The Commoditization of Intercultural Services
by Michael F. Tucker, Ph.D., CMC
When company employees and their families are sent on international assignment, it seems obvious that their ability to adapt to cultural aspects of life and work in the country of assignment is critical to their success. However, the ability to adapt apparently is not a high priority of many global companies, as recent data show that only 22 percent of 140 companies employ intercultural assessment tools for screening, selection and development of expatriates, and only 25 percent make intercultural training mandatory.
So why is this, since many of us believe that intercultural services have become mature over the past 40 years? There are many reasons, of course, but a major one may be what I call the “Commoditization” of our services. This is a shift from a true service focus to a “purchasing department” one, which is more commonly used to acquire things rather than services. Company International Human Resources Departments have seen major downsizing due to cost cutting and outsourcing.
“Cultural Orientation” is often a minor component of a global relocation contract and is purchased on a short time -of- delivery and cost basis. This has resulted in our services delivered without high customization through needs and situation assessments of client company international businesses and projects and thorough needs assessments of the employee and family. Commoditization has also resulted in short training programs of one day or less, and little or no follow-up evaluation in-country. Perhaps the most problematic is for the assessors/trainers/coaches being cut off from the global client company. They are considered a “third party”, working for the primary contract holder, with little or no direct connection to the company.
A promising movement among global companies is the emergence of global talent and leadership development managers. They are competing for the best global talent and want the best intercultural services for their future leaders. They seem to be seeking best practices, even for intercultural competency assessment/coaching prior to assignment. This is especially true for international assignments taken on for leadership development purposes.
To sum up, a true service approach is where the service delivery professional works directly in partnership with the client company to ensure that the needs are closely met and the partnership is considered a business asset, and not just a cost, by the global company.