Cultural training in international business and HR


Doing business internationally is not straightforward. According to a report from professional research firm IDC, HR faces huge challenges when a company expands globally. The differences in culture can lead to alienation of clients or at worst criminal prosecution. The more you expand, the more your employees deal with clients / colleagues overseas.

A good example of a culturally unprepared encounter comes from guest writer Denise Hummel on HR forum:

“When George Bush gave Chinese Premier Li Peng a gift of cowboy boots embroidered with the American and Chinese flags, was it an appropriate gift?

Unfortunately, in China soles of the feet are considered to be the lowliest part of the body and gifts of footwear, no less embossed with the nations’ respective flag, was a significant miss on the part of administration protocol.”

However, for those who incorporate a cultural strategy into their expansion strategy, the rewards can be huge. Opportunities overseas are continuing to grow. Take Vietnam for example: GDP growth stands at around 8.9%, which is expected to continue until 2020, compared with just 2.4% for UK and US.

So what steps can be taken by HR to ensure the business as a whole is prepared for doing business overseas?

STEP 1 – Set out your goals.

You need to understand exactly what an employee needs in order to operate efficiently within other cultures, and whether all the ‘cultural awareness’ boxes need to be ticked for your specific purposes. For example, do you really need to know the winner of Finland’s latest mobile phone throwing world championship? To get an idea for what it is all about, a blog from Raju Chebium for the Society for Human Resource Management, states what a culturally trained employee should know:

·       When to adopt a “transactional” or businesslike, approach, and when to cultivate relationships with overseas clients

·       How to read the mood of a room

·       How to pick up on what foreign colleagues really mean despite what they publicly express

·       How to correctly interpret body language and other nonverbal cues when dealing with clients of differing nationalities


STEP 2 – Outline territories

Outline every territory which you are potentially going to be interacting with, and rank them in order of which you feel to have the highest stakeholder saturation. This purpose of this is for you to understand which territories you believe to be most important.

STEP 3 – Research

For many the next step might involve Googling the cultural differences in the countries they are targeting to establish whether there are enough differences to make training worthwhile (or in some cases to develop their own training through the content on Google!). However, this is often not sufficient for a number of reasons. We all know that a lot of what’s on the internet can be extremely misleading and does not contain sufficient detail to cover some of the very subtle but important factors. So, what can you do to complete this initial research? You could find someone you know, who has experience of both worlds to run you through the differences. Or, you can give the experts a call on +44 1793 513 321 or email on [email protected] and we’ll be happy to discuss whether cultural training between certain territories is necessary for you.

STEP 4 – Organise

Now time to organise. An important thing is to walk before you run: don’t try and do the training all at once but give yourself plenty of time. This kind of training is often put on a back burner and left to the last minute. Give us a call, and one of our account managers will be happy to make suggestions depending on numbers, budget and time-frame. Once this is done, leave one of our experts to do the rest, and soon those who need it in your company will have just the right amount of cultural training they need.


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