Companies with multicultural workforces face a number of issues with their onboarding, training and development programs. Companies must ensure that the level of quality of orientation and training programs is consistent for employees regardless of their country of origin. Further, when an employee is sent to work in a foreign country, a business must provide cultural and occupational training that the worker will need to be successful.
Training International Employees
When developing training programs for foreign employees, developers should be aware of the differences between high context and low context cultures. They must also recognize how the design of a training program can influence the participation and effectiveness of particular cultures. Thus, training must be strategically planned for international employees. The goal must be clearly defined and objectives must be established that support the goal. The objectives should specify the training methods, media and support material to be utilized. Depending on an employee’s language and culture, carefully tailored approaches to training will yield more effective results.
A company must be prepared to have slides, employee manuals, onboarding materials and other materials translated into the languages of participants and, when necessary, have interpreters present for training events. In the United States, companies routinely order the English to Spanish translation of employee manuals, safety manuals, standard operating procedures and quality manuals to support their domestic workers.
In addition to focusing on cultural and socioeconomic characteristics of new employees, attention should also be focused on the backgrounds of the trainers. Also characteristics, including level of education attained, reading comprehension and access to the Internet at home, will determine the feasibility of online training.
Throughout the development of the training program, managers should be mindful of situations and conditions that could distract the program from meetings its goal. To ensure the program stays on course, the goals of the program should be measurable, linked to performance and approved by top management.
Prior to relocating an employee to a foreign country, a business often provides cross-cultural preparation to the worker and his family. In the past, cross-cultural preparation wasn’t something that U.S. businesses provided. However, American companies have witnessed large numbers of employees returning home prior to completing their assignments. One study suggests that U.S. companies lose $2 billion annually from overseas assignments that were terminated prematurely by the employee. Cross-cultural preparation teaches the employee how to conduct business and get things done by introducing business practices and cultural norms of the foreign country.
Generally, the first step in a program involves identifying candidates who are most likely to succeed overseas. Ideal candidates are highly proficient in their job, effectively communicate at home and abroad, display patience rather than vagueness, express cultural sensitivity, show enthusiasm and self-motivation and are interested in learning new languages and cultures. However, the most important determinant to the success of a candidate is the long-term support of the employee’s spouse.
After careful screening of employee and spouse, a cross-cultural preparation program should be designed that includes three stages: Preparation, Acclimation and Repatriation.
Preparation takes place before the employee is sent overseas. This training includes training on the language, culture and customs of the country. The employee, spouse and children are briefed on housing, shopping, healthcare, education and other information needed for general daily life. Employees meet with managers who brief the employee on career growth projections. Instruction typically includes presentations and exercises that allow for interaction with others who have successfully completed similar assignments.
The employee and family receive more comprehensive training once they arrive in the host country. The host family enters a mentoring program that helps them assimilate into their new environment. The employee is typically assigned to a mentor at work who counsels the employee on the new work environment.
Coming back home can sometimes be a traumatic experience. While the employee and family have been away, sometimes for several years, significant changes in their community and in the company may have occurred. Colleagues, managers and other confidants may have left the company. During their time away, employees should be encouraged to stay current and build relationships with changes at home. This can be done through employee newsletters and by making effective use of the occasional return trips.