Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, has 330,000 employees in over two dozen countries. In order to integrate all these cultures and help employees gain cultural competency leaders use internal and external trainers, and a combination of strategies and resources, including online modules, afternoon seminars and one-on-one training to name a few. Employees are trained using GlobeSmart, an online resource developed by Portlandbased Aperian Global. Employees who move overseas with their families to fill positions are provided with one-on-one sensitivity training and cultural orientation sessions before they leave. Lisa-Marie Gustafson, SPHR, a talent manager for Boeing’s supplier management group says the company’s aim is to prepare their employees and make sure they are “not just landing in a country and getting introduced for the first time.” As part of their efforts to ensure cultural respect and the best of care for their employees Boeing also offers “lunch and learn” cultural talks, “passport series” training sessions, diversity conferences for leaders twice a year and an employee rotation program that allows overseas staff to return home and work for 9 to 18 months in the U.S.
SAP, the software giant based in Germany, has locations in 130 countries. The company has an extensive diversity program, with a focus on cultural sensitivity training. The staff at the company’s headquarters represent at least 89 nationalities and varying ethnicities according to Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Anka Wittenberg, who leads the company’s efforts in the area. One activity of Wittenberg’s office is managing employee networks and integrating new employees into a network that best suits them and will help them to flourish in the new environment. There are 30 networks in the company including a Latino group, a female business group and a group for parent of children with disabilities. “These grassroots institutions reflect employee energy,” Wittenberg says. As far as employees going for overseas assignments or trips they prepare for them as well. They have online access to cultural briefings and have the option to take classroom-based courses and interactive teaching. The company also uses a mix of internal and external trainers and utilises customised training formulated according to the destination and employees’ needs. Perhaps this successful framework is due in part to the fact that the company’s executive board is so diverse, with members from India, the United States and Denmark.
Cultural competency training is underway and a work in progress at Iberdrola USA. The electricity transmission and generation company has 5,000 employees in the U.S. The company, previously called Energy East, became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola in 2009. The programme was set up to ensure smooth integration and progress between and among the international workforce. American employees are sent to work in Mexico, Brazil, Scotland, Britain and EU countries while in turn overseas employees, particularly from Spain, are brought to the US to work. The overseas assignments are usually two to three years long. Speaking of the company’s cultural training system, Sheri Lamoureux, Iberdrola the US location’s vice president of human resources, says the company brings in external trainers who teach employees the basics of linguistic differences and preferences for personal space, among other things.
The training costs up to US$ 3,000 a day, Lamoureux says. The company also provides intense, personalised coaching for executives and a company-sponsored exchange program for the children of overseas employees, which according to Lamoureux has received high positive feedback. “It’s not just a onetime training class,” she notes of Iberdrola’s approach to cultural awareness issues. “It’s something that’s built upon.”
The well-known technology company from the United States operates in over 170 countries, employees 425,000 people and knows the value of understanding different cultures for business success. At IBM employees are trained through in-house training programmes and also a customized online platform. Both the in-house and online training teaches about the norms and culture of the people or nations they are going to be engaging with and focuses on: task vs. relationship orientation, direct and indirect communication styles and decision-making styles and processes. The online program, referred to as the “country navigator” is available on IBM’s intranet and can be accessed conveniently by employees anytime, even at the airport on their way to meet potential partners in another country. The country navigator allows employees to learn about cultural traits of others and how they match up with their own. This allows them to avoid pitfalls and find common ground. For instance, Hamsanandhi Seshan, Director of Communications and Global Delivery at IBM, on a flight to Germany, read up on German cultural traits, and analysed how they matched or differed from her own. “Germans are culturally more inclined to risktaking and I share this trait with them,” she said. “But I think in a very random manner, while they have a linear method of thinking.”
Accenture is a leading, global services company from Ireland that employees approximately 384,000. This Fortune Global 500 company specialises in strategy, consultation, digital and tech services and solutions. It serves more than 200 cities in 120 countries. The cultural training programme at Accenture is based off of the “Accenture Cultural Index” which considers behaviour and work environment. Even simple things such as small talk can have a big impact and learning even seemingly insignificant facts can make or break a relationship or contract. N. Radhakrishnan, an Industry Consultant in Global Business Services at IBM, understands first-hand how the multicultural environment at IBM, coupled with the training programme, helps in understanding cultural differences. He had been trying hard to lock down a customer relations management contract from a Dutch client. When a team from the company visited India, he took them to a waterfront restaurant for dinner. “The client had four vendors to choose from, including us. We were the third one they were meeting,” says Radhakrishnan. He ended up getting the contract due to his discerning choice of the waterfront dining. He had learned beforehand that the Dutch enjoy waterfront views because it reminds them of their home country.