Bulletin n° 13 - décembre 2014


Translation as a key strategic tool for knowledge transfer: creating and implementing efficient HR evaluation documents in a French MNC

Louis-Marie Clouet

This communication aims at analyzing the phenomena of meaning construction, and the key role that translation can play in knowledge transfer in MNCs. Globalization, beyond the growing use of English as a new lingua franca, multiplies economic, cultural, leisure exchanges, but these exchanges take place in a growingly multilingual reality. Translation is nowadays at the heart of daily activities of many firms. In these multilingual and multicultural environments emerges a growing need of translation, as “all work of interlinguistic mediation, that allows communication between members of communities of languages” (Ladmiral 1989: 90). This paper will study to what extent translation can be taken into account in order to answer these needs of meaning building, in organization where people and groups from different cultures and languages coexist and have to cooperate.

Translation process can be helpful to decode what is at stake in a context where knowledge transfer as an intercultural communication is needed. Inside multinational firms, managers find themselves more and more in this mediation role between cultures. What used to be and still is a particularly sensitive reality for collaborators in international mobility – be they impatriates (from the subsidiary abroad to the headquarters), expatriate (from the headquarters to the subsidiaries abroad), or Third Country Nationals (TCN), is also a growing and significant reality for managers in charge of multicultural teams.

A case study will illustrate how translation can be placed at the heart of managerial practices that tend to aggregate entities and collaborators on a shared meaning, then translated in various languages and cultures of an international firm. It will present the elaboration of managers’ performance review documents and their translation in various languages, a project aimed at creating a “Managerial Competencies Model” (MCM) and the harmonization of performance evaluation (called “Annual Review Form” (ARF), for an international firm named Y (7000 people in 40 subsidiaries, operating in more than 200 countries).

The communication process linked to the creation of both key HR documents was a crucial condition of success: it was of vital importance that the subsidiaries adhere to the project, so that the HR tools would be really embraced and implemented, to avoid a counter-productive top-down communication from the holding, and to persuade the subsidiaries which already used their own HR tools to opt for the methodology defined for the whole group. It was also a clear objective that each manager should understand both documents “in the same spirit” as they were designed and intended to be implemented.

The HR direction therefore made a strategic choice to associate translators to the whole HR document creation process: the target was to translate both key HR documents and how-to guides (called “quick guides”) in various languages in order to facilitate their understanding and their implementation by the subsidiaries managers.

If translation is considered as an essential dimension when building a common sense, and when future users have to understand this common sense, translation should be place at the heart of knowledge transfer actions. Translation is not only the transmission of an unalterable meaning into a same version for a reader in another language, but clearly construction of a comparable meaning. It can lead to the implementation of comparable actions in different “universes of sense” (Iribarne). In that sense, translation can be considered as a key managerial competency and a strategic vector of knowledge transfer in MNCs. Research on the possible linkage between translation and knowledge transfer would therefore be very useful to answer a growing need of intercultural managers.

Languages, translation and meaning elaboration

Prerequisites about translation

Giving sense consists to explain the basis of all action, as underlines Olivier Vassel (2011: 103): “an act, a decision make sense as far as they can be justified, evaluated and understood”. It means satisfying three basic needs (ibid.): the possibility to refer oneself to a “whole”, the existence of a frame of reference, the capacity to understand and explain. The coherence of these three elements will allow collaborators to adhere to and the firm’s strategy and policies: they stem from the articulation of discourse and acts, of a discourse incarnate in a particular context. Philippe d’Iribarne’s researches (1989, 2007) have enlightened that individuals, even in a same firm, interact in reference to a “universe of sense” that is specific to their language-culture.

If we consider, as Ladmiral and Lipiansky (1989) did, that “language is not only a communication tool”, but also “a symbolic order where representations, values and social habits found their foundation”, building sense in a MNC can not be thought as the simple transposition of a concept from the headquarters language to a subsidiary language, for instance. This elaboration implies to confront the symbolic order of the source-culture to the symbolic order of the target-culture: an exercise that can appear very difficult in order to “enter in the other’s mind” and above all, to go out the thinking patterns of one’s own culture (see François Jullien, notably 2012). This confrontation is precisely necessary in order to re-found the meaning in the target language-culture: “greatness of translation, risk of translation: creative treason of the original, equally creative appropriation by the host language; construction of the comparable” (Ricoeur 2004: 66).

