Building successful multinational operations with better business communications

Written by Armin Hopp on 30 January 2018

As a growing number of organisations operate by creating virtual teams on a project-by-project basis, comprising employees who may be based anywhere in the world, language and communication skills have become essential. Advanced communication skills are not just an operational must-have – they are key to driving the organisation's competitive advantage.

The key to international business success is creating a resilient capability for high quality business communications. This means arming individual employees not only with foreign language skills enabling them to speak to customers and partners in different countries, but also with the understanding of the context of local cultures and business practices in which these languages are spoken.

Local heroes go global

Many organisations have ‘local heroes’, people with particular expertise in a particular country. These individuals can be empowered with language and communication skills enabling them to share their knowledge globally to the benefit of the entire organisation.

However, most organisations are falling at the first hurdle and failing to identify these high potential individuals in the first place. It is vital to put in place a consistent method of assessment across the world to establish a baseline understanding of each employee’s language and communication skills.

Blended learning, combining elearning with classes that can be attended virtually or over the phone as well as in person is the most effective communications training delivery.

Most organisations that are operating internationally, or plan to, are aware of the need for language skills. However, many businesses have quite a long way to go before they will see the advantages of multilingual working.

For a start, they are failing to build in language skills assessment during the recruitment process, losing the opportunity to attract staff with the right communication skills. Later on, once training needs have been identified, too often the language skills training they are delivering is not effective, consistent or aligned with corporate goals.

Tapping into motivation

In addition, many employees are simply not that motivated to learn a new language. This is particularly true of native English speakers. Training professionals might need to reconsider how they can address the two main factors that will motivate people to engage with language and communications learning.

Individuals with ‘integrative motivation’ will be inspired to learn a language because they are interested in the culture related to that language. By contrast, other learners take a more pragmatic approach. They might want to be able to read technical material or communicate with the particular colleague – so-called ‘instrumental motivation’.

Tapping into a combination of both types of motivation will create a foundation for successful and long-lasting language acquisition.

Training professionals can support integrative motivation by running or supporting events aimed at informing and interesting employees in the particular cultures of target territories. These events might range from culturally themed lunches to trips out to cultural fairs or networking events, where employees get to meet and communicate with people from the target culture.

To boost instrumental motivation, it is possible to incentivise employees with cash prizes or faster career advancement for those who demonstrate proficiency in the target language. Blended learning, combining elearning with classes that can be attended virtually or over the phone as well as in person is the most effective communications training delivery.

Etiquette and body language

It is important to address the fact that communication is not all about speaking the language. Business etiquette and cultural body language sensitivities vary from country to country and can even exist between two countries that share a common language.

Bill Gates got it wrong when he shook hands with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye while keeping his left hand in his pocket. This is a sign of disrespect in South Korea. A culture of learning and development should include soft communications skills.

A flexible, agile workforce comprising individuals with high levels of communication skills will see an increase in employee engagement statistics, improved rates of retention and decreased recruitment costs. Enhanced customer service metrics or faster time to market will contribute clearly to international expansion, increased profitability or business transformation.

Speexx will be hosting a free seminar on building high quality business communications and driving agility for successful multinational operations at the upcoming Learning Technologies show, 30 January to 1 February at Olympia Central, London.  


About the author

Armin Hopp is the Founder and President of Speexx. Speexx helps large organisations everywhere to drive productivity by empowering employee communication skills across borders. For more information, visit


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