The 7 Questions You Want to Ask a Cultural Training Firm

Inquire Before You Hire a Cultural Training Provider

In an interconnected world with a global economy, every company is now competing on an international level. Unless, of course, they fail to develop the cross-cultural skill set which is needed to be successful in today’s business world. Companies who fall behind on building cultural competency are leaving money on the table. Not just a bit, a lot of it.
Being culture-savvy is no longer optional, but a critical factor for cross-border business success. And once a company decides they want to stay ahead of their global competition they will look for strategic partners who can assist them in expanding their cultural agility.

Finding the most effective aspirin to this global headache means identifying the best training and consulting services available on the market. This vendor selection process can be quite a daunting task, especially if you haven’t worked with cultural training firm before. Too often this specific skill development is still viewed as a “soft skill” and a “nice to have,” which can lead to budgetary constraints being the deciding factor in the search for a training supplier. Yet, smart purchasing managers know that price is only ever an issue in the absence of value.

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The 7 Questions Which Will Help You Determine Value

Determining the qualities and criteria by which to assess a training firm can be challenging. With several providers available in the market, knowing which one will best serve your organization’s employees is critical. And since we want you to make an educated decision we compiled a few questions you should ask your prospective training supplier. The answers to these seven inquiries will help you sort the wheat from the chaff.

1. Do you tailor your programs to specific corporate training needs?

How it’s relevant: Every organization’s situation in global business is different. Standardized, “off the shelf” training programs rarely address all the relevant issues a company is facing when working outside their home market. Contents and delivery format should be customized depending on the client’s industry, international footprint, corporate structure, etc. Who in your company will be the recipient of the training is another determining factor for how programs should be tailored: Are the participants senior executives, sales representatives, or production staff? Is the training for business travelers and short-term assignees or for expatriate specialists who will live and work abroad for several years?

2. Do you offer assessment tools?

How it’s relevant: You may have heard the axiom “You can’t manage what you aren’t measuring.” Without collecting and analyzing data an organization has no way of tracking whether and how they are reaching their talent development goals. Even experienced, well-traveled global professionals sometimes have oversimplified notions about how people from other countries and cultures work and make decisions. This is usually because in their assessment they focus only on one or two components of intercultural interactions, e.g. leading, communicating, or negotiating. Cultures, however, are more complicated constructs which don’t lend themselves to single-aspect comparisons. In order for global professionals to get a correct picture, they want to measure relational, cognitive, and behavioral contrasts and similarities along several dimensions on which cultural gaps are most prevalent – and to assess themselves in those areas.
If you want to improve how your company does business in a global context, you should select a training firm which offers cultural assessment instruments. These help program participants to define what their own behavioral preferences are and how they compare to people from other cultures. Assessments help your team members measure how they themselves make decisions, communicate, lead, and manage – and how their counterparts from other parts of the world or different cultural backgrounds do business. Once you measure these behavioral preferences you’l be able to improve how you operate in light of cultural differences.

3. Have your trainers successfully crossed cultures themselves?

How it’s relevant: Some providers will work with trainers who may be very knowledgable about challenges and pitfalls of transitioning between cultures. If those instructors haven’t experienced living and working outside of their native culture, we would advise you to select a different training firm – one which eats its own cooking. Book knowledge and academic understanding of cross-cultural issues are not enough to help your employees expand their skills. You want trainers with first-hand experience and expertise.

4. Are you a thought leader in your industry?

How it’s relevant: Even though the term thought leadership can easily be brushed off as an overused marketing buzzword, it does matter whether your prospective training provider is recognized among its peers in the industry and beyond. Since cultural training is a relatively young field in the talent development arena, the intellectual footprint a consultancy leaves will serve as a valid indicator for determining if you want to work with them. Thought leadership is reflected by how the work of a training firm appears in the public discourse. A thought leader is an individual or firm that clients, prospects, intermediaries, referral sources, and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.

5. Do you provide virtual and e-learning solutions?

How it’s relevant: Aside from traditional classroom-style training an increasing number of businesses have been embracing new formats for delivering knowledge to their employees. In recent years the most persistent trends have become e-learning, blended learning, and even micro training to accommodate a faster paced rhythm of continuous instruction. Make sure your prospective vendor offers online learning tools which allow your team to access learning modules at any given time and location.

6. Do you enrich training with cultural coaching?

How it’s relevant: By now it has become a best practice to provide executive travelers and employees who go on foreign assignments with cross-cultural training. Smart companies fully understand the value of preparing transferees for the behavioral norms in different work environments. Recently the professional development arena has been warming up to the concept of complementing cross-cultural training with a coaching component. The benefits are multifaceted. For one, training in a corporate setting often resorts to one-off solutions with debatable longterm effects: How much of the information in a two-day cross-cultural training program will the participants actually retain — and, moreover, how much of it will they be able to apply independently weeks and months later?
While cultural competence and communication skills can be taught via well-designed business training programs, character traits like adaptability or cultural agility require some time to develop. Smart learning and development teams understand the different effects of training and coaching for their employees. If you want your employees to become successful global leaders you want to get them a workout buddy to practice with. One that holds them accountable. A coach will work your team members through drills and exercises to flex their behavioral muscle and to gradually make them more comfortable with behaviors that may not come natural to them right away.
Cultural knowledge can be learned. Cultural competence needs practice.

7. Do you teach cross-cultural AND personality-based skills?

How it’s relevant: Culture is often defined as the shared values, beliefs, and norms which shape the behavioral preferences of a specific group of people. The key word in this context is preference. Within cultures not every member of the group behaves in the same standard way. While research has shown that every culture has common main trends of behavior, it is also evident that there is a spectrum of behavioral variants within these cultural trends.
That is why you should choose a training supplier that not only assesses the cultural profiles of your staff but also their personality profiles.

It may not surprise you that we can respond with a resounding YES to all of these 7 questions. If you know of businesses who are currently in the process of identifying the right cultural training providers, we would gladly have a conversation with a representative in HR, Learning & Development, or senior leadership. Please contact us and one of our team members will make an appointment.

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