“No matter what job you have in life, your success will be determined 5% by your academic credentials, 15% by your professional experience, and 80% by your communication skills.” – Stephen Wang
In today’s fast-paced world, with the advent of improved technologies and other collaborative tools, global leaders have been forced to adapt to these changes, while hitting the ground running. One of the major transitions in the recent past has been the scrapping of fixed working office spaces and its gradual evolution into floating stations revolving around a stable internet connection, due to the onset of the Covid-19 virus. This means that business leaders are dealing with individuals working in different working environments, all focused on a set goal. Leaders of large conglomerate organizations have soon begun to realize an area of struggle when devising new workplace strategies and policies during this new wave of remote working.
The success of any team lies ineffective communication. In an attempt to facilitate communication and performance across geographically diverse functions and endeavours, more and more multinational companies are adopting a language strategy and mandating English as the common corporate language. This will not only play an important role in standardizing communications between different zones but also make documents accessible to everyone, including countries where English is not the predominant language of communication. Not only has English become the dominant language of business and of the Internet, but it is the native language in more than 60 nations, and increasingly the official secondary language in other countries as well.
The Future of Jobs which is a global insights report focused on employment, skills and workforce strategy, published by the World Economic Forum in 2016 predicted that social skills such as ‘persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others’ will be in higher demand across industries in 2020. With businesses transitioning to working remotely, communicating has come to mean much more than just verbal communication, with organisations requiring employees to write reports, compose emails and use their English in social contexts.
A few areas of focus where English communication can prove highly useful are highlighted below, in this article.
- Creating a unified workforce while working with dispersed teams across states, countries and continents
- Instilling the importance of effective networks and relationships with internal and external stakeholders, while working remotely
- Rigorous and efficient capacity building, responding to the vacillating working environment
- Rapid adaptability to the needs arising from the market going virtual
English as a Global Business Language
Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School has devoted her career in helping companies learn and develop techniques on managing dispersed teams. Neeley believes that one of the methods to do that is for organisations to adopt a global language strategy to not only unify teams which are dispersed across the globe but to also have a competitive edge over other international companies.
The question that seems to immediately surface then is, ‘Why English?’.
English is being considered to be the lingua franca (common language) of global business. It also happens to be one of the fastest-spreading languages, thanks to the historic colonisation of countries by the British. It is spoken at a useful level by 1.75 billion people worldwide, with close to a billion fluent speakers in formerly colonized nations such as India and Nigeria, and millions of people around the world who have studied it as a second language. English also happens to top the internet in a number of users, while also being a top language in tech.
Regardless of your background and which country you hail from, most employers automatically expect you to not only know the language but display your competency in both speaking and writing English. This has led to multinational corporations like Rakuten (Japan’s largest online marketplace) to introduce policies making English the operating language, even though they are headquartered in a non-English-speaking country. This was nearly a decade ago and their expansion plans were focused on going beyond their island nation.
Improved Communication with Internal & External Stakeholders
To build successful relationships it is vital that you understand the different tones and styles that are to be used in suitable business contexts and have the ability to determine which is suitable. As employees, you will be required to work collaboratively on projects with others who might be very different from you. Can you adequately express and represent yourself in front of other people?
Communication in a language which is foreign to you can be tricky enough as it is when face-to-face but during remote work, it becomes doubly challenging when the choice of words you use can lead to a different tonality. This can lead to misunderstandings and hurt sentiments which might put your job on the line.
Learning to effectively communicate your thoughts and comprehend what your team member, client or customer needs will help strengthen your interpersonal skills. More so, in these times of remote working, when the majority of conversation happens through emails and other written forms of communication. How do you effectively manage your client? How do you persuade your client and not come across as being rude or coercive? What negotiation strategies will you need to employ to strike a deal and finalize business? These communication skills are just as important as your language skills in forming lasting business relationships with both internal and external stakeholders. They can even help you develop your awareness of cultural differences which may determine the way in which you communicate and how your words are interpreted, through any means of communication, be it verbal or written.
