Fitting Language Into Your Firm’s Value Proposition

This is the fourth 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.

There is a famous quote attributed to former German chancellor Willy Brandt: “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”

Over the course of the “flattening” of the world’s economy, many firms have taken his Discover why your company's professionalism can be undermined if you manage your workforce's language skills haphazardly.advice to heart, thinking that they need to speak the language of every market in which they hope to enter. In fact, your ability to do so might mean much more than simply being able to communicate well with clients and prospects.

The value proposition

Communication between business partners is critical, and even more so in foreign and emerging markets. Things being “lost in translation” could end up costing millions of dollars. The language skills you put on display reassure clients and prospects that they—and their business—are in good hands.

There are many things that a prospect weighs when deciding whether to do business with you, but perhaps chief among them is the professionalism of you and your firm. They want to make sure you can get the job done.

Language skills and cultural understanding enable you to project professionalism, especially if your firm employs expatriates in foreign markets. Their language skills in essence say “We’ve done this before. We have the resources to put professional, competent people in place around the world.”

A word to the wise

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, professors Robert Steven Kaplan and Tsedal Neeley tell of the balance that business technology conglomerate IBM tries to strike among its language needs.

Although IBM long ago adopted English as its lingua franca [common language], the company has identified eight other languages as important to serving local markets. IBM hires global professionals with the expectation of strengthening their language skills through immersive training, private coaching, or online learning. Further, employees know that certain international assignments carry with them a language-training requirement.

In essence, projecting this value of professionalism can be undermined if your firm bolsters its language skills haphazardly. Like for IBM, strategic language management in your organization is the way forward.

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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