Employee Training in a Culturally Diverse Workplace
Workplace training is vitally important for any company -- whether the company has mostly native-born experienced workers or a culturally diverse workforce including recent immigrants. But when it comes to training needs for culturally diverse employees there are strategies that should be applied and fine-tuned, and this paper addresses those strategies and tactics. Thesis: Old training models -- used by HR departments and in business colleges -- that are linear and simplistic should be considered outdated and irrelevant. The up-to-date training strategies do not stereotype cultures based on national cultural generalizations, but rather they approach cultural training based on individuals and their values and their ability to adjust to values in the new work environment.
The Literature -- The Future of Training and Development
The workplace that features culturally diverse employees is in need not only of training those whose cultures are different than the majority of workers, but there should also be training designed to "…change employees' attitudes about diversity and/or to develop skills needed to work with a diverse workforce" (Noe, 2002). Traditional training processes are not as effective with recent immigrants and with a workforce that is culturally diverse, according to the text Employee Training and Development. The traditional training model that takes a "linear approach" -- featuring a "rational, step-by-step approach that assumes that the training content is stable" -- is not necessarily appropriate for those employees new to the U.S. culture for any reason (Noe, 26).
The author suggests (in Chapter 13) that the design of the training in this instance could use the Rapid instructional design (RID) because the "process" of training can be separated from that "instructional content." When training culturally diverse workers, the process is vitally important in terms of making sure that those employees are fully comfortable with the way in which they are brought into the family of employees.
The sensitivity to the precisely correct process used by the employer is key because a "learning system" is preferable to an "instructional system," Noe continues on page 533. Especially when training recent immigrants, the difference in learning style make it challenging and even "difficult to develop a training program that maximizes learning for all employees" (Noe, 533). Teaching new employees from diverse cultures means combining different steps in the instructional process, the author explains. Those learning steps should include technologies such as MP3 players and iPods because managers can develop "different versions of the same training content to address differences in trainees' learning styles" (Noe, 534). All of this requires that the trainers and managers "…must be technologically literate" and must not have a "resistance to change" (534).
Resistance to change is not a concept unique to one company or one individual; it is a universal problem, and historically it has always been present in for-profit and nonprofit organizations. But by using social media and updated technologies managers can provide training for new employees based on learning styles, not on hard-and-fast practices and guidelines.
Combining Multicultural Management and Diversity -- Education is Vital
Mary Lou Egan and Marc Bendick write in the peer-reviewed Academy of Management Learning & Education that "…intergroup conflict constantly threatens the ability" of companies that are globally active or just domestically involved to operate "efficiently, cooperatively and fairly" (Egan, et al., 2008, p. 387). This problem should be fixed, and can be fixed, the authors contend, but at the time this article was written the authors believed that business educators are not doing a good enough job of preparing students for a diverse workplace.
Apparently many business educators are simply teaching their students that "cultural differences matter" and not going the next step to learn how to "turn cultural competence into a competitive advantage" (Egan, 387). Indeed, colleges and universities are teaching what is called "cross-cultural management" but the authors say students should be equipped to understand and respond to "…exactly what, when, how, and how much cultural matters" within the organizational and interpersonal situations in the workplace (387).
In the field of international business (IB) education, instructors often attempt to build a case for treating international business as a "discipline in its own right" and different from finance, marketing, and strategy, Egan continues (388). The problem with this approach is that it uses "culture" to many national cultures, and hence, instructors focus on "differences among nations," which is in some important ways missing the point of culture. This strategy tends to "oversimplify" the complexities within cultures, and also generalizes about cultures, which is wasteful in terms of what the business student should be learning, Egan explains (388).
Using "national average characteristics" to predict or explain an employee's behavior -- for example, studying the culture of Japan and applying that to the specific behaviors of a Japanese immigrant on the job -- misses and overlooks the other "forces besides national culture" that impacts specific employee behavior (Egan, 388). An example given by Egan on page 388 makes the point perfectly.
An research project published by the Global Leadership and Organization Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) group pointed out that an American executive who was leading work teams in Brazil, Egypt, France and China, was learning about the various "range of leadership responses that should be effective in each cultural setting" (Egan, 388). The article offered advice when working with the French team that was clearly a generalization based on stereotypes. To wit, the GLOBE researchers explained that the French have a "…low humane orientation culture" which could mean that "…they are not particularly interested in being supportive of others, even in the same organization" (Egan, 388).
This is a cultural workplace travesty of the first order, to be prejudiced / biased against a person of a certain national culture because a generalization about French people is wrongfully applied to individuals that will be part of a team. When GLOBE was challenged based on that instance of cultural stereotyping, GLOBE responded that "…serious students of culture" or managers that are focused on "inter-cultural" dynamics would use the stereotype presented about the French to "…seek out information" that goes beyond what GLOBE presented. But, Egan explains, college students in general aren't going to take the GLOBE-type information to another level to see if there are exceptions to that rule.
Another generalization that students in business schools are presented with is that "Scandinavians tend to be uncomfortable with much bargaining at all" (Egan, 388). Imagine, as Egan explains on page 389, a student who was taught that generalization about Scandinavians as though it were a fact, and later, as a manager, that person getting into a sales presentation to Ikea -- a Scandinavian company -- thinking that Scandinavians are "culturally programmed to avoid the confrontation involved in hard bargaining." It was a wasteful learning experience for that manager because any negotiation with an Ikea buyer might involve: a Greek raised in Canada, "trained in the Harvard negotiating program, with 20 years' experience as a buyer in China" (Egan, 389).
Another example of a poorly described and wrongfully presented cultural trait that is found in a IB textbook, currently being used in business classes in universities: The habit of the British people to line up on the sidewalk while they wait for a bus to arrive shows "…the deep cultural desire to lead neat and controlled lives" (Egan, 389). Still another example of how some business schools are leading students into misinformation about cultures and people, is the example of a South Korean business practice that reflects "their rigid organizational structure and unswerving reverence for authority" (Egan, 389). Based on this information in a textbook, the student should understand that "…Korean employees do not question strict chains of command" (Egan, 389).
It is absurd of course to stereotype French people -- or the British, or Koreans -- so narrowly that a bias towards a person of French, or British, or Korean nationality, is established by the manager before he or she even gets to know the individual, who of course is unique and not necessarily representative of any cultural stereotypes and generalizations. The training of employees from culturally diverse backgrounds has to take each person at face value and not fall into the trap of cultural biases and stereotypes based on studying the national culture any employee hails from.
Fitting In: Cultural Differences and Adjustment of Expatriates
There are of course cultural lessons that must be learned when expatriates arrive in a new country and join a workforce. A person that has given up his national heritage -- an expatriate -- is also an immigrant, bringing with him or her cultural attitudes and habits that are likely quite different from the culture that is present in any workplace. The authors of a research article in the peer-reviewed Academy of Management Journal point out that most employees seek positions with companies that offer "a good fit on important characteristics such as values and goals" (Van Vianen, 2004, p. 697).
That said, when it comes to expatriate employees,…