If one consider the translation process “at work”, a dichotomy can be identified between two psychological phases of “interpretation reading” and “re-writing”, and above all, a transitional phase of “un-verbalization” (déverbalisation) often neglected by approaches that consider translation as a word-by-word exercise. During this cognitive “un-verbalization” phase, a translator experiences a split of his own intellectual subjectivity into both languages at stake: a kind of translation salto mortale (Ladmiral 2005).

It should be made clear what these “interpretation reading” and “re-writing” phases mean, to prevent any misunderstanding: translation is not a transcoding from one language to another, a univocal concordance between translation units. “Interpretation reading” should be understood as “the reading that interprets the original text to be translated” or “source text” (or the original discourse to be orally translated): it falls straightaway within a logic of interpreting the meaning. The second “rewriting” phase produces the target text or discourse in the target language of the translation process. It is therefore clearly a matter of rewriting the meaning in another “universe of meaning” (Iribarne 2009), if one stand precisely in a target-oriented logic, which give primacy to the understanding of the meaning by the reader over the respect of the author’s statement.

Translation, a paradigm for intercultural communication[1]and a polysemous mediation

A research-action programme led for the Franco-German Youth Organization (Ladmiral and Lipiansky 1989) studied intercultural communication based on group dynamics composed of French and German students, who were monolingual and bilingual at various degrees. These groups could not rely on a professional interpret, for cost reasons, and because the research team wanted to study “what was going on” in intercultural communication when the protagonists have to take themselves in charge this “translation” function, that both authors describe as a “mediation” in the full sense of the term (op. cit.: 46). This research program can carry interesting lessons, particularly for MNCs confronted with knowledge transfer and intercultural communication inside multicultural and multilingual teams.

This signifier “translation” leads to a plurivocal signified, related to a multi-level translating mediation (Ladmiral 2010):

    • An interlinguistic mediation (“une médiation interlinguistique”), that passes a message through, from a source-language or an original language (Lo), to a target language or translation language (Lt),
    • An intercultural mediation, because this movement from Lo to Lt encompasses a parallel and simultaneous mediation work from a language-culture (LCo) to another (LCt),
    • A linguistic mediation (“une médiation langagière”): one does not translate the “text” of what is said, but the meaning, the “will to say” (“vouloir-dire”) that the text carries (Seleskovitch and Lederer 1984). One does not translate words, but the sense of a text or a discourse: both what the statement means, in a linguistic communication, but also what the speaking subject wants to say, the signification that the speaker puts into his/her statement: “the translator should not translate what is written, but what the translator thinks was thought by the one who wrote what he/she wrote when he/she wrote it”[2](Ladmiral and Lipiansky 1989: 53).
    • A psycholinguistic mediation which includes, beyond what the speaker wants to say consciously, what he/she “wants to say unconsciously”, all these “discrepancies that could insinuate themselves” between what one wanted to say and what could be said. Particularly the “holes of communication” (slip of the tongue, sputtering, misunderstanding).
    • Finally, a psychosociologic and psychorelational mediation. In the framework of a group dynamic, one will not try to translate what another said or wanted to say, but will rather try to reformulate in the target language want the speaker wanted or desired. The question is not to translate what the “text” (or discourse) says, but rather what the text does (Meschonnic 1999). The mediator inserts in his/her translation of the verbal content what he/she knows about the person who spoke, elements of their relationship, told or untold elements influenced by the context, at that given moment, by the group dynamic or by the history of this dynamic. The translation performs a “psychorelational and group relocalisation of contents of utterance” (Ladmiral 2010: 635).

Intercultural communication covers all these mediations, understood as the various simultaneous forms of a global translation process, and knowledge transfer occurs and is supported by such mediations.

