Do we have a what? That’s a question I hear quite a lot.
A client will contact me to ask me about some potential English training in their company. The reason? Maybe the HR manager has changed, and recognises that the language training in the company could be better. Or else the annual reviews are over, and some of the staff are complaining that they would like an English course. Maybe the company has to present at an overseas trade fair, or maybe they are just looking for a professional upgrade on the existing training.
We will discuss what their needs are, and they will almost always tell me that they want to offer training outside of work hours. It is an extra, a bonus for the staff. This they are clear about. But for who exactly – which staff? And in which language areas? To which level? What kind of training? For how long? This they normally don’t know.
At some point in the discussion I will ask them if their company has a language management strategy. They normally look a little puzzled – think about it for a little while – after all, they have management strategies for just about everything right? – and then ask me what I mean exactly. That’s when the client and I both find out that, apart from some kind of ‘training’, they don’t really know what they want exactly.
It’s good that there are experienced companies like mine who can offer Professional training, and guide clients through some of the issues they need to think about, but it would be even better if clients came to us with a better understanding of the issues around language needs and training. Before I go into details about what a language management strategy should look like, let me explain in two simple points why having one is really, really important.
It saves money
At least 40% of European Small and medium-sized enterprises (Kleine und mittelständische Unternehmen) do business internationally, and according to the European commission, about 11% have lost contracts as a result of poor language skills. The EC estimates that this represents an average loss for European SMEs of approx. €325,000 over a three year period.
It earns money
According to the PIMLICO study of 2011, 73% of companies who implemented elements of a language management strategy increased their turnover by a minimum of 16% as a result of the measures.
So, unlike my (sadly) quite typical situation above, where English training is often seen as a kind of extra, it would be much more helpful if clients saw it as an investment towards increasing their turnover – one of the fixed costs of doing business internationally.
So what is a company language strategy?
Well, put simply, a company language strategy consists of different measures that can be applied by the company to both improve the language skills of its people, and to improve its presentation to international customers. Here are some of the key elements:
- Language and Intercultural Training for staff
- Recruitment of staff with language skills
- Recruitment of native speakers
- Cooperation with Universities (Placements for foreign graduates)
- ‘Buddy’ or secondment schemes ( Employees spend time in target country)
- Recruiting local agents in target countries.
- Employing professional Translators / Interpreters
- Multilingual websites
- Culturally – adapted websites (What works in Germany won’t necessarily work in the US)
The EC publication “The language guide for European business” has many examples of ways to implement these measures, and other useful tips on how to choose the right kind of training.
Not only English
Although English is the language used for approximately 51% of export business by European SME’s, the other 49% is made up of German (13%) French (9%) Russian (8%) Spanish (4%) and others (15% – No, this doesn’t include Schwäbisch). English might well get you through the first contact, but after that, then it is absolutely crucial then to include other languages in your strategy. There’s a very famous quote on this subject from Willy Brandt:
‘If I am selling to you, then I speak your language,
aber wenn du mir etwas verkaufst, dann muβt du Deutsch sprechen’
What can I do?
Try reading some of the links I have included above, then try doing a language audit. Most companies have a skills matrix showing who has been trained to work where…and which positions need which skills / qualifications. Do the same with languages. Find out:
- Which positions in your company need to have language skills?
- Which languages exactly?
- To which level? – What is ‘good enough’?
- Do the people in those positions have the necessary skills?
- Do you need special training, such as Regular Language training, Intercultural training, or targeted language skills training for meetings / negotiations / presentations, etc.
That’s a great place to start….and I guarantee you will find that your company will soon be looking for a professional, experienced, local Training partner – I’ll look forward to hearing from you !