As the demand for expatriates to adapt to the ever-evolving business environment is growing, expatriates’ roles and responsibilities also expand. Many expatriates are expected to not help grow their businesses financially in the new markets but also focus on talent acquisition and development. However, more often than not language and cultural differences could negatively impact this process. How so?
Let us consider the following scenario. The US headquarter has sent over to Vietnam a new CEO and part of his assignment is to hire and train a team of local professionals who can then lead the entire regional team and expand the business. The CEO is to select a few outstanding individuals from the pool of current employees and hire entry-level talent.
Without much regional language skills, Vietnamese in this case, the CEO will be more likely to look for candidates who exhibit a high fluency in the company’s lingua franca, English, simply because it is much easier to communicate and relate to them. By exhibiting unintentional biases toward those with good English skills, he could potentially undervalue other professional skills. As a result, the CEO will forgo the talented employees, and cause those who would otherwise are high performers to underperform and, eventually, withdraw.
If penetrating and growing in foreign markets is one of your company’s agendas, then, ultimately, there has be a way to mitigate such biases. One option is to have clear evaluation criterion and process. You may also consider adding language courses to your employee and manager training programs to close the gaps between local employees and expatriates.
For example, IBM has adopted 8 regional languages other than English as their lingua francas to ensure productivity and effective talent management. Similarly, effort must be on both sides of the equation. Hence managers, especially expatriates, should consider putting as much effort into learning the local languages and cultures as indigenous employees are into improving their foreign language and cultural skills.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela.
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