Managers Must Become Multicultural

January 1, 2011
By

Excerpt from his new book,
“Motivating Hispanic Employees”

You are probably discovering that today’s work force is a cultural salad bowl. Everyone is in the same bowl, but striving to keep his/her own identity or culture. At the same time, you are probably discovering that the old ways of managing are just not working.

Test your organization’s “M Culture” quotient:

  • Are ideas that your managers discussed at staff meetings and thought were crystal clear totally misunderstood by the workforce?
  • Do tempers seem to flare within different cultural groups at the slightest provocation?
  • Is production or service suffering due to ineffective communication or lack of communication?
  • Do you suspect that some of the difficulties are tied to cultural differences, but you do not know what to do?

Solving such issues is not going to be easy. Managing in a multicultural world is a tremendous undertaking! Here are four steps to start you on your way to becoming a truly multicultural company.

Step 1: Identify the Diversity

This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Start collecting data about your work force. You will be amazed at the number of identifiable cultural groups. There are at least 25 major cultural groups in today’s work environment, and there may be several sub-groups in each of these major groups. I was recently speaking in Toronto, Canada, and discovered that there are over 80 ethnic groups speaking over 100 languages in that city. Finding eight to 10 sub-groups in a small company is not unusual! Don’t generalize. It is very dangerous to do so, and can be fatal to any company. For example, if you are located in the Southwest, do not assume all of your Latino workers are Mexican.
Let’s say you only have the eight to 10 different backgrounds in your company. Understand that each of these cultures gathers and interprets information differently, and that is where your problems begin.

Step 2: Discover the Norms

Get detailed information on your cultures. There are not too many places to gather this information, but there are some good reference materials at the library, or you could hire a consultant that specializes in ethno-cultural issues, work force diversity or cultural change. Do not overlook your employees. Create learning opportunities at every turn. Ask about the favorite or lucky colors in their countries, the superstitions people believe in, and the family norms and values.
Remember, you can also learn plenty by practicing MBWA – Management By Walking Around. Look, listen, ask …learn!

Step 3: Discover the Differences

Different cultures gather and process information differently, in a way that is unique to that culture. Hispanic employees from different countries even have different words for the same thing, creating negative conflict. Sometimes logic and reason evade other cultures or us. For example, there is no guilt in some Eastern cultures. There is no heaven or Hell, but there may be karma. Therefore, it is tough for us to understand when we may be coming from a Judeo-Christian point of view. This causes both a cooperation and communications barrier, and it is definitely an uneven playing field!

Step 4: Develop A Plan of Action

Most businesses, and even business schools, are behind the times when it comes to dealing with cultural issues in the workplace. One business school that seems sensitive to the different cultural issues is UCLA’s Andersen Graduate School of Business. Its brochures are target-marketed to different sub-groups, such as women, blacks, Asians and Latinos. Very well done!
If graduate school is not in the cards for you right now, you may wish to hire management or supervisory staff from the predominant cultural group. Allow employees to create affinity employee groups, such as a Hispanic, Asian or African American club. Better yet, create a mentoring and learning “track” that will focus employees on mutual collaboration, and your organization’s common goals and objectives. When they get to know each other better, then you will get cooperation.

Conclusion

As we become more of a global economy in the new millennium, it becomes more crucial for all of us to better understand what diversity means. It means gender, race, culture, norms, values, information gathering and processing, comfort zones, and much, much more. By the way, the two languages to learn for the next millennium are Spanish and Chinese. Latinos are America’s fastest growing minority group, and China’s Gross National Product (GNP) will surpass the U.S. GNP in about 20 years.

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