Case Study: Translation at the heart of intercultural communication in an international firm

On the basis of these approaches of translation process and role, the case study will illustrate what role could play such “managers translators” in order to overcome intercultural communication and management challenges. It is based on an Applied Research Project carried out by ISIT students during their second year of Master in Intercultural Management. As future managers, ISIT students have to fulfil a mission for a real client, be it a firm or an organization. This mission allows them to implement their management, consulting, and of course linguistic and translation competencies. They also have to write a Master thesis that analyses an intercultural communication and management problem. Their research field is based on their mission for the client and on interviews and questionnaires, depending on the methodology chosen.

Building a shared meaning through HR process harmonization in a globalized firm

In the framework of such an Applied Research Project, four ISIT students and future managers took part in 2011 2012 in a project aimed at creating a “Managerial Competencies Model” (MCM) and at harmonizing the performance evaluation for an international firm named Y (7000 people in 40 subsidiaries, operating in more than 200 countries)[3].

The Y group has internationalized from its French home market by external growth, taking over local entities in foreign countries. So far, the new holding had managed in a very decentralized way its new subsidiaries based in very different cultural environments. Until 2010, each subsidiary had its own Human Resources (HR) processes and tools or – for the smallest subsidiaries -, no HR processes. The holding HR coordinator however encountered many obstacles:

    • Language barrier was really hindering cooperation with some countries.
    • The HR coordinator had had to identify local HR point of contact. However, some subsidiaries were so small that they did not even have a HR department. Local finance director or even general directors were acting as HR directors. In that case, they did not spend much time on the holding HR projects.
    • On the other hand, some countries had already developed their own HR tools and processes, and were very eager not to let the holding impose new processes.

The holding HR direction launched a program aimed at structuring and reinforcing the holding’s HR organization, and at giving HR tools to the subsidiaries that had no HR policies. HR managers at the headquarters choose a “glocal” approach, in collaboration with the subsidiaries, in order to gain consensus on two reference documents:

  1. A managerial competences platform, called “Managerial Competences Model” (MCM),
  2. A framework for the employees’ annual review, called “Annual Review Form” (ARF).

These two documents were to be given with a “quick guide” written to help managers implement both new tools. Before being implemented in all subsidiaries, all documents were to be given the green light by the Group Y Executive Committee.


Source : Mathilde Aureau et al. 2012

The “Managerial Competencies Model” would set up a reference for all managerial competencies and allow extracting same manager profiles for the whole group. The project was aimed at writing a chart with all competencies and to draw various typical managerial profiles. To date, subsidiaries had not clearly identified the competencies and proficiency levels for each management position. In order to do this, Group Y collaborated with a HR consulting firm, which brought its expertise in order to identify four key managerial competences: Financial efficiency, Organizational ability, Bring the best out of people, Strategic thinking. Each competence was divided in three or four dimensions. For each dimension, four proficiency levels were identified: Acquiring, Developing, Influencing, Leading. The document would define precisely which behaviours were expected for each dimension and each level of proficiency, in order to evaluate each manager and employee.

The “Annual Performance Review” was aimed at harmonizing the evaluation practices of performance in the whole group, which were very different from one subsidiary to another, if there was an evaluation. Before the implementation of the evaluation tool, the Annual Review Form (ARF) consisted only in a few boxes with unclear titles. Furthermore, managers did not have to conduct performance review with their subordinates on a regular basis. Consequently, this project would impose at least one annual performance review between a manger and each of his/her collaborators, a mid-year review and another review at the end of the year.

This Annual Review was supposed to be based on an ARF with two main objectives:

  1. The ARF should allow to fix financial and sales objectives of each manager and the means to reach these objectives,
  2. It should also allow discussing the collaborator’s personal expectations: carrier development, formation needs, etc.

During the process of creating both tools, the people involved encountered various difficulties, that enlightened the need of intercultural and translation competencies.

Conference calls were organized so that subsidiaries’ managers could take part in the creation of both ARF and MCM. These conferences gathered around ten managers from various subsidiaries: Argentina, Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States for the ARF, plus Brazil, China and Portugal for the MCM. The conference calls allowed the HR direction to listen to propositions made by local RH managers and to share experiences and thoughts between managers coming from different cultures and backgrounds.

