Cross Cultural Training
“Training the Trainers: Parlate Italiano? An Experiential Exercise in International Human Resources” by Karen Eastwood and Monika Renard
This article investigates the benefits of training expatriate staff prior to their departure, especially ensuring that the trainers can teach the expatriate some of the language of the host country. The authors then go on to explore the benefits of language training to international human resources students, proposing a program to deliver this training. This presupposes that the student will be the trainer in a future role, hence the need to train the trainer in a language program.
The statistics on expatriate placements make interesting reading (Eastwood & Renard, 2008, p.1):
- A 30-85% range of expatriate placement will lead to failure
- This cost can range from $200,000 to $1.2 million
- For Shell expatriates to Saudi Arabia, 3 days of pre-departure training reduced the failure rate to 5% and a six-day program reduce it to 1.5%
The authors draw the conclusion that cross cultural training (CCT) benefits the expatriate and the organisation through reducing some of the key factors of expatriate failure as outlined in Yang (2007, p.3):
- Adaptation to a foreign culture
- Family adjustment
- Length of assignment
It is clear from the articles that CCT is important in reducing expatriate failure rates, but it can only occur if senior managers believe that it is effective and that it is needed (Stone, 2008, pp.813-814). Including host country language training as a part of CCT can demonstrate to senior managers that CCT is effective as the expatriate will at least be able to exchange pleasantries with local staff (Eastward & Renard, 2008, p.2) and adapt more readily to the assignment, leading to a better overall expatriation success rate.
Many multi-national companies (MNCs) such as Proctor & Gamble and HSBC expect managers who want a promotion to top management to be willing to take expatriate positions (Ready & Conger, 2007, p.3) so that they can experience different cultures in which the company operates. This allows these companies to develop parent country nationals (PCNs) for future higher management positions. Another reason for companies using PCNs is that there is a global shortage, especially in emerging economies such as India and China, of suitable skilled host country nationals (HCNs) (Scullion, Collings & Gunnigle, 2007, p.311). This does not mean that MNCs do not need to develop HCNs for higher roles. There is a need, especially if there is suitably skilled and experienced staff, otherwise the MNC will experience resentment from HCNs (Toh & DeNisi, 2005, p.140) and are not strategically building top managers in the host country for the future.
Another reason for expatriate failure is the inability of the spouse to adjust to the new culture and country (Yang, 2007, p.5). Yang (2007) goes on to recommend that there needs to be family friendly and culturally supportive family policies in place (p.7) including having the spouse involved in pre-departure training (p.10). Inclusion of basic language training into this program will assist the expatriate and their family to be more successful and reduce the failure rate.
While Eastwood’s & Renard’s article cover a strategy to make the expatriation successful, there is no mention of reverse training to assist the return of the expatriate back home. Scullion et al (2007, p.313) found that 40% of employees leave their company after their return. Yang (2007, p.4) found that 52% of 287 international subsidiaries reviewed experienced repatriate issues. There is a clear need for reverse cultural training for the expatriate, their spouse and family that is as important as the initial expatriate training (Yang, 2007, p.4).
This article provides a solid recommendation of including basic language training into all CCT for expatriates. The authors recommend that the development of a language course be a part of all international HR courses which will filter into all CCT in the future. There is a strong link between CCT and basic language communication skills in ensuring the success of an expatriate assignment. However, the article could have gone further in reviewing the impact that this training would have on spouses to also lift the success rate. Further work could also have been conducted on repatriation training and how language (such as current cultural changes) could be incorporated into this program to ensure retention of the returned expatriate beyond a two-year period.