Is there a cure for “Globalitis” that is undermining international communications? Mahesh Ram, CEO of GlobalEnglish has an answer. Read on…
It’s no great revelation that technology and connectivity have forever changed the way most knowledge workers collaborate with their global colleagues. Twenty years ago, it would have been highly unusual for a Brazilian engineer, a German marketing manager and a Chinese product specialist to jointly participate in a virtual meeting. Today, this is a routine occurrence in most global companies.
As multinational corporations have evolved to become “globally integrated enterprises
,” non-native English-speaking workers are now the majority, with more than 175 million working in large global corporations. These knowledge workers must work across borders in the common global business language—English—to provide mission-critical services ranging from IT support to management consulting to complex ERP development. In these situations, English is far more than a mere language. It is the de facto medium of global business. Just as the TCP/IP protocol made the Internet possible, English in the workplace is now the conduit that enables global performance.
It would be easy to read the above and declare that a perfect state is already here—efficient capital flowing to where knowledge resides, companies able to rapidly respond to new global markets and employees working efficiently with their global colleagues using all this wonderful technology. Picture-perfect, right? Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t match this narrative in most of the companies I talk with.
Instead, many companies are suffering from a malaise—one that is pervasive and insidious—creating a deficit of hundreds of millions of euros in lost productivity each day. We call it “Globalitis
” … and it even affects entire countries
. If you recognize any of these symptoms, you’re probably all too familiar with it as well.
- Ineffective Collaboration
Inability for dispersed global work teams to deliver expected results because they aren’t communicating or working together effectively.
Example: A once-dominant mobile phone company fails to capitalise on the groundbreaking advances made by its Asian team on a next-generation phone due to internal communication challenges, leaving the door wide open for Apple and others to steal its market share.
Investments made in expensive technology (e.g., video conferencing, bandwidth) are squandered because the flows of comprehension aren’t as strong as the flows of data.
Example: A large consumer goods company experiences a significant delay in its ERP implementation due to the inability of the Brazilian team to properly communicate serious issues to the global deployment team, ultimately resulting in the CEO’s resignation.
Critical mistakes in the supply chain created by misunderstanding; lack of clarity in key messaging to customers and peers.
Example: A recent BBC article
which shows millions of pounds of lost online sales due to poor English spelling that undermines consumer confidence.
What’s different about these problems today versus twenty years ago? The simple answer is SCALE. Twenty years ago, the negative impact on companies was contained. As a result, it was perfectly fine for a handful of employees in certain countries to learn and have a command of English, and these few employees could be sent off to expensive classroom training. Today, the majority of employees in global companies need to command functional Business English skills every day to do their jobs. Scale also changes the consequences. I met a client, an oilfield engineer in Brazil, working on a global team who receives 40 to 50 emails a day in English compared to only 10 a day five years ago. If it takes this engineer only five additional minutes per email per day to read and reply due to poor English skills, that’s a productivity loss of over 1000 hours in a working year! Multiply this by the tens of thousands of employees suffering, and you soon realise that “Globalitis” creates a real drag on corporate performance.
Fortunately, there is a cure for Globalitis that is readily available to any corporation! Let’s start by understanding the desired state—what we term Enterprise Fluency™—a company’s ability to effectively communicate and collaborate worldwide, and thereby create real operational efficiency. To cure “Globalitis” and reach this state, innovation is critical. Ironically enough, the cure for “Globalitis” begins with the same forces that helped trigger the issue in the first place—SaaS-based technology. Just as ERP and CRM systems drove tremendous productivity increases in other business functions, SaaS technology can do the same for the problem of poor workforce communication and collaboration. The approach, however, must meet certain requirements. It must be:
- Multimodal—integrating formal learning, real-time performance support and enterprise social collaboration (as our esteemed friend Charles Jennings so eloquently explains here). This means providing not only on-demand courses, but providing daily performance support and social collaboration in the context of emails, conference calls, written proposals, expert presence and crowdsourcing tools. Most employees have “no time to learn,” but instead have a great deal of pressure to produce, and we must help this majority.
- Cost-efficient to affordably reach the massive population that needs to perform and communicate with colleagues and customers each day in English.
- Well integrated with standard applications employees already use (e.g., Microsoft Office Outlook). In essence, the tools have to be where the work is done rather than where learning is done (i.e., not just in an LMS).
- Finally, the system needs a little “magic.” By this I mean it has to have the capability to allow employees to create work product that is superior to their actual level of English skills (without anyone else knowing) and that delights the customer or colleague who receives it.
This article has been contributed by By Mahesh Ram, Chief Executive Officer of GlobalEnglish Corporation, one of Towards Maturity's founding ambassadors who support the work of our independant benchmark, ensuring the results are freely available to all.
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