Multi-Cultural Leadership – An Investment in the Future
Our three-part series on multi-cultural leadership began with understanding the importance of multi-cultural environments, followed by the opinions of three of the five Latino leaders that experienced the recent training and development. In this, our final post, we discuss the importance of and reaction to the Success with Hispanics training as experienced by the KPOST Company executive team.
Keith Post – Owner and CEO
“When we decided to embark upon this journey, the primary reason was to assess where we were and how to move forward to gain a better understanding of our cultures while solidifying processes and improving our communication,” said Keith. “A major benefit was we all were able to learn a significant number of differences between the Anglo and Latino cultures which will help us improve and grow.”
The majority of the KPOST Company workforce is Latino. Add that to a growing Latino population in the region and investing in this type of training makes sense. When Ricardo Gonzalez of Bilingual America met Keith and Steve Little, KPOST Company president, it seemed like a natural fit.
“We felt like Ricardo’s program would provide us with the insights and tools we needed to embark upon this journey of multi-cultural leadership growth,” said Keith. “He has an unusual program and industry experience, making him a good fit.”
Keith expected great results and was not disappointed. Immediately the teams learned that communication is very critical, and choosing to speak using slang terms would only hold them back.
“We know that effective communication will command greater respect, so we are going to invest more time and focus on helping our Latino leaders improve dialect issues, while the executive team will embark on learning to speak better Spanish,” said Keith. “Our goal is to continue expanding our training beyond the initial set and also to invest in additional training for other Latinos who we believe will make great leaders. We know that this investment will pay off over time, so it’s worth it to continue down this path as part of a long-term strategy.”
Keith knows that the Latino culture is family oriented, sincere and make great co-workers. But he also learned several other things that are important to the culture that were important to understand.
“For many Latinos, trust is earned, particularly from an Anglo. There is a long history of mistrust that must be overcome, but is well worth it,” said Keith. “In the workplace, it is the man that is always the leader, but at home, it is the woman that is the leadership figure. That is also important to understand – the role of the women in the Latino culture.”
“We are just scratching the surface and recognize there is still much to learn,” said Keith. “But what we have already done has paid off. We are seeing bigger excitement from our teams. They already feel greater respect and are excited to learn even more about effective leadership.”
Keith had a couple of lessons learned he felt were critical.
“We recognize that the Latinos are very hard workers. They come giving their all and never hold back. Consequently, they do not like to be pushed as they are already bringing their “A” game.”
Keith went on to explain:
“We have spent a lot of time and effort developing construction manuals for projects, only to learn that they are not as effective as we would like. There are better ways to communicate across language barriers, including the use of pictures. Images have a larger impact over words, even if we translate into Spanish. Our future project manuals will have a lot more pictures and we will invest more time in ensuring that our teams truly understand what we are trying to get across.”
Keith concluded with:
“Our executives met individual with the five managers that went through the training and it was a great experience for me. I was able to get to know them better and learn more about them and their culture. It was a great eye opener for me and I feel it really helped to solidify the team.’
“It is very apparent that we all need to work on communication so we can continue to improve our working environment and develop strong leaders. It is important to me that our team understands I really respect them. Learning more about their culture will help me reach that goal.”
Brent McFarlin – KPOST Company Vice President of Operations
“We recognize that our team members are talented and through the training and coaching, they now have the tools to really step into a leadership role,” said Brent. “They have a thirst for information and as a result of their course work, I have seen a major impact on the five who went through the courses as well as the teams they lead.”
Brent is pleased with the new direction the team is taking, and expressed some of the thought processes that have changed as a result.
“In the past, we have had team members who never took time off because they were concerned about teaching someone their position. There was a fear that the position would not be there when they returned. The new way of thinking reflects one of teamwork and helping one another reach new heights. There is no more fear that helping another team member rise to his or her potential will cause you to be overlooked. Now everyone realizes that behavior is better for them, the team and the company and will ultimately be rewarded.”
One of the lessons learned for Brent was how different the cultures perceive holidays. For example, while Thanksgiving is something they celebrate as part of acclimating to the Anglo culture, Mother’s Day is a much more important holiday for the Latino culture.
“We need to learn to ask what is important to others,” Brent concluded. “Our people are very talented and gifted. They are important to us and we need to invest in them, even if it’s as simple as asking questions about what is important, rather than making assumptions.”
Kelly Lea – Vice President of Estimating
Kelly Lea has spent decades working side-by-side with Latinos and had a different perspective going into the Success with Hispanics training.
