After recently spending five days in New York, I got thinking about the differences in workplaces, working patterns and attitudes between the USA and Europe. As businesses are looking to attract and retain talent, the high performers are coming from an increasingly culturally diverse talent pool.
According to Dean Foster, who recently published an article on the Global HR News website entitled “Managing the Differences Between the US and….” , the highest number of failed expat assignments from the USA is to the UK. Now why is that the case when both countries speak the same language; surely that should make the transition as easy one? What Foster has discovered is that the use of a common language creates a feeling a similarity that masks actual cultural differences that don’t get addressed and resolved, leading to further problems.
This is also the case in Germanic countries in Europe. Did you know that in the German speaking part of Switzerland, German employees get very offended if Swiss employees speak to them in Swiss-German? Nevertheless, many Swiss continue to do so and thus contribute to a fractious, and, one can argue, potentially less productive, working environment.
Someone I know very well has had to manage conflict between German and Swiss employees because of language issues. He has gained has the respect of all his team members because he conducts his meetings in English, therefore showing respect to both cultures by not favouring one language over the other. It is not a coincidence that he is running diversity and inclusion programs at this Swiss multinational and has also been selected to the talent management program.
Tolerance, understanding, and knowledge is key to working effectively and productively with people of different cultures and in diverse working environments. From an HR viewpoint, providing training or coaching in both language, culture and local attitudes for employees embarking on international assignments will increase the success rate of those assignments.
Access to talent, which crosses many cultural divides, has also provided many challenges in recruitment. According to Paul Wesley, HR Director of psychometric testing firm SHL, based in the UK, says:
“The ability to differentiate between people is more important now as businesses haven’t the luxury of recruiting people who are not going to perform. We don’t have an issue in attracting people – we have an issue in attracting the right people and making decisions about which of those people are going to perform.” (“Global HR: Europe”, Personnel Today 13 Oct 2009)
HR practitioners and managers also need to be aware of differing management styles; is it a paternalistic management environment, or are you working in an autonomous flat structure where taking responsibility for decision making is encouraged? Who are the key decision-makers and how are decision-made? What is the legislative environment like and what laws do you need to be aware of? How can you ensure that inadvertent discrimination doesn’t take place?
My advice is: think global, act local and create an environment of mutual respect amongst your diverse workforce. On that note – arrivederci, ha det bra, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, and goodbye for now!