start out by being sceptical – but always end up wishing they had the training years before. They find that what they have done is they have noticed lots of things that work for them, that solve specific cross cultural problems but without a model, without a process, without tools, they find it hard to explain why it happened or to adapt to other new cultures quickly.
We think cross cultural training needs to be much more practical and embedded in the organization. People need tools, applications and skills. Too much cross cultural training is full of fascinating stories and anecdotes, often shared by people with little commercial experience. At the end of it people are entertained but don’t really know what to do differently next time.
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