Johannes Klemeyer has always had a passion for foreign cultures, and he’s always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When he got the opportunity to combine the two, he didn’t hesitate to take it. Together with Steffen Henkel, he co-founded crossculture academy (Germany’s first online worldwide intercultural support site) which later merged with Globiana.
Johannes has plenty of personal experience with the cross-cultural lifestyle — he has a master’s degree in American Literature and Eastern Slavic Languages, he used to work as a journalist in Moscow writing for newspapers back home in Germany, he has family spread out in different countries, and his wife grew up abroad. He sums it up neatly when he says: “I’ve always been dealing with different cultures.”
So, needless to say, by now, some nine years into his journey of developing effective intercultural support, Johannes has gained keen insights into how we live and work across cultures. In this interview, he talks about the future of intercultural support, what the drivers of change are and how those changes are impacting employers, assignees, and support providers alike.
Drivers of Change
There are several big drivers of change at this moment in time. Each on its own is enough to have an impact, and all together they are creating a major shift in the landscape of global mobility:
- General globalization
- Generational shift in the global workforce
- Type of deployment
Globalization might be a bit of an overused catchall-phrase by now, but it nonetheless describes pretty accurately what is going on: people are moving, traveling, working and exchanging cultural traits across borders to an ever greater extent.
There is an ongoing generational shift — millennials are estimated to be 35 percent of the global workforce in 2020, by 2025 that number is estimated to be 75 percent. Millennials have grown up online. They not only have a different relationship with technology compared to previous generations, but they are also more global in their way of life. Johannes notes, however, that the latter doesn’t necessarily mean they have a deeper understanding of foreign cultures. What he sees as truly notable is that they require a different format of support. They want direct and flexible access to information. They want digital solutions.
Along with a generational shift in the workforce, there is also a shift in how global talent is deployed. Johannes says: “We see that shoulder assignments — shorter assignments, ranging from six months to a year — are becoming increasingly popular. In many instances, shoulder assignments are used as part of development programs, allowing for skills development in different environments. We also see commuter assignments, as well as virtual teams working together across the globe.” As it turns out, Globiana itself is a prime example of a global multicultural team collaborating across borders — most of the team works remotely, from all corners of the world.
Another driver of change is the companies themselves as they are modifying the way they support their globally mobile talent. Global mobility budgets are shrinking and companies are looking for more affordable solutions.
What about Digitalization?
You can’t discuss the changing landscape without acknowledging that technology itself plays a role in how intercultural support is evolving. However, some worry that digitalization is making support solutions too impersonal and thus ineffective.
Johannes feels strongly that this is not the case. He says: “Barring technical difficulties, digital support is a boon. More people have quality global lifestyle support available now than ever before.” He goes on to say: “It’s not how you offer support, but the quality of how you do it. Video calls with skilled trainers or coaches can be just as effective as in-person sessions. Combine that with 24/7 access to high-quality webinars, recorded video, e-learning courses, etc, and I feel like an individual’s experience is almost more personal now. And more accessible.” That doesn’t mean he thinks face-to-face trainings will vanish. There are many occasions where Johannes feels they make the most sense, team building for example, or when prepping a whole family for an international assignment.
Consider it an Insurance Policy — Protect your Investment
As the responsibility of obtaining intercultural support falls more to the individual, it’s important to note that there is still a big role for the employer to play — in making sure their assignees know the professional and personal benefits of intercultural support and, ideally, providing access to high-quality support — whether as part of a traditional benefits package or through providing support options for the lumpsum assignee.
When asked about why companies should be assertive in their promotion of intercultural support to their global talent, Johannes points out something you hear often in this field: “You don’t know what you don’t know, and the consequences of the unawareness can be quite severe.” It’s a sentiment worth bringing up as the damage caused by uninformed global talent conducting business on a company’s behalf can span everything from mild embarrassment, to a lost business deal, or even long-term damage to business relationships. Likewise, a failed assignment because of cultural adjustment issues, is a costly setback for any company, and disruptive for the assignee.
Johannes says: “In its simplest form, I want people to think of intercultural support as an insurance policy, as part of a risk mitigation strategy.” He also points out that, in a more developed stage, it serves as a tool for talent development and enrichment, ultimately benefiting the employer and the assignee alike. He says: “The better functioning you are in your new environment, the more you’ll bring to the table, the better work you’ll produce. The sooner you adapt to your new environment, the sooner success will come, and the sooner you bring value.”
By: Felicia Shermis
Sources: Mercer study