There are, it seems to me, three basic ways company’s develop international communications skills in their employees, all three of which have analogies with learning to swim, these basic options are;
- To throw the employees in at the deep end. This seems like a pretty brutal description, though to be fair, many employees also choose to jump in at the deep end and many company’s may not realise there is any option available to them.
- To give the employee basic swimming lessons then to let them swim, or otherwise propel themselves into deeper water. So equip them with the fundamentals of cross cultural awareness and basic communications awareness before sending them off on their assignment.
- And finally, to give the employee swimming lessons, a life vest and have trained life guards monitor the employees progress as their swimming skills develop over time in the deeper water. This represents a deeper level of developmental support and training, though of course comes with a higher cost to the organisations involved.
All three approaches will, hopefully for the project, eventually produce the desired results, though the first option of throwing employees in at the deep end will, on occasion, result in the corporate equivalent of individual or mass drownings. Communications fail and the project suffers the consequences.
Develop Through Immersion
In extreme cases of throwing personnel in at the deep end, the project owners may even limit opportunities for the project personnel to develop and perform as needed through constraints of budget. This budgetary constraint limits availability of support personnel or removes access to critical resources, the equivalent of tying a weight to the feet of those learning to swim. On a positive note however, sometimes one or two in the project team will already have either the experience and/or the aptitude, they will already know how to operate in an international environment and will help the new arrivals learn their skills, holding their heads out of the water while they do it. Though this is obviously not always the case.
I have seen all three variations used on projects in the past. Each one of them has had different results. Some people seem to respond and learn well in the first, deep-end scenario, their personality and learning style is suited to the experiential, self development style. From the personal level, this may be OK, however, from a corporate level, the risks associated with this approach may well out weigh the investment of even adopting the intermediate approach of providing some training before sending the personnel off on their deployment.
In some instances, project budgetary restraints will dictate the chosen path, in others, the path may be forced on a project by a tight schedule, one where it is simply not possible to spend the time developing people. Here the mobilisation must happen in a short time frame and those mobilised have to make the best they can in the circumstances. However, even in these emergency type of situations there should still be the time to do some on the job training.
I will discuss each of these three options in more depth in individual posts over the coming weeks, but in the mean time, if you have any thoughts or experiences of types of deployment, please do get in touch.
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