Monday, July 17, 2006

Accenture opens our eyes

Last week Accenture released a study of intercultural issues for U.S. companies that have outsourced business processes. It demonstrates what should be obvious to most of us but has been insufficiently documented: a growing awareness of the economic interest of improved intercultural communication. This is the kind of study the profession has been waiting for: something to convince decision-makers of the strategic importance of intercultural skills. The fact that it concerns critical business processes should be counted a major breakthrough since management has traditionally considered intercultural issues to be an HR problem and little more. A report on the report can be found here.

Here are some examples of the findings:

  • Executives believe adopting cross-cultural communication training programs can increase productivity by 26 percent, on average. This is consistent with the productivity increases of 30 percent.
  • reported by executives whose companies already provide training in this area.
  • Two thirds (66 percent) of all respondents said they had experienced miscommunication issues within their global sourcing operations.
  • "The soft issues, particularly cross-cultural communication, will continue to present the main challenges to realizing global sourcing's full potential for the foreseeable future."
It's interesting that the productivity gap between companies that provide intercultural training and those that don't is only 12%, with 60% (as opposed to 72%) of those companies still experiencing communication problems. This can be interpreted in two ways:
  1. Training helps because it reduces problems by 12%.
  2. Training doesn't help very much! (because it fails to provide solutions to 60% of the cases).
The statistics are probably fairly meaningless as they are based on subjective appreciation, but gaps always tells us something. I would suggest that -- based only on the first impressions gleaned from the Yahoo article -- we could draw two tentative conclusions:
  1. The training currently proposed is probably inadequate or badly targeted (e.g. focusing on intercultural theory rather than psychology and personality) and therefore we are faced with the challenge of re-inventing intercultural training.
  2. We should be thinking in terms other than simple training (pre-defined courses) and looking at how an intercultural culture can be developed and maintained.
These are just random thoughts about the findings of a report I haven't seen. If anyone consulting this blog has information about the report, access to it or feedback from other professionals, it might develop into a productive thread.

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