I was recently asked about the timing of cross-cultural training for expats, and hesitated to give my answer. You see, in my mind, this question suggests a potentially outdated perception of what cultural training is and its place in the global workplace.
Historically, cross-cultural training was aimed at expats, the majority of whom were moving from their home nation to another country. It was typically provided to promote greater understanding of the cultural differences between their home and host culture. It was mostly offered pre-departure, occasionally on arrival but rarely at the three-month stage, when research demonstrates that the greatest need existed. The focus of the training centered on contrasts between home and host cultures and changes the expat would need to make to adapt to the new culture.
With the advent of globalization, we see a more diverse cultural blend, both in the workplace and in the home. These include
- cross border virtual work teams,
- frequent business travelers servicing the needs of a global region,
- second generation migrants who blend values and beliefs from their parents’ and their friends’ cultures,
- long term expats who are global nomads with little concept of a ‘home’ culture,
- internationally educated graduates seeking work in their country of education creating
- multicultural teams of millennials working together and
- children (third culture kids TCKs) who have never lived in their passport countries
This globalized world is vastly different today from twenty years ago and the training solutions from that time are no longer as helpful. Cultural training is no longer just about describing the differences between two cultures; instead cultural training is about increasing overall cultural intelligence. It’s about enabling people to be effective in situations of diversity whatever those situations might be. It aims to nurture a global mindset that accepts, acknowledges and values diversity and is able to function effectively both as an individual in an unfamiliar environment, and as a contributing, supportive part of a multi-cultural community.
So when is cultural training needed in a globalized world?
Regularly and often.
For the general globalized workforce, training to increase cultural intelligence can happen as part of a regular professional development and diversity program. Doing so provides the skills and abilities to work well in global teams and to relate to a diverse client base. It enables people to better understand their own influences and preferences, and make conscious decisions about how effective and appropriate they are in their current context - vital in an increasingly diverse working environment.
We recently delivered a series of programs for a government department, which addressed these aspects, allowing them to enhance their internal operational effectiveness and achieve their mission of delivering services to their diverse client base in an accessible and equitable manner.
In addition targeted executive cultural coaching is vital for senior management in global companies to demonstrate globally relevant leadership, effectively manage their workforce, understand their client’s motivations and retain credibility in complex situations.
We regularly coach senior managers, using a reflective process to review their beliefs, experiences, behaviors and leadership from a cultural perspective. This leads to increased confidence, clarity and cultural intelligence to make globally appropriate judgements and decisions, in a variety of corporate environments.
But, what about the expats moving globally? Again, I would advocate for all training to be part of a comprehensive organizational cultural intelligence program. This means all knowledge and experiences can be used to benefit not just the expat's development, but the entire team, both local and global.
This allows the, still-valuable, pre-assignment briefing to integrate seamlessly with existing knowledge, and means that provision can be more flexible, better tailored to the needs of the assignee, family, role and location, and to be part of ongoing in-assignment support.
Over the past six months we have worked with many expats arriving and leaving Australia. Many of them have had extensive international experience, and often have blended cultures within their homes. All of them valued reflecting on their cultural intelligence and how it informs past, present and future situations and empowers successful adaptation strategies.
On-going coaching and mentoring programs accompanied by virtual support (as we provide through www.cicollective.com) can continue to provide those learning and reflecting opportunities throughout their assignments.
Their cultural intelligence is never lost, and will positively impact on future assignments, whether at ‘home’ or overseas. It has ongoing value not just for themselves and their family, but for their team and the wider organization.
So when should cultural training happen?
Any time and all the time!