In part 1 of my blog: How do companies adopt a single language strategy? A daunting prospect for some. I examined the rationale, thought processes and obstacles companies are faced with when attempting to adopt English as their core-communication language, globally. In part 2, I will focus on implementation and employee engagement.
Part 2: Implementing A Single Language Strategy
It is essential to examine employee attitudes head-on when trying to adopt an English-only corporate policy. This doesn’t mean confront them! What I’m saying is there has to be a framework in place that characterises employee type so that you can better predict how easy it will be to successfully implement such a strategy.
There are two core questions that employees will ask themselves:
And, quintessentially, employees’ attitudes will be spread across 2 spectra: those ranging from a low-belief in the questions stated above and those with a high belief in them. The success of your policy is wholly dependent on how many employees score highly in both belief and buy-in.
So how does the company’s board of directors engineer a shift to a strong buy-in ethic with a high belief in success? Buy-in and belief go together. Strategies that can help people feel more confident include:
Messaging, messaging, and more messaging.
A case in point is the Japanese electronic commerce and Internet company, Rakuten, who’s CEO, Hiroshic Mikitani signalled the importance of the English-language policy to his entire organization relentlessly. For instance, each week some 120 managers would submit their business reports, and he would reply to each of them pushing them to develop their language skills. I surveyed employees before and after Rakuten implemented the adoption framework. Results indicated a dramatic increase in buy-in after Mikitani showed his employees that he was “obsessed and committed to Englishnization,” as he put it. The vast majority of the employees surveyed said that the policy was a “necessary” move.
Through successful internal marketing policies at Rakuten, the now-English intranet regularly features employee success stories with emphasis on best practices for increasing language competence. Companywide meetings are also held monthly to discuss the English-language policy.
The company offers opportunities to gain experience with language; whether through education, employment, or living abroad, experience tends to give people the confidence they need to succeed in this task. They provide overseas language training and job rotations, that open new doors and allow employees to stretch their skills. Rakuten has sent senior executives to English-speaking countries like the UK and the U.S. for full language immersion training. Employees have also been offered weeks-long language-training programs in the Philippines. Rakuten also plans to send more than 1,000 engineers to technology conferences outside Japan.
Foster positive attitudes
Attitudes are contagious: People’s faith in their own capabilities grows when they see others around them—peers, managers, friends—having positive experiences with the radical change. Managers can model good risk-taking behaviours by showing that they too are trying new things, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.
Talk to you Employees!
Encouragement and positive reinforcement from managers and executives—simple statements like “You can do it” or “I believe in you”—make all the difference. To mitigate turnover threats at Rakuten, managers identified talent that the company wanted to retain and tailored special programs for them. Also, Mikitani repeatedly assured his entire workforce that he would do everything in his power to help every employee meet his or her English-proficiency goals. He made it clear that he believes that with effort everyone can adequately learn the language of business and that he did not want to see anyone leave the company because of the English-only policy.
Encourage good study habits
Companies need to contract with language vendors who specialize in helping employees at various levels of proficiency. The vendors need to be intimately familiar with the company context so that they can guide employees’ learning, from how best to allocate their time in improving skills to strategies for composing e-mails in English. Language development is part of every job and people should be granted time during the workday to devote to it.
Many global employees fear that an English-only policy will strip them of their cultural heritage. I propose an alternative point of view. The more people you can communicate with, the better positioned you are to spread your culture and your message. If people can’t understand what you’re saying, they can’t engage with your company or your brand.
CEO, Tangent Training Co. Ltd
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