• Mr Prashant Banerjee, Marketing Head, Pearson TalentLens
  • Assumptions about Workplace Communication Skills that you ought to Question!

What is the most important skill that a business may want to develop in its workforce in the 21st century? Some answers could be – problem-solving skills, technical skills, team management or analytical skills. Each of these contributes to how a business grows and expands beyond its limits. However, a more fundamental skill that is often overlooked for other heavyweight contenders is workplace communication skills in English - the ‘soft skill’ that every employee is expected to bring to workplace. Two things are assumed in this context by HR and business folks – workplace communication skills are akin to knowing how to speak or write in English and that this is not a problem in the Indian context, given our education in this language and its use in our day-to-day lives.

Both assumptions need to be questioned by HR, and especially by Learning and Development (L&D) people. While assessments or interviews at the stage of hiring may bring in employees who have satisfi ed baseline criteria for communication skills, L&D should take over from there and ensure that every employee, whether new or current, is trained adequately in business communication skills that will give the business a capability edge over others than the content to operate with assumptions such as the above.

A global survey* of 26,000 employees revealed, 92 percent of employees at global corporations reported that English is required or important in their current position, but only seven percent felt that their command of business English is strong enough to do their job. The implication for businesses is that they may not have the best set of talent vis-a-vis employees that are profi cient in business English communication to drive business interactions with optimal outcomes. As the modern workforce increasingly consists of knowledge workers working in global teams, customer services personnel from non-western countries interacting with customers from the West and Indian managers leading pan-global employees, superior business English communication is an imperative and a goal that needs to be proactively achieved by businesses.

Current corporate language and culture training programmes in India tend to rely on instructor-led training (ILT) to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, ILTs tend to be time-bound, and offered in an artifi cial classroom set up, removed from day-to-day work that an employee is engaged in. On the other hand, many e-learning language training solutions that are implemented from employee workstations do not necessarily assist the employee with daily workplace communication challenges, and are completed as part of mandatory training. Commonly required and critical assistance, such as sending an appropriately worded email or meeting invitation, participating in a face-to-face or email discussion with colleagues or creating an impactful power point presentation, should be available in the form of on-demand and business-specifi c resources. Such resources, being aligned with work that is common, yet challenging, and with adult learning principles, should ideally result in more meaningful and lasting on-the-job learning – the learning that accounts for 70 percent of an employee’s learning cycle in an organisation, as per the 70:20:10 training model.

Besides the challenge of effective and appropriate use of business English in formal and informal discussions, presentations and documents, employees who interact with foreign colleagues and customers need to be aware of cultural differences in communication, as well. Inadequate understanding of such differences often gets expressed in behaviours that are seen as offensive or as refl ecting lack of business etiquettes in cross-cultural situations. Hence, any business English solution should be the one that not only enhances English communication skills at the workplace but also teaches cultural contexts of communication, to make it truly relevant in a global economy of exchange and trade.

Businesses ought to explore learning solutions that can be instituted as an enterprise-wide Business English programme. Such a programme should be scalable, given its relevance for all employees no matter what role they perform, come with easy online access from any computer, offer learning that matches the current learning need of the employee and where required, be coach-supported. The time is right for businesses in India to raise their expectations from language training solutions and make a paradigm shift from seeing English as successfully taught in a classroom setting, to recognising business English as a culturally-driven and contextual skill that contributes to optimal communication and higher productivity for the individual and the business. In the end, what will differentiate businesses in India in the coming years, with regard to the 21st century workforce, is access to superior business English communication skills that is geared for global competition and expansion.


*2010, The Globalisation of English Report: Globalisation Accelerates Need for Business English Communication Skills. A special report by GlobalEnglish. Prashant Banerjee, Marketing Head, Pearson TalentLens Contact sipika.khandka@pearson.com for an exclusive white paper on breaking the business English barrier to improve global competitiveness and how you can institute an enterprise-wide solution to improve Business English skills in your organisation. www.talentlens.in/globalenglish.


Mr Prashant Banerjee, Marketing Head, Pearson TalentLens

People and Management

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