“While the training did not change many of my perceptions, I did learn they prefer to work and succeed as a group. Having the option to be a leader and still be a part of that group was not something many Latinos understand immediately. For the five chosen to go through the leadership training, we had to remind them they could step into a leadership role which ultimately helps the entire team.”
Kelly recognizes that Latinos do not wish to step on each other’s toes; consequently, even someone who is the boss will be uncomfortable in the role because they do not wish to come from a place of disrespect. In fact, Kelly knows that respect is key for the Latino community.
“We have amazing team members who have struggled recognizing it is acceptable to be individual leaders, and that being a leader does not mean acting as though you are better than the next person,” said Kelly. “It is our responsibility to ensure that everyone understands how important they are, regardless of the role they currently play. We cannot continue to grow and become better as individuals, teams and an organization without everyone doing their part.”
Kelly has learned a lot about respect and the viewpoints as expressed by others in the construction community. Unfortunately, not all are positive.
“There are companies that segregated their workforce, and were not treating employees with respect. When some of the first generation workers came to this country, there was a lot of work but also many workers. Now that has shifted. There is still a lot of work, but the workers are coming from a second generation in this country. They are more educated and while dedicated, are less likely to accept the old mentality of work until you drop,” Kelly explained. “We believe in finding better ways to compensate and reward our teams, and investing in understanding the Latino culture will help us continue along that path.”
Jayne Williams – CFO and Chief Safety Officer
“One of the unfortunate realities of our industry is there are many contractors who view the labor force as a commodity, and they do not care how they treat that commodity,” said Jayne. “From day one we believed everyone is important. Our people are an asset.”
As chief safety officer, Jayne has spent time not only with the KPOST Company workforce, but with their families as well. Her message is simple, but an important one.
“We are committed to bringing our teams home safely every night. It’s a simple statement with a strong commitment. Ensuring we have the right people in place, the right equipment and the best training ensures our teams are taken care of on every job site,” said Jayne. “It takes ensuring good leadership on every job as well, which is one of the many reasons investing time and energy in multi-cultural leadership will provide positive dividends. We can keep bringing our boys home safe every night.”
One of the sentiments that the Latinos interviewed for our last post kept expressing was the importance of remaining humble. Being a leader is about helping raise others up to reach their goals and aspirations and to be able to do this correctly, one needs to come from a place of service and humility.
“That is how we believe as well. For example, we do not have titles on our business cards because we are not stuck on who is the president or vice president,” Jayne explained. “Our team knows this. It is more important that we lead by example than be concerned about titles and hierarchy.”
One of the lessons learned for Jayne was the level of pride Latinos carry for the native culture.
“I told Ricardo that I was upset that others would speak Spanish in front of me. I expected them to speak English at work. Now I realize they are simply communicating in a way that is comfortable for them. I also understand how proud they are of their heritage. Sometimes we forget that heritage may not be American,” said Jayne.
“It’s interesting how often it is the little things that will make a change, like my understanding the comfort zone of speaking their own language,” Jayne continued. “Just like we treat our people differently than many of our industry brethren. The first time we had a pizza lunch, we had to convince some of the team to participate. They were simply not used to eating with the executive team. Now we have lunches regularly and always invite everyone to participate, even on a job site. It’s an inclusive environment that propels us to be better at everything we do.”
Steve Little – President
“According to the Dallas Hispanic Chamber and the Dallas Chamber, the DFW metroplex population will be over 50% Latino by 2016. If for no other reason, the numbers are compelling enough to make any executive team pause and wonder how to better understand multi-cultural leadership,” said Steve. “For KPOST it was a natural next step.”
Steve went on to explain:
“KPOST is a business first, and a sub-contractor second. We are always thinking ahead to what will ensure we are sustainable for decades to come. When we thought about the next steps required to invest in our company, it made sense to find a good way to invest in our workforce, which presently is 90% Latino. Success with Hispanics gave us a methodology to begin that journey.”
Steve, and the rest of the KPOST executive team, understands that true growth will come from a deeper understanding of their team, which in this case means understanding different cultures. Without this investment, it will be difficult to find future leaders.
“Our labor pool is dwindling and we frankly do not have enough people to pull from. Looking at our future from a long-term philosophy, we recognize the need to better understand our Latinos and help develop them into leaders,” said Steve. “We cannot rely on society to develop our leaders. This development must come from the business community.”
Steve concluded by saying “The investment in the Latino leadership program makes sense for many reasons, not the least of which is this is a dedicated culture. They want to maximize their efforts for your company so they can get the best return for their family. Understanding the culture helps us to not only develop future leaders, but create a transformation for their families as well. It’s a long-term investment that we believe is well worth our time, energy and focus.”