People communicate with people and not companies, and these days business is an international affair.
Clients and suppliers are often spread out throughout around the globe. The linguistic complexities involved are magnified when the company has branch offices and subsidiaries in different countries, with employees speaking a range of languages. Smooth and effective communication can quickly become compromised. We all know how emails can morph into something very different to the reader; now add the extra language difference overlay to that, and suddenly, it's like Chinese Whispers, where the final output has changed radically.
It's for this reason that any organizational structure or corporate culture must have a clear business language strategy.
Having a strategy in place not only streamlines communication within the company, but also make external communication with vendors and clients much more efficient, and personal. (Going back to our point that people do business with people and not companies...)
There are lots of options for effective business language strategies that companies can use. Some focus on foreign language development, others concentrate on applying a common language throughout the company, such as English. The Harvard Business Review reports that English is still the global language for business. It attributes the domination of Business English to the fact that over 1.75 billion people in the world are functional in the English language. This creates a solid base for finding communicative commonality.
Which is the Most Suitable Business Language Strategy for your Company?
Foreign Language Development Approach
A foreign language development approach is best if your company has a global reach, but is based administratively and operationally entirely within an English-speaking nation. For companies such as these, there is no problem in achieving smooth and effective communication within its organization if all of their members already have English as their native language.
Rather, their focus should be on having a solution for effective communication when they are engaged in contact with overseas entities. This is usually handled by identifying the mix of languages that their personnel are likely to encounter in terms of upcoming negotiations, plans for expansion and client/vendor interaction. Learning the language and cultural do's and don'ts for target markets is a sure way to up-level customer service and increase sales conversion.
The Business English Approach
If a company is operating on a global scale with global employees based in different locations, the common language approach can be highly effective. This requires implementing a common language for all staff within the organization with regards to communication.
By its nature, a methodology of universal implementation must be applied within the organization and needs to cover executive, administrative and support personnel. This means that everyone is on the same page, literally.
The scale of such a program is usually larger than that of the foreign language development approach. HR teams and leaders should be prepared to have a multi-pronged solution for this approach. The best solutions involve first assessing who among the staff requires improvement with their Business English skills.
In the past, companies have used the services of external English language institutes, or linguistic consultants, to conduct an English proficiency evaluation of current staff members. Often, companies use similar programs to vet English proficiency at the hiring level, especially is recruiting from overseas.
With new online tools available, improvements can be made to cost and delivery time, and are often easier to implement for global teams.
Once the English proficiency of the company’s staff has been determined, you can bet your bottom dollar that not everyone will be at the same level, and this will need solutions in place for beginner, intermediate and advanced English speakers. The most successful companies view this as a permanent, ongoing program, with people continuously moving up in level of instruction as their proficiency improves, and new team members joining in along the way as part of the onboarding set up.
Being the most spoken language in the world, companies using Business English as their main language of communication have a bit of an advantage in targeting markets despite native linguistic differences, with consistency of the message delivered. Countries with a large number of expatriates benefit hugely from having English as the official language of communication, reducing differences that can arise when having a multilingual workforce in the business. However, if using this approach, then you need keep in mind the different nuances around the English language based on the geographical area.
The Bottom Line for Business Languages
Whether your company is large or small — geographically concentrated or spread out — it can benefit from having a business language strategy in place.
The direct benefits of having improved and more efficient communication are coupled with those of having a more cohesive corporate culture and being more receptive to collateral opportunities on a cross-cultural scale.
The cost of a well-run business language strategy will always result in improved company performance, which in turn positively hits the bottom line. A language that every C.E.O and Board of Directors speak!