These meetings were aimed at synthetize the different performance evaluation processes in the more significant subsidiaries of Group Y, and to create a performance review form and a competences reference document in English, which should be as coherent and complete as possible. These conferences calls were launched because the HR direction really wanted to take into account the cultural differences in the subsidiaries and to “build a shared meaning” for HR policies inside the group: these meetings were therefore a pedagogical exercise as they paid attention to the participation and the point of view of each participant.

Translation as a vector for creating and implementing a shared meaning

Going back to the Group Y HR strategy, the communication process linked to the creation of both key HR documents was a crucial condition of success: it was of vital importance that the subsidiaries adhere to the project so that the HR tools would be really embraced and implemented, to avoid a counter-productive top-down communication from the holding, and to persuade the subsidiaries which already used their own HR tools to opt for the methodology defined for the whole group. The HR direction therefore made a strategic choice to associate translators to the whole HR document creation process: the objective was to translate both key HR documents and how-to guides (called “quick guides”) into various languages in order to facilitate their understanding and implementation by the subsidiaries managers on the ground.

ISIT students mission concentrated on two key missions:

    • Theyr translated these documents from English into French, then German, Spanish, and found resources to translate them into other languages (Italian, Portuguese).
    • In order to facilitate the implementation of the projects, they created a communication tool linked to both HR documents: understandable and operational tools, so that subsidiaries managers could rapidly and efficiently implement the new HR processes. These tools were supposed to give further information about the HR approach and methodology, and implementation schedules[4].

Mediation and intercultural consulting missions led by the “managers translators”
The “managers translators” from ISIT first played a consulting role. They made recommendations on the importance of translating the HR documents into the various languages of the subsidiaries. The choice to translate into a specific language was based:

    • on the strategic importance of size and economic weight of each subsidiary,
    • on the English proficiency of the employees.

The HR documents were written in English, then translated into French, the source language of the translators. The ARF and MCM were then translated into Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. Portuguese was rapidly taken into account in the translation process:

    • Both subsidiaries in Portugal and Brazil had a relatively important size,
    • Their employees generally did not speak and understand very well English.[5]

A contrario
, German-speaking subsidiaries in Austria and Germany were supposed at first not to be a translation target. Their employees had a sufficient English proficiency and both subsidiaries were relatively small (notably the Austrian), not to adopt a German translation of the ARF and the MCM (and their quick guides). However, as soon as German and Austrian employees had heard of translations into other languages, their managers insisted to have the HR documents translated into German: the HR direction accepted to make a German version (which was also a mean to make the changes accepted in the German subsidiary).

Managers translators took another important role in the HR creation process. They questioned and take into accounts nuances in order to create quick guides that would be written in a clear, concise and exhaustive manner for managers and employees everywhere in the world. This attention to clarity was correlated to a similar attention to pedagogy for each language and each culture:

    • The first version of the ARF document tended to insist on the employee: the effort to reach his/her objectives, how he/she would fulfil his/her missions… and yet, the document was supposed to involve the managers as well. The HR direction expected that the ARF document would systemise annual performance reviews, which were a key step in the development of Group Y collaborators. The ARF and the performance review were supposed to be a “pretext” for a real exchange of views between a collaborator and its N+1 manager. The translation made by ISIT group therefore underlined this stake, with such terms “échangez” (“exchange”), “commun[e]” (“common”), “même[s]” (“same”) in the French version of the ARF.
    • The word “employee” was initially translated into the French word “employé”, which did not seem to pose any problem. However, in French, this word has not the same value as in English: it means a higher hierarchical distance than in the original version of the document. In the end, it was replaced by the more neutral, egalitarian and inclusive term “collaborateur”. This nuance can also be explained by characteristics of French management culture described by Philippe d’Iribarne (1989): a French manager will accept a regulation only if he can engage freely his responsibility (as a “collaborateur”[6]) and if he is not compelled to in a “servile” manner (as a mere “employé”). On the contrary, the term “employee” fits perfectly to an American management culture based on contracts: the employee status refers to contract-based clearly defined spheres of responsibility, without meaning any servility.

Defining a Translation project as a tool for a knowledge transfer strategy

Translation process could be a tool in order to help defining a knowledge transfer strategy. When a MNC like Group Y intended to deploy new HR documents, the major issue for the HR direction was to ensure that the new procedures were effectively implemented in the way they were intended to by the project team. In other words, that management concepts and practices defined by the project team were understood and enacted in a way that was sufficiently similar in any subsidiary and by any manager that had to use this HR document.

