01 Mar 2015

Communicating the Language of Business Across Borders

Tsedal Neeley

Tsedal Neeley

My intellectual agenda is ambitious and somewhat risky,” says Associate Professor and Marvin Bower Fellow Tsedal Neeley. “I truly believe that HBS is one of the few places on earth where I could boldly pursue my work in the way that I have.”

Neeley’s research focuses on the challenges organizations face when coordinating operations across linguistic and national boundaries. As a doctoral student at Stanford, she participated in a large-scale global teams study and identified language differences “as the most divisive, polarizing barrier to collaboration,” Neeley says. “But no one was looking at that, even as global organizations were rapidly moving toward making English their lingua franca.”

Since joining the HBS Organizational Behavior Unit nearly eight years ago, Neeley has pursued pathbreaking research on the effects of internationalizing firms’ policies that require employees of diverse skill sets to adopt English as their business language. For the past four years, with extensive support from the School’s research centers in Asia, Europe, and Latin America, she has gathered data from employees of a single company located in eight countries.

“With close to 800 interviews conducted in a variety of languages, more than 3,500 survey results, and thousands of pages of archival material, a project of this scope would have been nearly impossible without the international resources and infrastructure HBS has built,” she stresses.

Currently at work on a book based on her globalization study, Neeley teaches several Executive Education offerings and the MBA elective Leading Teams in a Global Economy. Her case study “Language and Globalization: ‘Englishnization’ at Rakuten” has been incorporated into the required MBA curriculum, raising new sensibilities about language among native and nonnative English speakers in HBS classrooms and beyond.

Learn more about HBS faculty and their research at www.hbs.edu/faculty


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