There are various tests which can be employed by leaders when hiring team members or to check the existing levels of English communication of your staff. This will help in providing the appropriate type of training required to build their capacity. Pearson’s Versant suite of tests have computer-based assessment instruments designed to measure how well a person can handle workplace English in productive (speaking and writing) and passive (listening and reading) communication skills, all four of which are necessary for effective workplace communication. Employees that demonstrate proficiency in these areas will be able to seamlessly transition between any communication medium, including phone, chat, social media, email, and more. Moreover, as these are conducted online, no human personnel is required and the computerized scoring allows for immediate and objective results which are accurate and reliable, corresponding well with traditional measures of English language proficiency, like GSE, CEFR and TOEFL.
Emerging New Roles
With the marketplace going digital due to this unforeseen pandemic, “job portals have seen a two-fold rise in remote working opportunities”, says Pawan Goyal who is the Chief Business Officer of India’s largest online job portal, Naukri.com. Although the demand for roles such as telesales, content writing and recruitment has always been high, the playing field has expanded now. Companies require increasing numbers of their employees to have a sound knowledge of English, not restricting it to those in higher positions of responsibility but to the lower rung as well. Technicians who have to reach out for support in other countries and those dealing with foreign delegations need to show competency in communicating in English. There is an urgent and rising need for upskilling which includes being multifaceted communication abilities in order to solve greater and more complex issues, especially for those entering the workforce.
Those employed in sales have had their job truly cut out for them as they struggle with procuring and building relationships with new clients, through telephone calls instead of meeting them in person. This transition has made their skills of spoken communication a valuable and much required asset. Managing clients and customers becomes more crucial when not having conversations face-to-face but through other means of spoken language, be it through the phone or virtual conversations. Many sales and marketing professionals are adapting to these changes and getting innovative with remote collaboration and other advanced video technological tools to reach potential customers and conduct offsite meetings. How do these professionals communicate and get the customer’s attention during a remote meeting? What additional skilling will be required to make them adept at handling these remote meetings? How competent are their communication skills which can help in creating better content? Joe Little, president of Laketec, a US-based solution provider talks about the urgent need to transform how products will be marketed, in a post-Covid-19 world.
Capacity Building for Language Learning
Making English compulsory for employees might take some adjustment, especially for those who are working in non-English-speaking countries. An employee who has a good knowledge of the English language will still need to acquire the language to their professional area of logistics, human resources, etc. This may not be easy to acquire especially for those to whom English is a second or third language.
As an organisation and team leaders, the onus shifts to you, in encouraging them and providing opportunities for them to gain experience with the global business lingua franca. For organisations with a fairly large budget, overseas language training and job rotations will enable employees to push themselves beyond their comfort zone and truly expand their language skills. Another method of gaining language experience is attending international conferences, where they will be motivated and encouraged to speak in a common language, however rudimentary to make themselves understood, thereby increasing their confidence. Rakuten’s Founder, Chairman and CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani used a lot of these methods and techniques in upskilling his employees with functional English language skills.
Organisation leaders struggling with large numbers can opt for various online language training platforms and invest in their company’s future. A few of these training platforms use real-world videos as lessons like business dialogues, inspiring speeches, news articles and more to make learners become more comfortable with the English language. These lessons reinforce vocabulary that the learners are getting accustomed to and through videos, reviews and drills, they tend to be absorbed much faster. These programs are highly personalized and self-paced and they don’t need to be supervised by instructors as the submissions and assessments are all online. These courses can also help certify their employees based on their performance, which could be an additional asset to their personal portfolios. These courses can be made mandatory during the orientation to help ease the employees into the business working environment and culture of your organisation. These methods cannot be employed in isolation as leaders need to stress on the pertinence of them achieving this skill of communication as a stepping stone to the larger vision and strategy of the organisation.
Language diversity is no more considered a barrier but is required as the common ground for communication, especially in remote work settings. Geographical distances are becoming far less important as advancements in technology have helped bridge them through calls, emails and virtual conversations. Our current economic environment demands candidates who can speak multiple languages, provided that English is one of them. Furthermore, as leaders, embracing a corporate language strategy may actually give your business a competitive edge, making your organisation stand apart!