In a series of articles, we’ve explored the very foundation of intercultural training – the importance of self-awareness – and another key aspect, understanding the connection between cultural values and assignment success.
In this last article we look at continuing the learning outside of the training room, whether face-to-face or virtual, and share a few strategies for relocating employees and their family members.
On our intercultural programs we often see trainees enthusiastic and eager to apply their newfound knowledge either back at work or in daily host-country interactions. This motivation is critical; without it, there is little chance of trainees taking learnings beyond the training room. But it goes hand in hand with another powerful motivator: the understanding that intercultural training is part of a longer journey towards intercultural competence. Something that is gained over time, through both awareness and application.
Intercultural training provides the foundational knowledge of a culture as well as awareness of our own preferences and behaviors. It gives trainees a chance to design their own solutions to challenges on assignment with the help of a Crown trainer who is a neutral third party with cultural expertise. But we all know executing solutions and goals in reality is a challenge within itself.
It is not enough to “just do it” since assignment challenges almost always involve interacting with other people, who have their own preferences and behaviors as well as a lot of unknowns. That’s why a key component of our programs is working with trainees to continue their journey of intercultural competence.
These strategies can be organized into three categories: Share, Shift and Reflect. But these work best when it’s a two-way street. We encourage trainees to reach out to HR, their receiving managers and colleagues to get some support with their journey. Here are a few ways that both you and the relocating employee can ensure their assignment is a successful one.
In our intercultural programs the relocating employee shares learnings and challenges with their trainer. They’re also encouraged to share with their spouse, allowing them to explore various perspectives and receive feedback. Outside of the training room it is a great way to receive support, combat loneliness and connect with others.
Encourage trainees to:
- Talk about what they’ve learned in the training room with colleagues and their manager. This can be done informally or in a structured meeting.
- Start a lunch and learn with expats and other members of the host culture to share observations and insights. Choose topics like: “How do I define teamwork,” “Tips to build trust in my culture” or “What is an effective communication style at work.” (Remember to look deeper: that’s where the nuances are that really impact how each person thinks and behaves.)
- Review their value dimension preferences with their team and ask them where they would put themselves on key dimensions, such as direct or indirect communication.
- Share all or part of their action plan with their manager and/or HR, and incorporate the plan into performance objectives.
How can you support your employees?
- Follow up the training by setting up an objectives meeting with the employee and, ideally, their receiving manager. Incorporate cultural goals into the assignment goal-setting process.
- Applying what’s learned is critical to skill building and behavioral change. Consider setting up regular check-ins with the employee to measure goal achievement.
- Stay connected with the employee and include conversations in the repatriation process. For some companies there is a strong need to retain the employee after the assignment. For others, the business goal has been met and the focus shifts to managing their return. Whatever the case, understanding what new skills have been learned may sway the decision or the process.
We also make sure that we work with the trainee to discover shifts in their thinking or communication style to improve their interactions with colleagues from different cultures. This is a great start, but to truly shift thinking and behavior, repetition is key.
Encourage trainees to:
- Choose two or three small shifts they can make in their daily interactions. Plan when to try them out and track the results. They should think ahead and set times to practice at the start of their day.
- Involve a colleague or their manager in the shift they want to make. For example, if you come from a more indirect culture and would like to adjust your communication style with a colleague to be more direct, you can let them know this at the start of a meeting. You can ask them to let you know when your message has come across as indirect.
- Take a breather during challenging interactions to shift into a more observational and curious mindset. They can use a simple prompt to help them do this. For example, have them put a post-it note on their desk that reads “look deeper” or “breathe and shift.” A quick glance while writing an email can be enough to change the whole tone.
How can you support your employees:
- Relocating employees cannot be successful in a vacuum; it’s important to build cultural skills throughout the organization. The most effective global organizations are those that leverage cultural difference. Placing a value on developing those skills will add benefit beyond mobile populations.
- If you have a smaller mobile population, building cultural skills within the receiving team will help leverage cultural differences. The fewer assignments there are in an organization the more visible their success – or failure. The relocating employee is not the only person responsible for their successful adjustment.
- We often work with HR teams to build their own cultural skills and develop a deeper understanding of the international relocation experience, particularly if someone has not lived abroad themselves. Not only does it increase empathy but can help HR set realistic expectations among international candidates. Moving internationally is a disruptive event – all stakeholders (HR, employer, employee family, global mobility provider) have a role to play in reducing that disruption as much as possible.
This is often the hardest for a busy employee, though arguably the most impactful. We do this throughout the training and encourage them to build this into their assignment.
Encourage trainees to:
- Look back at their notes or materials from the program. Reviewing is a simple way to keep the learning going.
- Reflect or talk to their partner about their action plan. What might have changed? How do they need to adjust those actions or their plan to achieve them? Assignments are not static in any way, so their goals can’t be either.
- Notice and celebrate the learnings, the risks taken, and even the small wins. This not only creates positive momentum but also helps them to not feel discouraged when challenges arise on assignment.
How can you support your employees:
- Follow up on a regular basis to assess what is working and what isn’t to make sure issues can be resolved quickly. Use that information to review candidate preparedness processes. It’s best not to leave this until the end of an assignment when it’s too late to make improvements.
- Work with receiving teams to see what worked and what didn’t, and create a list of best practices for future assignments.
Today’s conversations about intercultural training have moved beyond “if you don’t do this you risk assignments failing.” Younger employees are hungry for development, they see themselves as part of a global community. Providing training is about giving them tools for self-reliance and meeting an expectation. Reaping the benefit of the training and really extracting the value of the investment still relies heavily on HR and mobility professionals incorporating cultural skill building into reviews and promoting them as a desirable competence across the organization. The potential link between cultural training and attracting or retaining staff is strong. And if it feels like our message about HR engagement and employee repetition has been, well, repetitious, it’s because it’s the simplest way to get long-term value.