Each year corporate travelers take some 480 million business trips and there are an estimated 56 million business expats worldwide. The cost to a company when these globally mobile people are not performing, or even worse, are doing harm by not knowing the cultural codes of their business counterparts, is great. To be successful in a cross-border, multicultural business world, you simply can’t afford to be unaware of the underlying culture. Globiana’s COO Steffen Henkel has been engaged in the field of intercultural communication and cooperation since 1997, and when asked to describe the program he manages he sums it up with these three words: “Global Competence Training”.

What is Global Competence Training?

Steffen explains that global competence training encompasses many different things, but at its core, it has to do with gaining awareness and learning how to apply said awareness to build skills — skills that can be used to handle everything from business meetings to cross-cultural knowledge for salespeople, to collaboration in a multicultural office environment, to expat transition. The training programs Steffen develops are rooted in the knowledge that culture — our own and our counterparts’ — dictates how we function in a given environment and a given situation.

He says: “Understanding that your culture isn’t ‘normal’, or the norm, to those from other cultures is a very important realization.” He gives the example of a German company hosting a potential business partner delegation from South Korea. The pitfalls are many because the two cultures are very different from each other — they have disparate hierarchical structures, visual languages, and social habits, for example. You can get off to a bad start simply by choosing the wrong type of hotel for your business partner. You can offend people by addressing questions to the wrong person, and you can sink a presentation by using the wrong colors and pictures — all in spite of best intentions. All because of a lack of cultural understanding.

What About ROI?

Steffen acknowledges that ROI questions are difficult to answer with cut and dry numbers. But the above example gives an idea of what some of the issues are when doing business globally across cultures. Bottom line is — cultural unawareness can lead to ineffective workgroups, incompetent presentations, mishandled sales interactions, failed expat assignments, and ultimately lost business opportunities. Any of these failures can present a major cost to a company.

Global competence training is an effective method to mitigate these risks and costs. Steffen says: “People tell me all the time that they wish they had done our training program earlier because that would have helped make sense of a business negotiation, a new office environment, or a colleague’s way of interacting.”

The Trainers

Trainers are the backbone of global competence training and having the right trainer for the right assignment is crucial. Steffen hires trainers based on a few well-defined criteria, such as training methods and how up-to-date and active they are in the training community. The most crucial “skill”, however, is that they have lived and worked in the country they provide training on.

What trainings look like vary depending on customer need and the individual trainer. Actual sessions can be done virtually or in a classroom, or by using a hybrid format of the two. They can include everything from traditional cognitive learning, to simulations, to games, and they can span just a few hours to several sessions over a period of time.

By now, Steffen has built up an international trainer pool of over 450 people, which means he can assign specialized trainers to fulfill specific training requests around the globe. “One of Globiana’s strengths is our trainers,“ says Steffen and continues: “we can tailor a program to suit a client based on need, whether it’s cross-cultural team building exercises, preparing a family for expat assignment, or to help shape a business presentation so that it most effectively speaks to the culture your company is presenting to.”

The Future

Looking forward, Steffen sees a trend of blended and bite-sized learning increasing in demand. He believes there will always be a need for some kind of a 1-day training program, but millennials, for example, are more interested in learning in chunked up sessions, using a combination of formats and tools. Technology makes this possible, as you can combine virtual training with in-class sessions; you can access materials in multiple formats, interact in groups online, etc.

“This is a good development. It’s interactive and it’s reflective — it’s a process, which is what learning should be,” says Steffen and continues: “Globiana is well positioned to meet the demands of the future, as it has a digital learning platform which offers several different learning formats, as well as unique content along with the training programs.”

Steffen has spent his entire career in global competency training. When answering the question on how he got started in the field, he tells the story of watching the movie the Jungle Book as a young child and being so mesmerized by the monkey temple scene that he decided he’d go there one day. Years later, when it was time to choose a university degree, he stumbled across a program that combined business with cultural studies. He picked Southeast Asian cultures to go with the business studies, thinking it might eventually take him to a place like the one in the movie — a year later he was on his first excursion.  

The reason he has stayed in the field is simpler; he says: “It’s satisfying to help people see the world through the eyes of others — it’s something we’re in need of.”

By: Felicia Shermis



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