Are businesses that employ multilingual staff getting ahead of their competitors?
Thanks to technology and globalisation in business, the world has become a much smaller place. Access to international markets is now easier than ever, thanks to ecommerce, the internet, etc.
Big multinational businesses recognise the importance of language skills. McKinsey counts more than 130 languages spoken across its staff, and offers a bursary scheme to those who wish to learn another language before joining the firm. Another example is Unilever, which estimates that up to 80 of their 100 most senior leaders speak at least two languages.
The obvious benefit of hiring multilingual staff is better communication with clients and contacts across the world. Although English has become the international business language, having employees who speak other languages can only be beneficial to an international business. Most people prefer speaking in their native language. If you are contacting other companies to work with, or customers in other jurisdictions, multilingual staff will be able to communicate in their native language, which makes the process easier and makes your firm come across as more professional and gives the impression that you are more of a “global business”.
A report from the European Commission a few years ago stated that “a significant amount of business” was sacrificed because of poor language skills across Europe. The report identified that as much as 11 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses had lost a contract as a result of their poor language skills.
So, if your firm is targeting international business, you should try to recruit employees who are multilingual. They will be able to help your firm to understand how complicated communication between two cultures can be, including knowing which areas require sensitivity and which areas call for being more direct. They will also be able to help your firm to adapt its business development efforts, website, marketing materials, etc. to the target market. These team members can also assist the firm as multilingual proof readers, in order to ensure quality and consistency of external communications in your target markets.