Cendant Mobility answers questions on intercultural training
How are companies using intercultural training?
When companies began providing intercultural training to their employees
several decades ago it was primarily in support of international assignees and
their families. Increasingly companies are now offering intercultural training
to non-relocating employees as well.
In our competitive global business environment, employees require greater
intercultural understanding and competence to facilitate their work on virtual
international teams, to navigate cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and to
enhance performance when pursuing business objectives through international
business travel and short-term assignments.
We are also seeing an increase in the use of intercultural training to raise
workforce awareness of the challenges and skills needed within an organisation
on the path to globalisation, to demonstrate the relevance and impact of
culture to business, and to promote the broader cultural mindset required to
increase the company’s overall level of competitiveness.
These intercultural programmes are typically offered through the corporate
institution’s open enrolment systems, as a core element of leadership
programmes, and to address a division’s specific business objectives in any
Often overlooked as an intercultural training intervention, language
training equips corporate employees and their families with the tools to decode
the operating norms of the national culture in which they are expected to
succeed. Foreign language capability is a part of the communication skills
critical to any global workforce.
In terms of the timing of training for assignee families, is
pre-departure (in home location) or post-arrival (host location) delivery
There are valid arguments to be made for each. On the one hand, forewarned
is forearmed. Proactive training, pre-departure, can serve to reduce pre-move
anxieties, provide insights and information to the employee and spouse so as to
avoid missteps early on, manage expectations of the upcoming transition, and
produce a strategy for entry into the new environment. On the other hand,
training delivered post-arrival provides a venue for deeper exploration of
real-time experiences. It can serve as an effective debrief of observed
behavioural differences and challenges of the assignment.
Both models review personal and professional objectives of the assignment,
equip the assignee and partner with the skills and tools to develop a deeper
understanding of the host country business and social environment, and work
with the couple to formulate a concrete action plan. An ideal solution might be
to offer a combination of pre-departure and post-arrival training.
If children of international assignees will be going directly into school
in their host location, is there any benefit to their participation in a
Although it is commonly believed that children are better adapters than
adults, this is not necessarily true. In our experience, youth intercultural
training provides great benefits, particularly starting at around age eight. We
find that children this age and older have the maturity and intellectual
capacity to grasp the concepts of culture relevant to their needs on the
international assignment, for example, how friends are made, how school might
be different, and what some common activities are for children their age. As
with the adult programme, the child will be provided with tools for
understanding, comparing, and contrasting the values, beliefs and assumptions
of their home country and host country cultures. They are also introduced to
how changes in the family dynamic might affect them due to the international
How important is it for the accompanying spouse/partner to attend the
cross-cultural training for the international assignment?
It would be difficult to say who it is more important for – the employee or
their partner. In fact, we advise the couple to attend the programme together
for maximum benefit. Still cited most frequently as the number one cause of a
failed international assignment is the spouse/partner’s inability to adjust to
the host country. However, this fact is a rather simplistic indicator of the
complex organisational issue of assignee couples’ multiple support needs.
Cross-cultural training is one among several tangible support elements in
A comprehensive intercultural training programme covers both the social and
the business world, each relevant for both partners. If the accompanying
partner is able to work while on assignment, the business- focused portion of
the training may provide insights for their own purposes. If they are not
working on assignment, it will still serve to give the couple a common frame of
reference for understanding the new environment and may have application for
volunteer work or other non-employment activities in which the partner engages.
A quality cross-cultural training programme will also contain practical
daily living information, provide an explanation of the international
assignment adjustment cycle that can be expected for all family members to
varying degrees, and develop competence for personal and professional
performance success in the host country location.
What are the competencies that can be targeted with intercultural
The competencies targeted depend upon the type of intercultural programme provided.
In the case of a cross-cultural training programme targeting international
assignees, the curriculum will build on the competencies related to cultural
perspective, cross-cultural communication, multiple perspectives, and
adaptability & flexibility.
What about when that family is due to return home from their assignment –
are there intercultural programmes for repatriation?
Yes. The return transition often proves to be more challenging for the
employee and family than the move to the host country location. Repatriating
employees and their families may experience an unanticipated degree of change
and feelings of loss. On a personal level, they have generally changed more
than they have realised: friends and family have changed during the absence; the
community has changed; and the corporation itself has typically undergone some
sort of restructuring, or other fundamental changes. In addition to reconciling
these changes, the family may also experience the loss of host country
relationships, the loss of access to preferences acquired on assignment
(entertainment, foods, media choices, and so on), and often the loss of
on-the-job autonomy and status. Depending upon the degree of adaptation each
family member made to the host country and culture, each may experience varying
degrees of disorientation back in the ‘home’ culture.
Intercultural programmes for repatriation can address this adjustment
process, assist the family in identifying all that they have gained while on
assignment, and facilitate the creation of an action plan for leveraging and
applying their experiences going forward.
What is important to look for when choosing an intercultural service
If your company is active internationally, a service provider’s global
delivery platform will be important. Look for the presence of trainers and
client service representatives in the region of your activity and for
technology that supports the sharing of information across regions.
Check out the credentials of the training consultants and service staff. Ask
about quality control and how the provider ensures consistency in the quality
of delivery worldwide. And, make sure the provider’s service standards meet
your expectations. As in the screening of your own talent, check references.
You will want your provider to represent you well, to provide you and your
employees with top service, and to deliver on your employees’ skill development
for meeting business objectives.
Cendant Mobility is the premier provider of global mobility management and
workforce development solutions serving the corporate, military, government,
and affinity markets.
Through its industry-leading outsourcing, consulting, language
and intercultural training, logistical support, and supplier management, it
helps organisations and their mobile workforces achieve success worldwide.
With more than 50 years experience, Cendant Mobility helps
clients balance cost management and service performance to accomplish their
Cendant Mobility has nearly 2,100 global clients. It assists
more than 130,000 transferring employees annually, represented by cross-border
activity in more than 140 countries.
Cendant Mobility is a subsidiary of Cendant Corporation (NYSE:
CD). Visit www.cendantmobility.com
Ian Paine is managing
director and senior vice-president EMEA/AP region, Cendant Mobility
Paine has been with Cendant Mobility
since 1997 and has worked in international-assignment-related areas since 1988.
His international business career has encompassed assignments
in Croatia, Greece and the US. A frequent speaker and writer on the subject of
expatriate assignments, he was a member of the International Planning Committee
of the US Employee Relocation Council.
He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and speaks
French, survival Greek and inaccurate Serbo-Croat