Global companies are founded on the belief that some experiences transcend borders. The right product with the right branding – fast food that satisfies a human hankering for salt, fat, acid and heat signified by a couple of golden arches, for example – can have worldwide appeal. For such companies, a level of global consistency is what cultivates worldwide recognition and love.
By the same logic, unified internal branding and communication lets a workforce understand and buy into a company's mission and deliver on its shared objectives. This is the reason so many global companies, even those not head-quartered in an English-speaking market, communicate to their entire workforce in English. It’s also about practicality – producing comms in one language is seen to be easier than localizing for different markets. But it's a false economy.
The very purpose of internal communications is to win the hearts and minds of employees. Doing this successfully is one of the ways in which companies avoid high staff turnover, have better compliance, and raise a workforce that better understands its mission and products, therefore becoming better advocates or sales people. And speaking to people in the operational language of their market is one way to ensure people feel actively considered, even if they're proficient in English.
Embracing local differences strengthens the core brand
There’s a common misconception that localizing for different markets is somehow at odds with a global company’s unified mission. This perhaps stems from a common misunderstanding about the very nature of localization itself. Localizing content, by its very nature, means retaining the message, tone and intent of the original communication while adjusting its delivery to better chime with the local audience.
For example – to return to the McDonald’s example – the golden arches are universal, as is the name. But in India, where the population largely doesn’t eat beef, The Big Mac becomes The Chicken Maharaja Mac. McDonald’s doesn’t alter the core pillars of its brand – fast food that people love – to resonate with a local audience but it does change the medium, its burger, of its message to account for cultural nuance. The same applies to best practises for internal comms – the core pillars of the company, that unite the workforce, remain but in order to get people to absorb, interact with and take action off the back of content, localizing is a powerful, if not essential, tool.
The fact is, if the company doesn't take an active role in localizing internal communication translations, they will take place anyway – be that via translation tools or by management in the markets themselves. And fractured messages are far more damaging to a company’s unified presence than the perceived dilution of it by localization.
Getting staff to actually read internal communications
When it comes to internal comms, getting people to read content is half the battle. Whatever the purpose of the communication – be it for compliance, personal development, reward-related (admittedly a little easier) or structural changes or announcements, employees are not a guaranteed audience, as is often assumed. This is especially true of communication that asks employees to take action and where an understanding of the task at hand is essential to taking action. In a market where the day-to-day operating language is French, even if the level of English proficiency is high, people are more likely to consume content in French. With a proliferation of information and limited time, we all look for signs that content is worth our attention and intended for us – signs like content in the same operational language of the workplace.
Improving employee engagement
Employee engagement is the level to which an employee is actively engaged in delivering on their role to meet company objectives and achieve its mission. It’s not about employee satisfaction, although the two are linked. Localized content – especially if it is approved by management in the target countries, conveys to local markets that their participation is essential to the success of the company. It also improves advocacy on behalf of that content within the business. That is – if local markets have a stake in the performance of communications because they had an active role in creating it, they’re more likely to play an active role in sharing it and ensuring its effectiveness.
Companies where employees are more engaged are easier to run and this increased efficiency affects the top line. In fact, according to a study conducted by global analytics firm Gallup, companies with an engaged workforce enjoy a 20% increase in sales and 21% greater profitability. And according to Salesforce, employees who feel a sense of belonging at their companies are 5.3 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.
Why is engagement important?
Compliance and regulation
Unfortunately, compliance and regulation aren’t the most riveting of company communications, but they’re critical to the smooth and legal running of business. One of the ways in which compliance can be improved is, of course, by localizing content, but choosing a medium that people feel organically more compelled to consume, like video, is also a bona fide way to improve participation.
Budgets won’t always stretch to localizing all types of content, so if it’s a question of cost, Ray Walsh, author of Localizing Employee Communications: A Handbook advocates doing a cost/benefit analysis. He gives the example of focusing localization efforts on markets with historically low participation rates for mandatory training and seeing how it affects participation.
Improving employee satisfaction and therefore reducing staff turnover
If internal communications fail to take into account the specific needs of a local market, it’s almost impossible to improve employee satisfaction. If the general topic of communication is personal development – it’s essential to know if employees in Spain aren’t happy with the internal mobility policy or whether Italy is crying out for a clearer career progression path.
By understanding markets’ needs within a given topic, people are likely to feel heard and seen. For this reason, measuring employee satisfaction is essential to building effective localized comms guided by a central strategy. Localization in this scenario might look like – a global communication telling staff that career development is the focus for the quarter with localized versions of what that means for each market based on outcomes of satisfaction measurements. Just as better engagement affects productivity which affects the top line; greater employee satisfaction affects the top line because it reduces staff turnover and the costs associated with the recruitment process.
Internal training for external gains
Internal training feeds into all of the above. The more engaged employees are with the brand, its mission, its vision and its product, the more likely they are to remain engaged, satisfied and not leave prematurely. The most important thing with internal training is to design it with markets in mind from the very beginning – either by selecting content that is truly global so that it can be localized authentically with minimal effort or by creating native content relevant to the local market.
The aim of internal training is to improve employees’ understanding, which in turn promotes all of the aforementioned aims of successful internal communication. Understanding the culture of each market, therefore, and tailoring the language and visual content accordingly is essential. Picking a medium, like video, that reflects the way people consume content generally will also improve the success of training content. And if budgets are limited, testing and learning is good practise – starting with a single, simple training video and measuring its success when localized. The results will speak for themselves.
The bottom line is that localizing internal communication has a positive effect on companies' top line. Building a successful internal localization strategy not only safeguards the company against confusing messages lost in translation, it ensures that people feel included, engaged and confident enough to contribute, take action and advocate for the company from within the company.