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January 2013 Talking Points Newsletter

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According to The Conference Board's CEO Challenge Executive Action Report 2012, CEOs rank human capital as their second most pressing challenge in 2013 (innovation being the first).

Unlike the industrial economies of the early twentieth century, where market leadership was contingent on access to natural resources, competitive advantages in today's knowledge economy are determined by access to professional talent.

The factors impacting accessibility to a skilled workforce are daunting: a worldwide talent gap, varying and unpredictable degrees of regional economic stability, and a global landscape that requires ever increasing cultural agility. Perhaps it's no surprise that CEO's also agree that the top strategy to meet human capital needs is to grow talent from within. As a result, improving leadership programs and providing employee training and development are strategies two and three.

Talent Development: The Greatest Strategy of the Century

Corporate executives on all levels agree that increased talent development leads to higher returns to shareholders. This position is echoed by (or perhaps due to) Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and one of 24 people recognized for having had ‘the greatest impact on the way we conduct business today’. For Senge, a company's greatest competitive advantage is its ability to provide opportunities for personal development. Senge's core premise is that learning and development catapults employee engagement and commitment to a shared vision. For Fortune 500 companies whose workforce is compromised of talented individuals from around the globe, this creates both a challenge and an opportunity.

Do Accents “Blur” the Message?

Global workforces create diversity of thought, novel ways of solving problems, and new approaches to innovation. They also create challenges that impact employee engagement, productive knowledge share, and even client loyalty. Dr. Boaz Keysar, Chair of the Cognition Program at the University of Chicago, has devoted his academic career to researching the effects unfamiliar accents have on both the listener and the speaker. In his article, “Seeming Unwise While Being Wise”, Keysar summarizes the results of his team's research: “If you have an accent, people are less likely to believe what you say simply because they have to work harder to understand you. In fact, anything that increases difficulty of understanding has this impact. Blurred text is harder to read, and as a result is less believable. Accent works the same way.” Don DePalma, Founder and Chief Research Officer of the research and consulting firm Common Sense Advisory, explains it this way, “People don't buy what they can't understand”. This purchasing decision impacts products and services and even a desire to ‘buy’ another person's good idea. While research shows this phenomenon has little to do with prejudice, nonetheless, the injurious impact on an employee can be devastating.

Leading the Way or Just Keeping Up?

Managers from a variety of backgrounds are leading the way at Fortune 500 companies. Rather than ignoring the unique needs of a global workforce, they're turning to English pronunciation development programs to help non-native English speakers learn articulation techniques for the sounds in English that do not occur in other languages. The result is, of course, greater quality of communication. No less important, however, are the confidence, enthusiasm and pride that soar when an employee has the tools to communicate effectively while maintaining his/her unique cultural identity. As one program participant put it, “No more holding back!” That's talent engagement at its best.

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