The last decade has witnessed an enormous evolution in cross-border trade. As communication technology breaks down barriers, international corporations will continue to expand their footprint. This has facilitated the movement of global talent, with most multinationals encouraging cultural diversity. For human resource professionals, attracting global resources would mean staying abreast with the evolving talent needs and devising strategies to not just attract but retain a diverse talent pool.
As business leaders, the question we need to ask ourselves is are we equipped to handle a multi-cultural workforce? Capability building is today a part of the human resource tapestry in any organization. Similarly, it is time for us to assess the emotional quotient of employees. We need to encourage employees to be curious about cultural nuances and perhaps create work towards establishing a ‘cultural quotient’. As a nation, we have the advantage of diversity. The cross-cultural flow of talent first started with the proliferation of the Information Technology industry as talent moved across the country. That has now extended beyond national borders, making the whole process of inculturation even more critical. We need to keep asking ourselves, ‘how do I induct the employee into my culture?’; ‘how do I reduce the gaps between his and my cultural nuances’? This requires a high degree of sensitivity and cannot be achieved by outsourcing the process of cultural induction to an external agency.
The bottomline is that for our business to thrive, we need people. To ensure that our workforce can deliver to its optimum potential, we need to invest in an environment that enables them to flourish. This can’t happen through makeshift solutions. Very often people confuse orientation sessions with actual cultural induction. Cultural integration must be dealt with the same seriousness as technological or digital integration. At times, it is the smallest of efforts that can make people feel welcome. Living on foreign shores often makes people crave for home and even a simple initiative like subscribing to a newspaper or magazine from various nationalities reassures people that they are being taken care of. Team lunches with cuisines from around the world can serve as a trigger to cultural conversations. For instance, our Atlanta office serves cuisines from the most far-flung places like Honduras and Costa Rica to the more popular Thailand and Mediterranean. We even train our employees to make the most of video-conferencing services by interacting with colleagues from different nationalities. It is also a good idea to work towards an ecosystem that is culture agnostic. We make a conscious effort to invest in creating opportunities for employees to travel and expose them to international offices. Several education institutions offer a great example of this. The courses are designed in a manner that exchange programs are woven into the curriculum and this fosters an inclusive environment.
It’s a complex process and requires engagement of various stakeholders across levels. HR teams will have to educate managers on how to leverage the presence of global colleagues while at the same time ensure that cultural nuances in terms of inter-personal relations are not misinterpreted. Fostering a collaborative culture could be a great step in this direction where the company’s values and commitment to diversity is communicated across geographies.
The advantages of a multicultural atmosphere are plenty. To begin with, diversity of any kind, be it skills and experiences, linguistic, grassroots exposure ultimately help organizations to service their consumers and clients better. Since people come from different backgrounds, they bring with them a variety of perspectives and this helps in solving problems creatively. A heterogeneous mix of people can also add value while making strategic decisions and eventually in improved execution, which in turn has a definitive positive impact on productivity as well as growth.
To enable successful management of diversity, organizations must go beyond training the HR team and ensure that the messaging trickles down to every individual. It is also important to get a sense of how employees deal with it. This assessment can go a long way in building the diversity strategy. Simple steps like exposing employees to short-term assignments across various geographical locations, making them work on global projects or encouraging them to learn the basics of a new language can all add up to the ultimate goal of creating a workforce that has truly imbibed the multicultural spirit.
There is no denying that a multi-cultural workforce is here to stay. Besides bringing together a diverse pool of talent, it gives organizations a competitive edge. An inclusive work culture not only helps in retaining talent but also attracts new talent. A diverse workforce can also spark off the desire to learn more about a different culture and that can eventually trigger a pursuit of learning. Organizations that have employees from different cultural backgrounds, more often than not, offer a broader range of services. All of this leads to a healthy working environment – one that can impact an organization’s growth.
Sameer Wadhawan is the former Head of HR for