Putting translation at the heart of the process, the HR and ISIT teams had to think about issues that would not have arisen without this translation process, issues that are commonly faced by any translator.

Which reality behind the words?
How can we describe a reality that will be different in another context or for other people? As Ladmiral (1986) points out, “it is true that in a intimately lived and daily translation practices, it is necessary to “refer” to atertium quid of realities that the text to be translated is speaking of” - in our case, a “real” evaluation that takes place between a manager and his subordinate. “However, this tertium quid, between the two languages, is imaginary and is referred to only in thoughts. The “sigmatic” referent does not point out a reality that exists in itself, and, at the same time, would have a totally transparent and ne varietur existence for our subjectivity.” So, the participants in the project team had to define a reality that was different in each participant’s mind, which was then described in English words, in order to be implemented by other people. But this was clearly stated and had to be taken into account by ISIT team when they translated the HR documents. In other words, the ISIT manager translators knew that what they were translating (re-writing) was not “reality”, but a meaning that would refer in the end to different realities. This issue raised by the translators questions made the HR coordinator understand from the outset that she would have to accept that people in the subsidiaries would not implement exactly what was thought: it is a very important step to make Group Y corporate managers leave behind them an “all-mightiness” about what they want to be implemented at a local level[7].

Fidelity to the letter or to the spirit of the text
Another question raised by translation is the fidelity to the original text. Which fidelity should prevail? Fidelity to the letter or fidelity to the spirit of the original text? Should the translator be faithful to the exact wording of the original text (here, the English documents)? The question is (Ladmiral, 1986): to what (and to whom) has a translation to be faithful? To the letter of the source-language or to the spirit of what will have to be written in the target-language?

There are two main figures among translators, that have been identified by Ladmiral (1983): “sourciers” (source-oriented translators) or “ciblistes” (target-oriented translators). “Sourciers” are translators that favour 1) the significant and 2) the language, and particularly, the origin language (Lo). “Ciblistes” are translators that favour 1) the meaning of the message and 2) the “effect” of the message.

Two consequences: adopting a “literalist” fidelity, the “sourcier” translator will stick to the original, but the target text might be abstruse for the reader. If the corporate direction had chosen a “sourcier” logic and decided that all documents had to stick to the same wording as the English version, a “normal” average English-speaking manager may not have understood the meaning of if (not to say a manager that could not read or understand English). If that logic was to be taken to the end, there would be no translation at all, and all managers would have to read the only existing English version “ that was binding”.

Managers who are in a position of transferring knowledge in MNCs have therefore to face the well-known dilemma of translation practitioners: should they be “source-oriented” or “target-oriented” translators (see Ladmiral 1986)? “Source-oriented” translators tend to respect wording of the source text: in our case, ISIT manager translators had to finely analyse the technical nature of terms and concepts in English before translating them into French, and in a second phase, in other languages. For one single English term, various French words were debated inside the translation group. During this translation task, specific HR terms had to be clearly identified and sometimes reformulated.

Many MNC managers still stick to the idea that deploying policies in English is the key to an effective and similar implementation in any part of the world: they do not even envision the fact that in order to ensure that a message is understood, one has to put oneself, at a time or another, in the place of the receiver. Translation will therefore make the management hierarchy understand this necessity to take into account the individual target of any corporate policy. This led Group Y to fully develop the logic of the effective implementation (and therefore of the understanding of the HR documents) to its end, to accept a translation, and then to accept that the HR documents would be translated not only in French, Spanish, Portuguese, but also in German.

The same issue of literality is raised in the implementation phase: should the manager be strictly faithful to the letter of the document (and possibly, had to refer to the original English version)? Or should he try to understand the meaning of the policy? In a “target oriented” perspective which focuses on the meaning of the target text, ISIT translators had to meet a requirement of clarity: they wrote a French document “fluid and pleasant to read”, that made sense to RH professionals as well as to managers and collaborators. In ISIT translators’ own words, “It would have been useless that we showed a nearly chirurgical precision in our translation of essential HR words into French, if in the end, our product was only a succession of juxtaposed technical terms, without any semantic coherence”[8]. A typical “target-oriented” worry.

