What is the language strategy at your company? Does it even have one? If not, they are missing the boat since it is essential when hiring internationally-trained employees who have the skills you want and just need coaching in the specifics of particular aspects of communication, such as clear speech, culturally appropriate behaviour and presentation skills, for example. Just yesterday I was interviewing a colleague in Human Resources about this exact concern. While communication issues can extend across the entire spectrum of employees, native and non-native speakers alike, New Canadians have particular concerns related to clarity and appropriate communication skills. Read on to learn more about how your company can support these highly skilled employees who simply need a bit of coaching in order to really excel in the workplace.


What’s Your Language Strategy?

by Tsedal Neeley & Robert Steven Kaplan

Language pervades every aspect of organizational life. It touches everything. Yet remarkably, leaders of global organizations, whose employees speak a multitude of languages, often pay too little attention to it in their approach to talent management. As we have observed in countless organizations, unrestricted multilingualism creates inefficiency in even the most dedicated and talented workforces. It can lead to friction in cross-border interactions, lost sales, and a host of other serious problems that may jeopardize competitiveness (see also “Global Business Speaks English,” by Tsedal Neeley, HBR May 2012). Developing a comprehensive strategy for managing language can help transform that vulnerability into a source of competitive advantage.

Choosing a lingua franca, or common language, can dramatically improve how employees collaborate across borders—even though it also introduces new challenges. For one thing, the decision to adopt a lingua franca must be balanced with the need to speak local languages and adapt to local cultures. For another, individuals’ proficiency (or lack thereof) in the common language can cloud leaders’ judgment about how suitable those people are for specific assignments and promotions. Decision makers may undervalue or overvalue language skills and therefore misjudge talent.

We have learned through more than a decade of Tsedal Neeley’s research on language in global organizations and teams, and more than 20 years of Robert Kaplan’s leadership of global organizations, that language strategy is critical for global talent management.

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