Cultural training—or cross-cultural training—seeks to narrow the communication gap between employees and clients within a multinational corporation. Thanks to international trade and advances in technology, the competition for talented global workers is on the rise.
Therefore, today’s multinational corporations are seeking to create a cross-cultural environment that focuses on the development of effective communication between employees and a multicultural business landscape.
Cross-cultural training is a broad term covering a number of training programs that address the needs of a particular group or corporation. In general, cross-cultural training programs consist of either general cultural training or culture/country specific training, although they certainly can be a combination of the two.
The Desired Results of Cross-Cultural Training Programs
The main objective of cross-cultural training is to bring a new level of cultural awareness and appreciation into the workplace. Cross-cultural training attempts to achieve clearer lines of communication and mutual trust, respect, and understanding by raising employee awareness.
Cross-cultural training may also occur at the management level. Management-level cross-cultural training involves equipping members of the management staff with the knowledge and skills required to supervise a multicultural staff.
Individuals or corporate teams that visit foreign countries and/or work frequently with overseas clients or colleagues are the focus of cross-cultural training programs. Cross-cultural training programs aim at better equipping employees and team members with the skills that will allow them to build more successful business relationships with their international clients and/or colleagues.
Just a few of the topics covered in cross-cultural training include:
- Business practices
- Negotiation styles
Cross-cultural training seeks to develop cultural awareness where an established cultural framework does not exist, with the ideal outcome resulting in better interpersonal understanding, greater communication, and a more productive business environment.
The Characteristics of an Effective Cultural Sensitivity Training Program
Effective cross-cultural training programs address the subtle differences between cultures. These training programs have been around for many years (often referred to as cultural sensitivity programs), although they have certainly become more widespread in recent years as many companies engage in overseas operations and business.
Now multinational corporations understand the need to prevent cultural misunderstandings and boost corporate competitiveness in a global marketplace. Although companies that offer cross-cultural training programs may not completely agree on which type of training is most effective, most agree on two points:
- Improving internal and external cross-cultural communications must be an important aspect of a multinational company’s culture.
- Cross-cultural training programs should be able to address basic etiquette techniques, as well as deeper issues that have a significant impact on communications.
Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, with more than 330,000 employees in more than 28 countries, is just one example of a multinational company focusing on cross-cultural training. For example, Boeing uses both internal and external trainers and a mixture of approaches and tools—from online modules to one-on-one training to group seminars—to help its staff achieve a higher level of cultural awareness.
The company also arranges cultural talks, employee rotation programs that allow employees to work overseas for 9 to 18 months, and diversity summits twice a year. Boeing’s leaders also take a series of training sessions (called passport series).
Most cross-cultural training programs are offered through consulting firms that focus solely on this type of training.
Some of the top cross-cultural consultant companies in the U.S. include:
- Communicaid Global Communications
- Cultural Candor
- Eaton Consulting Group
- Interchange Institute
- Intercultural Insights
- International Orientation Resources
- Language and Culture Worldwide
- People Going Global
- Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning
Duties and Job Description for Cross-Cultural Training Specialists
Cross-cultural training consultants, or cross-culture program resource consultants have an understanding of the customs and cultural norms of other nations, which is often gained through personal experience.
The responsibility of cross-cultural training consultants is to provide information, strategies, insights, ideas, and perspectives through personal experiences. Their expertise in a specific culture or region of the world allows them to deliver training programs based upon the needs of their clients.
Cross-cultural training consultants possess the following skills/abilities:
- Strong communication skills and fluency in the applicable foreign language
- An intercultural awareness of the challenges associated with international business
- The ability to highlight the cultural differences in a specific, concrete manner
In addition to being able to educate employees about a different culture, cross-cultural training consultants must be able to successfully:
- Identify with the company’s business role
- Identify the differences in key business functions, such as negotiation, motivation, meeting styles, etc.
- Identify specific examples of strategic methods of bridging the cultural differences in the workplace
Cross-cultural training consultants may also serve as:
Daily Living Consultants – Daily living consultants provide individuals with the logistical details of living in the destination culture for individuals planning to relocate. They also provide practical information on concerns of daily life, such as housing, medical care, recreation, transportation, childcare, etc.
Cultural Consultants – Cultural consultants have a deep understanding of the attitudes and characteristics of a specific culture and can therefore discuss challenges that may exist to those traveling or living overseas. Some of the cultural issues discussed by cultural consultants include:
- Building relationships
- Communication styles
- Social etiquette
- History that influences the culture
- Current events that affect culture
How to Become a Cross-Cultural Training Consultant
Cross-cultural training consultants come from a wide array of backgrounds, although undergraduate degree programs often include intercultural communication, cultural anthropology, human resources, and organizational development, just to name a few.
At the graduate level (many of these jobs require a master’s degree), cross-cultural training consultants often possess degrees in intercultural studies or international relations. Many of these programs allow students to focus their course of study on a specific area or region of the world.
Master’s degree programs in majors like international relations offer study abroad experiences and overseas internships, both of which prove beneficial, as most employers require these specialists to have experience studying and working abroad, particularly in a corporate environment.
Ideal candidates for cross-cultural training consultant jobs possess:
- An advanced understanding of intercultural learning concepts
- An ability to apply adult, experiential learning principles
- An ability to facilitate a participant-focused training approach
Earning Potential for Cross-Cultural Training Consultants
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, training and development specialists earned an average, annual salary of $61,530, as of May 2014, with the top 10 percent earning more than $97,660.
The BLS reported that training and development specialists, during the same period, earned the highest salaries in the following industries:
- Federal executive branch: $97,700
- Natural gas distribution: $87,020
- Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution: $84,450
- Metal and mineral merchant wholesalers: $82,620
- Aerospace product and parts manufacturing: $81,190