Choice of a translation strategy or translation as a decision strategy
A key-word in translation is decision (Ladmiral 2004): “Translation praxis is indisputable: every translator has to make choices at every time, in the empirical reality of facts and of translation decisions he is forced to make. Translating implies non only that a translating option has to be chosen at the practical level of translation writing – but beforehand, at the “theoretical” level of the source-text reception, of its “interpretation reading” (…) all these one-time (practical and theoretical) choices should have the coherence of a global strategy, that defines a “Translation project”.” In other words, a translation project has to be identified before one begins to translate.

The “dichotomy theorem” is what describes this decision imperative for a translator. Lamiral (2004) gives a simple example: “When an English person says you, does he or she think tu or vous? Well, he thinks you. But the French translator will necessarily have to chose between tu andyou.” A translation project tends to answer the following question: in my translation, what am I accepting to lose? And corollary, which parts of the original text will I decide to favour in my translation?

The same could be applied to a knowledge transfer project: what am I accepting to lose in the knowledge transfer process? Or what the key knowledge elements that I decide I do not want to lose in the knowledge transfer process, particularly in a multilingual process?

Another application of the dichotomy theorem will be the following: confronted to a cultural implicit in the source-text, the translator will have to make a decision: will he chose to “make explicit” this unsaid in the target-text or will he have to leave this unsaid in the cultural implicit “perilanguage” of the source-text? In our case, will the manager translator have to explicit or to remain implicit about HR concepts? Do these concepts have to be explained or not?

The issue of reception
Literature is the result of thee instances: the writer, the work, and the reader (the public). If one focuses on the public, “a text will take all its meaning only under the light of its reception (Rezeption), that is to say its comprehension and appreciation by a public, whose “expectation horizon” will change over time and history” (Ladmiral, 2006). In a more practical way, Wolfgang Iser describes an “implicit reader”, an ideal reader. If we link this “implicit reader” with translation, we are at the heart of the translating process.

Group Y project team and ISIT translation team had constantly to think of this “implicit reader”: a manager that would be at the end the end-user of the HR documents and who would be in the position to implement the practices that were designed in these documents. The translation process raised questions that all participants had to think about, in the light of this ultimate “implicit” reader: what would he understand? Would he understand in the more exactly possible way what we are thinking about? How could we manage to make a Brazilian manager and a German Manager at the same time understand the same practice, even if he/she is in a completely different environment, context, and culture?

Managers translators at the heart of “meaning construction”

From translators to manager translator
In two dimensions, oral (conference calls) and written (translation of HR documents in many languages), this case study shows the interest to place translation at the heart of managerial practices where the issue of a shared meaning between collaborators from various cultures and languages is at stake.

The conference call, largely used currently firms, shows that beyond the use of English, many different mediations interact that can either slow down or facilitate communication, if they allow to take into account cultural diversity and if they are really considered as part of a global intercultural mediation (that is to say, a “translation”). (Written) translation of HR documents consists not only in writing such documents into another language: it should take part from the beginning in the process of defining common values, process and management methods. Furthermore, it underlines that a global managerial policy can integrate cultural and linguistic diversity, and even consider that its efficient implementation relies on a shared meaning, co-defined at an early stage of the process.

If this case study could dealt in depth, it would be interesting to evaluate the implementation of HR documents in the various subsidiaries of Group Y: to what extent the translation of these documents had a real impact on the implementation and on the effectiveness of knowledge transfer? Can differences be estimated between subsidiaries that use documents in their mother tongue and those who only use documents in English (taking into account the English proficiency of the employees)?

Linking translation more closely knowledge transfer, intercultural communication and translation in MNCs
To what extent is it possible to link translation and knowledge transfer in MNCs? Translation process can be helpful to decode what is at stake in context where intercultural communication and management are needed. Despite themselves – or unbeknown to them, in the heat of the action, managers who have to transfer knowledge to their collaborators have to implement and ideally master competencies drawn from the intellectual and technical process of translation: understanding a double movement, known as the paradox of translation, as Schleiermacher – and Ricoeur later (2004) – expressed it. One first movement (“bringing the author to the reader”) is a necessary condition of efficiency when implementing management strategies and methods: a manager should look for a “comparable meaning” in the target culture in which he/she wants to implement a new management process.

