Monday, July 28, 2008

Speaking the Language of Business.

ArcelorMittal: Speaking the Language of Business

Mobility of people and ideas is central to success at ArcelorMittal. Thus, the company is emphasizing the importance of business English as a competency to ensure ideas and best practices can be shared throughout its global operations.

When you create one of the largest companies in the world via merger, integrating new people and ideas becomes a significant challenge. This is exactly the situation faced by ArcelorMittal. This company is a major player in the global steel industry, with current production equivalent to about 10 percent of the world's steel output and a clearly defined brand promise of "transforming tomorrow." With 310,000 employees in more than 60 countries, however, communication poses a challenge.

In the global steel industry, mobility of people and ideas is critical to success. To effectively manage this large international organization, ArcelorMittal is placing an emphasis on the need for its executives and managers to speak English, the all-but-official language of business around the world.

"In our aim to become the world's most admired company, many things need to be improved," said Lakshmi N. Mittal, president and CEO of ArcelorMittal. "A priority is the fluent command of the English language. Our business long ago evolved from being local to being global. To help drive the business forward, we need a common language. The ability to speak English is not only a priority for our company, it is a valued asset that may expand [employees'] career opportunities."

"Global management requires a shared language," said Alejandro Gardella, ArcelorMittal human resources manager for the Americas. "Without good communication skills, employees have a limited ability to contribute to the new global company. We have already had situations where managers have had to travel with interpreters in order to participate in our global meetings.

"Within our company, we have a wealth of talent and knowledge. But we need to be able to access this from across our group in order to position our company where we want to - as the best," he adds. "When Arcelor and Mittal merged in 2006, it was clear to me that in order to gain full advantage of the employees and expertise in the Americas, English business language skills would be essential."

Two Companies, Many Voices

After the merger, the ability to share information across the organization's expanded international operations became critical. Thus, the company quickly saw the advantage in having employees in high-level positions speaking English. This presented a challenge, as only 15 percent of the ArcelorMittal workforce was comprised of native English speakers.

Previously, ArcelorMittal has provided classroom-based English language training, but this yielded inconsistent results. The company's production facilities often are located away from large metropolitan areas, and the result was a limited and unreliable approach to English language training. In order to efficiently and rapidly provide employees with the business English communication skills they needed, a new approach was necessary.

"Prior to the merger, we had conducted a very successful pilot scheme with GlobalEnglish at Mittal Steel," Gardella said. "The implementation was very collaborative. The rollout was not just a test of online language training but represented the first-ever e-learning initiative by the company. We were very interested to see how it would be received, as that would indicate to us how we could use e-learning in other areas in the future."

The pilot scheme proved highly successful. Ninety-eight percent of the participants indicated they would recommend the method of training to a colleague. In fact, news of the program spread quickly via word-of-mouth. Additionally, 83 percent of the participants were able to directly apply what they were learning on the job.

"The product satisfied a specific need for our employees, and one that they recognized," Gardella said. "There was no lack of clarity. Having the interface in an employee's native language proved the perfect bridge to speaking English, and this is one of the keys to success."

Following reports of high satisfaction rates from users, ArcelorMittal rolled out the service to managers, engineers, specialists and high-potential candidates around the world. Management targets those employees who need to use English in their current jobs or in preparation for future positions with the company. Enrollment rates have taken off as managers around the world have found out about the program and assumed responsibility for distributing it locally.

The ArcelorMittal Corporate University conducts many leadership and high-potential courses only in English. This has been a factor in driving participation in the program, as employees must meet a certain English level proficiency in order to attend these programs.

"Supporting our employees as they developed their skills was clearly an important factor in the success we have seen," Gardella said. "We provide regular encouragement and recognition to keep our employees motivated. Those who are making great progress are acknowledged in our newsletter, as well as with e-mails from senior executives. We have also planned for employees to have access through computer labs so that they can spend focused time on their learning. We are now looking at creative ways to build on the initial enthusiasm in countries where we have already had tremendous success."

One Company, One Voice

The service has been rolled out to more than 5,000 people in the organization, including 1,600 employees in Latin America, but there is significant need for more. ArcelorMittal has more than 35,000 people in leadership and management roles, so the bulk of English training has not yet taken place.

"We are already seeing the benefits," Gardella said. "People who before could not be considered for global projects can now be accessed for their knowledge and experience. Employees in Brazil, for instance, have been working with Japanese production and quality techniques for decades, and now ArcelorMittal can bring that expertise to facilities right across the company. Understanding communication from the company headquarters is easier, and we are able to share learning and best practices across all employees in the shared language of business: English. In the longer term, succession planning and high-potential development is also improved. We can now include people from around the globe without the limits of a language barrier.

"When you are a leader in an industry, you must always be developing and improving your own best practices. At ArcelorMittal, we are committed to providing the leadership that will transform tomorrow's steel industry. Having a common language allows us to get the best out of everyone in our company. That contribution is what allows us to continue to move forward in our aim to be one of the most admired companies in the world and to continue to lead the industry."

Article Resource:
Christian Standaert
[About the Author: Christian Standaert is the general manager of ArcelorMittal University.]

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