Building up a business in this globalizing climate can come with its challenges. Solid knowledge of English at all levels of the workforce, though extremely advantageous, can seem like the biggest challenge of all. There are many reasonable factors that prevent businesses from taking the plunge into the depths of English language learning.
Tesdal Neely, associate professor in the Organisational Behaviour unit at Harvard Business School paints the implementation as something akin to trauma. After the initial shock, employees will show an unwillingness to comply. As time progresses, they might lose some self-confidence (having to master a new skill inevitably comes with a certain level of humility). Some employees might fear for the security of their job if their English skills don’t improve. There will generally be at least some resistance and, initially, poor performance. Who on earth would put their employees and their business through that?
Well… Volkswagen, Lufthansa, Rakuten, Uniqlo, Honda, and Bridgestone have all made English their official language. Huawei has made English its second language and climbing to management level at Audi requires proficient English. Additionally, Lenovo has become the best-known Chinese brand amongst foreigners through the implementation of English. Their success started at the top. CEO Yang Yuanqing began learning English as a middle-aged man. He moved to North Carolina and immersed himself in the language. Now that he is fluent, Lenovo’s official language has become English. Not all leaders can afford to uproot their lives, but they can choose to be the example.
Overcoming the Obstacles
As more international companies change their official language to English, more strategies are tried and tested.
Neely has first-hand observed the successful implementation of English at Rakuten. Here are five of her proactive suggestions for businesses worried about employee attitudes and productivity:
- Provide a clear reason for the change. If employees understand how their jobs can be improved and the company goals can be reached, they will be more likely to feel at ease.
- The process of improving English will take a few years, so internal marketing (as with any major change) is extremely important.
- Again, as for any strategy, communication from leaders is essential. Like Yang Yuanqing and other CEOs have proven, there is so much value in being a positive promoter of English.
- Giving employees feedback is also crucial. Rewards and encouragement from leaders is not innovative, but it is effective.
- Good studying habits are an obvious priority. Giving employees some time each day to study would be incredibly beneficial to their language growth.
Before introducing English, Harvard Business Review recommends having a prepared, effective strategy. Four areas, in particular, can lead to precise goals:
- Testing employee English gives an immediate idea of language strengths and weaknesses.
- The best English training programs allow employees to realize their potential in their specific role. They gain an understanding of how and why English catalyzes their progress.
- Dedicating adequate investment facilitates the change. A new lingua franca needs the same kind of investment as any other significant change.
- Personalising English for sectors and varying skill levels is clearly important. Going a little further and personalizing the training to individuals is even more beneficial. We learn best when we have genuine interest.
Reading a list of successful businesses that use English can whet the appetite. Well-researched strategies for implementing English are food for thought. But for a business, perhaps using these as momentum, creating and developing a strategy that works is the satiating part.