But acculturating management strategies and methods follows also a second movement, “bringing the reader to the author”: helping the local representations and realities integrate an initially foreign concept, which could and should also bring positive evolutions (normalization, efficiency gains, improvement of results and working conditions). The example of Lafarge shows that one can give sense to Western values, if they are implemented in a “comparable” spirit, adapted to Chinese culture, while improving the Chinese management in a Western spirit (Iribarne 2009).

From this point of view, a competency that enables to “build a comparable and shared meaning” looks essential to multicultural firms. A “manager translator” could be this rare asset able to combine the competencies of the translator and of the manager, and to play this role of “culture mediator” so intimately linked to translation: a translator is indeed able to “understand, handle, master and distribute information, meaning, meaning effect, act inscribed in language, not only in his/her own culture, but also from one culture to another” (Gormezano, 2008).

Managers who master the competencies drawn from (written) translation and (oral) interpretation will be perfectly at ease to pass from one language-culture to another, to work in multicultural environments, and furthermore to take on this construction of meaning from on culture to another (Clouet 2012). Intercultural management aims to this “linguistic hospitality” (“hospitalité langagière”) dear to the translator (Ricoeur 2004). XXIst Century managers shall be “meaning builders”, able to give sense to international and intercultural action in a globalized economy. As it is neither possible nor desirable to have an interpret in all circumstances, because of the cost, and because the systematic use of a simultaneous interpretation would act to the expense of the communication goal (Ladmiral and Lipiansky 1989).


From the experience of the ISIT mission for group Y, the objective of a successful deployment of RH tools had led Group Y HR direction to make translation a key vector for the implementation of a shared meaning, elaborated by the working group. Going back to the Henri Meschonnic definition of translation process, the significance of translation is not only to translate what the text says, but what the text does: translation enables that the action implemented in all Group Y subsidiaries by all managers will hopefully be the same as it was thought by the working group and the HR Direction.

This experiment and the experiences of manager translators clearly show that translation can no longer be seen as the fifth wheel in the cart, at the end of the processes, and therefore often depreciated. On the contrary, if translation is considered as an essential dimension when building a common sense, and when future users have to understand this common sense, translation should be placed at the heart of knowledge transfer policies. Translation is not only the transmission of an unalterable meaning into a same version for a reader in another language, but clearly a construction of a comparable meaning. It can lead to the implementation of comparable actions in different “universes of sense” (Iribarne).


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1 - Lamiral and Lipiansky, 1989. [retour]

2 - “Le traducteur n'a pas à traduire ce qui est écrit, mais ce qu'il pense qu'a pu penser celui qui a écrit ce qu'il a écrit quand il l'a écrit”. [retour]

3 - This case study is based on the mission led and on the Master thesis written by four ISIT students : Mathilde Aureau, Hortense Demonchy, Danièle Rauscher, Clémence Sardin, Comment gérer le transfert de pratiques RH à l’international? Exemples avec la création d’un socle de compétences managériales et l’harmonisation de l’évaluation de la performance, Research Applied Project, under the supervision of Frédérique de Graeve, ISIT, Master Management Interculturel, 2011-2012, 36 pages. [retour]

4 - Mathilde Aureauet al., op. cit.,p. 8. [retour]

5 - Ibid, p. 13. [retour]

6 - However, even this word « collaborateur » could pose a problem to French people, may be 50 year old and more, who would relate it to the Second World War and the « Collaboration » of French Vichy authorities with the Nazi occupier in France.  [retour]

7 - That does not mean that MNC should not tend to make policies converge and be harmonized between their various entities. [retour]

8 - Ibid. [retour]

Cet article a fait l'objet d'une communication au colloque "Transfert de connaissances et compétitivité : comment gérer les relations d'affaires interculturelles pour être compétitif?"
1er-2 juillet 2014, HEC-Haute école de gestion Arc, Neuchâtel, Suisse.

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