Beware of the Blind Spot: HR’s View on Language Skills

This is the fifth post in a series centered around crafting an effective language strategy for your business, featuring the work of Harvard Business School professor and former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, Robert Steven Kaplan.

As the global economy becomes more multilingual and multicultural, language skills are becoming valued by HR departments around the world—for good reason. That being said,Just because a job candidate lacks certain language fluency does not mean they should be discarded from consideration. in their rush to find people skilled in a certain language, HR and hiring managers alike can overlook ways to acquire and train the most useful talent as well as be more efficient in their own processes.

Missing the forest for the trees

Some HR leaders may not fully realize the extent to which language skills can be trained. In a rush to hire for certain positions, it’s important not to overlook mission-critical skills just because someone is fluent in a desired language.

Some things can’t be easily trained. Leadership skills, knowledge of the marketplace, and resourcefulness come to mind. Language skills, however – especially the fundamentals – can be acquired in a matter of months. Just because a candidate, internal or external, lacks certain language fluency does not mean they should be discarded from consideration for a position.

Buying rather than building

When it comes to language skills, firms often look first toward hiring externally rather than cultivating talent from within for international positions. A track record in a particular region, and the language skills that come with, overshadow other shortcomings.

Aside from being less cost-effective, this can also affect company culture. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, professors Robert Steven Kaplan and Tsedal Neeley explain:

Companies often find that entry-level hires ultimately become their best leaders, because they have been trained from an early stage in company culture and practices. Defaulting to lateral hires can make it more difficult to build a cohesive culture—those recruits have been trained elsewhere and may have trouble assimilating.

Again, it’s a lot easier to train junior management in language skills rather than intangible skills that might not ever develop for the employee.

This all ties in with a free webinar we are producing, featuring Professor Kaplan, entitled “Why Your Business Needs a Language Strategy”. The webinar will go live on Tuesday, April 21st at 11 am EDT. Through this informative 30 minute conversation with the professor, you will gain a greater understanding about the role language plays in the business world and how to craft your own language strategy.

Click here to register for the webinar today!

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