Establishing an Effective Cross-Cultural Training Program and Measuring the Benefits
By John G. Schieman
We live in an age of globalization. Corporations are outsourcing manufacturing and services around the world to wherever it makes sound economic sense. Fortune 500 companies increasingly rely on international teams to "get the job done." Many of these teams are virtual, with members never meeting face-to-face, making it extremely difficult to establish relationships and build trust.
Company executives are constantly traveling internationally and are often requested to relocate to another country. Emerging markets are on the critical path to future business growth with China and India representing more than one-third of the world's population. International negotiations, decision-making, and communication have become extremely more complex.
However, many global corporations do not offer cross-cultural education and training as part of their professional development curriculum. Many other companies that have established cross-cultural programs struggle to quantify the business value and benefit of these programs.
Two factors contribute to organizations' misunderstanding the business value of cross-cultural education. First, cross-cultural programs are administered as individual, unconnected events and not as a knowledge-building continuum. Second, linkage between cross-cultural competence (and lack thereof) and personal or business performance is not established.
Improving cross-cultural education and training effectiveness
A number of factors can improve cross-cultural training initiatives, including structure and continuity, quality and consistency, and ubiquity and availability. In addition, training programs must be customizable and measurable.
Structure and continuity
Structure is the establishment of cross-cultural curricula with specific, defined purposes. For example, an open-enrollment curriculum should be established for all associates, resulting in company-wide cross-cultural competence. The curriculum should begin with a foundation cross-cultural course within the first three months of hire, a global electronic communications course within six months, and a global team-building course within nine months. Actual timing would be influenced by the individual's position, responsibility, and assignments. A second example is a global leadership development program focusing on high potential employees and future global leaders, with emphasis on international assignments and country-specific knowledge, cross-cultural negotiations, and personal coaching.
Continuity means there is a logical progression from one course to the next within a curriculum. Course prerequisites should be established to maximize value and minimize delivery time. Competency certifications should be granted at the completion of a series of courses within a curriculum, for example a certified global team lead or project manager.
Quality and consistency
Individual course pre-work, content, delivery, output work products, and post-work should meet an agreed upon standard of excellence. This is particularly critical in communicating levels of expectation for courseware acquired or delivered through third parties. Selected companies should have a long history of delivering quality services and customer satisfaction.
Also, all educational courses should be delivered with the same level of quality, regardless of location. This requires a network of training throughout the world who collaborate with one another.
Ubiquity and availability
Courseware should be accessible any time, anywhere, and through all, cost-justifiable media types (classroom, personal computer, worldwide web, CD, global satellite, etc.). This blended learning approach allows individuals worldwide to advance at their own pace.
Customizable courses and measurable results
Each intervention, while being consistent within an overall curriculum, should be tailored to meet the requirements of each group of participants or individuals. This is accomplished by providing each participant with electronic pre-program questionnaires to elicit goals, challenges, and objectives, as well as telephone interviews with key participants. The feedback from each interaction with the participants establishes the basis for customization.
Individual courses and entire curriculum should be evaluated based upon the benefit derived from each participant This is accomplished by providing each participant with an electronic post-program evaluation to quantify the value of the course and to compare results against the pre-program questionnaire objectives.
Linkage between cross-cultural programs and business results
Consider the following hypothetical example drawn from real-life interventions:
New product development in Company X is a global process, consisting of international team members located in the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
- The average time for product development averaged 18 months.
- The new product average revenue per month during the first year of sales was estimated to be $20 million.
- Ineffective international teaming and communication contributed to the 18-month product cycle.
A series of international team building and communication interventions were administered, team leaders from each country were included, and objectives, action plans, and metrics developed as work products. Goals and metrics were established to improve meeting effectiveness, to reduce the average time to respond to e-mail/voice mail/memoranda, and to reach decisions. Much was learned in a number of areas.
Representatives from each culture learned the decision-making styles of the others and compromise strategies were established, leveraging the best practices of all cultures.
Representatives from each culture learned that the message sent is not always the message received. For example, when the Japanese team leaders said, "Yes," they really meant, "We will see," without any commitment. When the British said, "Quite good," they really meant, "A bit disappointing." Processes were established to confirm mutual understanding and expectations.
Examination of the cross-cultural dimensions, such as group vs. individual and equality, identified the importance of recognizing the individual (U.S. culture) and group consensus (Asian culture) approach to decision-making. Processes were established for all decision-making meetings; documents were distributed in advance to allow time for consensus building, with the caveat that there be ample time for feedback/modification before the actual meeting. Within a short period of time, the decision-making process evolved to one of collaboration.
The results were dramatic. Teams functioned more effectively. Communications responsiveness improved by 40 percent. Decision time frames were reduced by 25 percent. The average product development cycle was consistently reduced by two months for all teams that experienced the interventions, resulting in a cash flow acceleration of $40 million and in some cases, product exclusivity.
Quantifying the business improvement from cross-cultural interventions is challenging, however it is clear that cross-cultural competence has the potential to make a significant contribution to top and bottom line results as well as individual performance.
Reprinted from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD)