Did you know that in the United States, 1% of Americans speak another language* Yet 20% of jobs are international?
*learned at school
This language learning deficit clearly puts US-based firms at a competitive disadvantage.
Given the globalization of the world, it’s not just commonplace to have a language strategy, it’s a necessity – and not only for firms with cross-border activities.
And while you consider the value of the following points, keep in mind that hard numbers back up investments in L&D and training employees. A recent Accenture study found that every dollar spent on training got a $4.53 return. That’s an ROI of 353%!
Case study: learn how one US-based company, whose business is entirely within the US, tackles the challenges of a multicultural workforce through our Language at Work Program. They’ve successfully navigated improved employee communication, happiness, retention and even safety through a strategic language learning plan – while incorporating a company-wide DEI initiative.
The question becomes ‘can you afford to not have a language strategy’?
The largest returns on your investment include but are not limited to:
#1 Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity
DEI represents way more than a buzzword of the last decade, especially as the various terms picked up steam by way of the cataclysmic events of 2020.
The critical tenants and ideas that come with DEI represent a new depth to corporate culture, without which teams lack cohesion and a sense of belonging. It’s now common practice to have ERG’s (Employee Resource Groups) such as Dell’s Adelante...but firms who truly, and literally, put their money where their mouth is, invest in a diverse and inclusive culture by investing in language training and culture.
What comes with racial and ethnic diversity? Multiple nationalities, languages, and cultures bring differing views and ways of communicating; and the challenges don’t stop there.
To make sure DEI initiatives are successful, ask yourself: Who are the leaders of your DEI initiatives? And do they have a track record of tangible results and change, or might it be in name only, a token effort?
An exhaustive 2015 article by McKinsey & Company found that businesses who rank in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above industry medians.
“As we know the average tools in our corporate toolbox to combat bias and increase minority representation has not been effective over the last two decades.” – Harvard Business Review
What, specifically, for example are they doing for the ‘I’ / inclusivity piece? Most often there are ‘brainstorms’ and monthly talks and workshops, but is true learning and change of mindset happening in those?
Take for example DPR Construction, one of our Language at Work Program participants, uniting teams across 4 time zones and at all levels.
In addition to being known for their ‘people happiness’ teams, DPR Construction is currently reaping the benefits of the power of true inclusivity through their language strategy, offering online ESL to the Spanish-speaking craft.
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” – Flora Lewis
By embracing a language strategy, you’re investing in true inclusivity and diversity.
2. Innovate Faster
The act of learning a new language in and of itself provides a multitude of cognitive benefits, useful for life in the workforce and outside of it. Researchers continue to find that language learners demonstrate higher levels of executive function, directly impacting one’s concentration and planning capabilities.
Other studies show that beyond building stronger critical thinking skills, the act of language learning can boost one’s empathy, given the perspective-shifting that takes place when communicating in another language.
The ability to innovate ultimately rests on:
- Team interdependence and the ability to communicate
- Fast decision making
- Creative and critical thinking
These attributes are critical for any high performing team and rank second and third on the World Economic Forum’s top ten list of skills employees will need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
3.Higher Employee Retention and Increased Productivity
It’s not fuzzy math.
When employees feel valued, confidence and productivity increase. But how much time do organizations really invest in developing and empowering their employees? And the act of learning together multiplied this effect. We continually see the combined ‘happiness outcomes’ when employees are given the opportunity to learn together.
“There is plenty of research illustrating that soft skills increase overall business performance and that investing in developing employees’ soft skills brings a clear return on that investment.” – Learn Light.
Google discovered that their highest performing teams were those that consisted of individuals with strong soft skills, including good communication, collaboration, and empathetic leadership.
The good news is that speaking a 2nd or 3rd language not only is a soft skill but in turn promotes the growth of these other soft skills.
4. Sales & Bottom Line Growth
Consider the most direct impact on revenue. As the saying goes:
“You buy in your own language and you sell in your customer’s language…”
Consider the lost revenue if customers insist on buying in their own language and you’re contracting with somebody who may speak the language but not understand the cultural norms needed to complete the sale. While some clients may not be explicit about the fact that they prefer to buy in their own language, connecting to people in their own language (which, again, goes with understanding a culture…) is where trust is built.
Exceptional customer service after all equates to a buyer’s journey that is in most instances a relationship built over time and through trust. Given the immense power of language to truly connect people, we can only consider it a lost opportunity to not invest in language training and culture.
“Speak to people in a language they understand, it goes to the head; speak to them in their own language, it goes to the heart.” – Nelson Mandela
At the very core, it’s not just a romantic notion that you’re speaking to another’s ‘heart’. It’s about connection, the depth of connection needed to empathize which ultimately leads more easily through negotiations, sales, return customers, and innovation.
Needless to say, the more languages a person can speak, the more people they can communicate with and connectedness = larger network of sales!
“Indeed, your language strategy must fit with your firm’s value proposition to customers if you hope to penetrate various markets and coordinate among them. You need to consider how to infuse language into your core talent practices in order to deliver that value. Attention and sensitivities to a culture gained through learning a language can mean not only improved internal communication or the difference of a contract or a sale, but they might also mean growth in terms of a successful joint venture or merger.” – Harvard Business Review
In addition to increasing sales, consider the financial impact of decreasing liabilities. Whether in respect to safety, where workers’ compensation payouts lead to hefty fines, or in the case of a medical emergency where language barriers can literally mean life or death, minimizing liability has a direct impact on your bottom line.
What better way to bring diversity to a company than through multi-lingual and truly multi-cultural teams? Language learning is key to breaking down communication barriers and building a truly global and collaborative organization.
Once organizations tire of the fatigue from experiencing the downside of no language strategy, such as lack of understanding, high turnover, retention problems, team cohesion and ultimately the bottom line, they can prepare to seize on and soar from these varied strong returns on investment.
Continued learning in general is critical to an organization’s present and future prosperity. The value of your language training program can be measured in both the social and human benefits and the bottom line of your organization.
Freestyle has both language strategy experience and a proven solution to your multilingual workforce challenges. Contact us today to learn more about our Language at Work program! Or visit us on LinkedIn.
Interested in learning more about the need to invest in L&D programs? We love ‘The Business Case for Learning’ by Patricia Pulliam Phillips, Ph.D. and, Jack J. Phillips (2017) – see our references below!
Return on Learning, Part 1: Generating business impact from an enterprise learning transformation program (Accenture); The History of Growth of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (GRC); What Are Employee Resource Groups? (Great Place to Work); Why Diversity Programs Fail (HBR); The 10 Skills You Need to Thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum); Measure ROI of Soft Skills (Learn Light); The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students (Washington Post); 8 Reasons Why Bilingual Employees Get Paid More (Spanish Academy); What’s Your Language Strategy? (HBR); The Business Case for Learning (Phillips & Phillips)