Effective Management Strategies for a Global Workforce


One of the big challenges I am observing in organisations is effectively managing global workforce with its rich diversity and cultural nuances. I had a situation with a San Francisco client where had I not coached him to understand the different nuances between American culture and language in comparison to his new European employer, the job would have not worked out for him. I tackle the challenge of coaching talent on cultural and language sensitivity on a regular basis – whether it’s managing the interview process for an international job or for the first 90-days when the newly employed need to traverse and ramp up fast in a new culture to avoid culture shock burnout. From San Francisco to Vancouver to New York to London to Hong Kong to Beijing to Amsterdam to New Delhi and Dubai, today’s global companies must bring together a diverse talent pool to succeed. When not managed properly, cultural and language differences can hinder and even sabotage that success.

According to the World Economic Forum, we are entering an era of unparalleled talent scarcity. This shortage demands being able to search for talent beyond one’s borders and also being able to set up shop in foreign territories where the talent exists. As a result, demand for cultural awareness and language training will continue to grow exponentially. Companies need to assess differences in cultural management systems to create managers and executives that are able to effectively manage a global workforce. I’ve observed that in order for a company to work effectively, being both sensitive to and able to effectively manage these differences is essential for both the company and its employees to thrive.

Here are five strategies to mitigate difficulties that arise due to cultural and language differences in a global talent pool:

  1.  Provide support to English as Second Language employees
    Language can become a major barrier in employee success because of both the conscious and subconscious prejudices they may encounter. Often recruiters and managers will hire the candidate with the better language skills over the person with the stronger experience. It is actually wiser to choose the candidate with stronger experience. For example, IBM hires with the expectation of strengthening language skills through immersive training, private coaching and online learning. It’s essential to train your recruiters and managers to be sensitive to these nuances, and provide new hires with language immersion programs and courses to support talent in maximizing their effectiveness and ability to deliver.
  2.  Implement 360-degree evaluations
    Implementing 360-degree evaluations helps management to fairly evaluate talent with weak language agility that may be biasing managers against them. Soliciting feedback from peers, supervisors, subordinates and even clients allows management to look beyond language agility and to perform a fairer analysis. For example, a native English speaker managing a new hire from Beijing may become frustrated (consciously or subconsciously) by the new hire’s lack of fluency and overlook this otherwise superior talent. 360-degree evaluations will mitigate the chance of unfair bias against him. In the end, this strategy reduces the risk of the company losing valuable talent due to a personal bias.
  3.  Make cultural awareness training a part of your overall corporate curriculum
    Create on-demand learning centres and online classes, which teach cultural sensitivity and awareness. As a result, when the executive in the San Francisco office contacts the executive in the New Delhi office, the two are sensitive and savvy to the nuances and differences between them. By making this type of training available to your employees, you set them up to succeed. In today’s global workforce, it’s just a good business practice. Otherwise, you leave your employees flying blind and muddling through their cross-cultural relationships with co-workers.
  4. Coach and train managers to be sensitive to diversity in the workplace issues from a management perspective
    Management needs to be able to identify cultural and language barriers that may arise among workers in order to maximize the department’s effectiveness. By providing management with coaching and training on how to handle these often sensitive and nuanced issues, they can effectively put out sparks before they become a raging wildfire. It empowers management to effectively lead the team.
  5. Provide special coaching and training for managers going to work in an office overseas
    Coaching and training employees travelling to foreign offices on the nuances and expectations of the culture they will be joining is essential to support their success. They will have to adapt to the work culture of the country they join. This executive needs coaching to be prepared to interact accordingly, and thus be effective in the foreign environment. Otherwise, they can make blunders and mistakes that prevent them from being able to succeed.

Implementing these five strategies will aid your organisation in supporting your workforce in navigating the language and cultural differences that arise as a result of a managing global workforce. Successful management requires finessing these differences and building an understanding between multiple cultures in today’s diversified global talent pool.

Caroline Stokes is the founder of FORWARD, a solutions-oriented human capital development company providing talent acquisition and leadership coaching across career, transition and innovation pillars.