You probably are discovering that today’s contractor’s workforce is a cultural salad bowl. Everyone is in the same bowl, but striving to keep their own identity or culture.

You’re probably also discovering that the old ways of managing are just not working. Ask yourself:

  • Have ideas that your managers discussed at staff meetings and thought were crystal clear been misunderstood by the workforce?
  • Do tempers seem to flare among different cultural groups at the slightest provocation?
  • Is production or service suffering due to ineffective communication?
  • Do you suspect that some of the problems are tied to cultural differences?
  • 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. Start collecting data about your workforce. There are at least 25 major cultural groups in today’s work environment, and there may be several subgroups in each major group.

    I was recently speaking in Toronto, ON, Canada, and discovered there are more than 80 ethnic groups speaking more than 100 languages in that city. Finding eight to 10 subgroups in a small company is not unusual.

    Don’t generalize. For example, if you are located in the Southwest, don’t assume all of your Latino workers are Mexican. Let’s say you have eight to 10 different backgrounds in your company. Each of these cultures gathers and interprets information differently, and that’s where problems begin.

    Step 2: Discover the norms. Get detailed information on these cultures. There are some good reference materials at the library. Another option is to hire an ethnoculturalist, or diversity or cultural change consultant.

    Create learning opportunities at every turn. Ask what the favorite or lucky colors are in their countries, what superstitions people believe in, or what family norms and values are. You can also learn plenty by just walking around. Look, listen, ask, and learn.

    Step 3: Discover the differences. Different cultures gather and process information differently. For example, Hispanic employees from different countries have different words for the same thing. Sometimes the logic of other cultures evades us. This causes cooperation and communication barriers to be overcome.

    Step 4: Develop a plan. 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 different cultural issues is UCLA’s Andersen Graduate School of Business. There may be other good schools in your area. Ask for their brochures.

    If 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. Better yet, create a mentoring and learning track.

    Conejo is a marketing expert, an ethnoculturalist for organizations desiring to tap into multicultural markets, and the author of Motivating Hispanic Employees: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Managing Latino Employees. For more information, call 805-494-0378 or visit (website).

    Publication date: 09/24/2001