Bringing another perspective to respect in the workplace, Nadia Nassif is a tireless advocate of language training and language learning. She has spent almost a decade teaching and coaching in Japan and the U.S. and is now the Principal and Principal Trainer with Springboards Language Training and Consulting, LLC.

Don’t Wait Until Reviews for Language Based Feedback

If performance measurement were straightforward, there would no longer be a need to showcase the discussion year after year at the Society for Human Resource Management conferences. Even among human resource professionals there continues to be gray areas on this process and – with the growing complexity in a global workforce – it is not a discussion that will disappear any time soon. Try mentioning “360”, “performance reviews”, and “peer reviews” in a largely international crowd and you are bound to hear a few war stories.

So why is the performance review such a sensitive issue, particularly for the international employee in the U.S. organization? It is a commonly held view that performance reviews must be equitable, meritorious, and objectively administered. Unfortunately for the English as a Second Language speaker (the international employee), the review may be difficult if “success” in one’s job is based on how well they communicate internally and externally, handle clients and establish thought leadership and credibility. In this case, the inability to reach goals may have a lot more to do with language deficiencies or cultural barriers than actual technical performance or inherent ability.

The real tragedy is timing. As managers and HR professionals, we should be doing more to detect communication and cultural barriers early on. Waiting until review time makes ESL employees feel unfairly penalized for their language deficiencies then pigeonholed into training as a prerequisite for advancement. This is often the beginning of bad feelings, and sometimes resentment for the employee, especially if the process is not handled right.

Before review time comes, organizations with international employees might want to consider the following points:

• English related communication challenges should be identified in international employees early on, even at the on-boarding stages through an online grammar test, a display of e-mailing competency, and observation of their team work.

• Education and information about ESL resources should be made available and strategically placed in the same venue as other training and professional development tools.

• Mentors and advisors of international employees should be made aware of the available resources and frankly discuss communications based feedback with their mentee early and often. If they are not properly trained on how to do this, they should be.

It’s important to remember that English language communication challenges go beyond merely grammar, which is often a euphemism for other challenges. “Poorly written” e-mails may extend beyond a missed article or noun, a misplaced tone, or the lack of formal business vocabulary. In actuality, they may be evidence that one’s cultural and professional communication competencies are much more deeply embedded in cultural differences—a distinction companies cannot afford to miss.

As international employees continue to join in the U.S. labor force, organizations should be doing more to consider whether current efforts to motivate and promote this group engender equitable and thoughtful treatment of their professional development. Early support for their communication development is a good place to start.