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Employee communications in a global economy

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A former client of mine was the head of communications for the U.S. division of a South African company. This client hired me to help her team establish an internal communications function and to fill in during their search for a full-time employee communications manager.

During one of our first meetings, my client showed me around the company’s intranet – managed by the global communications team in South Africa. The homepage featured a video clip promoting an upcoming intranet reface that was scheduled to launch the following month.

Being the curious internal communicator that I am, I opened the video player to see what improvements were planned. The video showed two guys – one very hip and one a bit less so – in what I assumed to be a take-off of the “I’m a Mac” ad campaign.

The operative word there is “assumed” – I was 30 seconds into the short video when I realized I didn’t understand a single word the two actors were saying. Turns out they were speaking Afrikaans.

For the first time in my career, I got an inkling of how my international co-workers must have felt when they received the all-English, U.S.-centric employee newsletter I edited a decade earlier.

I was reminded of this incident when I read “6 things to remember when communicating on a global level." While the blog post focuses on media and external communications, several of the key points translate (pun intended) to employee communications.

For example, the blog cites the importance of considering holidays in other countries when scheduling news releases. Same goes for internal launches, significant organizational announcements and companywide events. The last thing you want to do is schedule a companywide webcast on another country’s national holiday.

The blog also counsels readers to avoid jokes. I'd also advise communicators to stay away from catchy, pun-filled headlines and captions on employee intranets and in newsletters. In most cases, the jokes won’t translate to other languages/cultures and the employees won’t understand the double meaning intended with the pun.

The best advice I can offer internal communicators working in a global environment is to establish points of contact in each of your locations worldwide and task them with previewing content and concepts for cultural sensitivities. That added review will help you avoid missteps and miscommunication once your message crosses international borders.

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