The following story was told by Mary Beauregard, intercultural consultant for Global LT.
Client: A large Japanese auto manufacturer with more than 10,000 employees and several locations in the United States.
Problem: The highly multicultural workforce composed of U.S., Japanese, and Mexican nationals was divided by miscommunication and distrust.
Diagnosis: Employees were concerned about job security and lacked understanding and respect for the differences that other cultures brought to the organization.
Methods: Beauregard and her team began partnering with the company in 1997 to implement cultural awareness and language training programs. Initially, the greatest cultural issues existed between U.S. and Japanese employees. Beauregard conducted training for each group separately and used participant feedback to improve the program.
For example, she learned that Japanese nationals learn differently from U.S. nationals, so she customized the training for each cultural group, and the trainers adapted their presentation styles accordingly. The program continued to evolve to consider other cultures as more Mexican and Indian nationals joined the workforce.
The training was delivered almost entirely in face-to-face, interactive classroom sessions. U.S. employees learned about their Japanese colleagues' values, communication styles, workplace expectations, and the importance of socializing. Japanese employees learned about diversity in the United States and the most commonly held personal and professional values and behaviors.
These two groups studied their Mexican colleagues, and Mexican employees were oriented to Japanese and U.S. cultural distinctions as well. The training content focused on illustrating the reasons behind differences and providing skills to enhance benefits of the multicultural workplace.
Years later, Beauregard continues to develop the programs to better fit the changing workplace and business environment. She created an email effectiveness training course that focuses on communication differences and expectations, and EEO training to help more homogenous cultures understand the need for such laws in the United States. She also implemented one-on-one coaching sessions with individuals embarking on temporary overseas assignments to show them how to leverage their personality characteristics and behaviors to interact successfully and adjust well to the new culture.
Results: After working with the company for four years, Beauregard remembers walking into the company's remodeled facility and observing posters of its newly crafted philosophy, with strategies to enhance the ways that both the United States and Japan do business. This was a testimony to the collaboration between the training organization and the HR department, resulting in the infusion of the corporate vision, mission, and philosophy into the programs and providing an additional level of cohesion across cultures for all employees.
The programs have become part of the company's core annual training for consecutive years, and are highly recommended for all new employees. Employees have gained a better understanding of how to work more effectively with their colleagues.