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Use Company Culture to Build Engagement with a Dual-Language Workforce

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

It’s increasingly common to hear more than one language spoken in work environments around the globe. Spanish is the most used language after English in U.S. companies, and the Department of Labor projects that Hispanic employees will account for one out of five workers in this country by 2030.

The sectors with the highest concentration of Spanish-speaking workers are agriculture, landscaping, construction, hospitality, and transportation, but this population is growing in every industry. And the Labor Department anticipates that Hispanics will account for 78 percent of new workers this decade.

While many of these workers speak some English, the Department of Human and Services reports that 71 percent aren’t as comfortable with it as Spanish and don’t use it at home. 

Consequently, companies benefit from this rich diversity in their workforce, but having a two-language staff also poses specific challenges. Perhaps the greatest hurdle for leaders is getting everyone on the same page about workplace culture. This is a critical point because nothing influences the employee experience and overall success of the enterprise more than this vital business component.

Why Workplace Culture Matters

A company’s culture is evident in the everyday behavior of its staff. It impacts how people perform their jobs, interact with coworkers, serve customers, and feel about their employer. A healthy culture brings out the best in employees and helps foster their commitment to the organization. Poor workplace culture has the opposite effect. It can torpedo operations and be the driving factor behind turnover.

Even companies that strive to develop a positive work environment can experience many of these downsides if they fail to get their workplace culture across to people not fluent in English. The resulting disconnect can cause multiple problems, including: 

  • Lower productivity
  • Lack of employee engagement
  • Poor recruiting and retention
  • Not meeting customers’ expectations

To succeed at a high level, companies must prioritize creating a cohesive culture.

Workplace Culture that Everyone Understands

An organization’s culture will evolve organically unless leadership chooses to guide its formation. The CEO must do two things to establish a workplace culture that will maximize the potential of the company and its staff:

  1. Intentionally define the culture they want their company to reflect
  2. Effectively communicate that culture to every employee

Defining Workplace Culture

Many companies lean on core values to inspire their staff about how to work and represent the organization. But this approach is problematic because values are abstract ideas that people can interpret in many ways. Things become even murkier when people from a different heritage using another language try to parse company values.

In Culture by Design, CultureWise CEO David J. Friedman explains why it’s critical for leaders to define their culture with behaviors rather than core values.

“A value, in the context of workplace culture, is a principle that governs our actions. A behavior, in contrast, is an action. It’s something I can literally see someone doing.”

Because behaviors tend to be more universally understood than conceptual values, they’re easier to define. And unlike vague ideas, it’s relatively simple to translate concrete definitions of actions into another language so they can be comprehended, coached, and practiced.

Effectively Communicating Workplace Culture

Companies with Spanish-speaking employees can function reasonably well with bilingual managers. But language differences can still make workers not fluent in English feel siloed within an organization. To avoid language-barrier pitfalls, leaders must devise ways to make workplace culture inclusive. And they need to communicate how the behaviors that drive that culture apply to and benefit everyone.

Just as organizations should train Hispanic employees in Spanish about job specifics, they should also provide materials in their native language to teach them about workplace culture. Doing so will ensure their understanding of the culture’s nuances. And it also demonstrates that the company is vested in them and cares about their development.

The Benefits of a Vibrant, Unified Workplace Culture

When CEOs intentionally develop a healthy, high-performing culture, they create an infrastructure that supports their team. By ensuring that employees not fluent in English are plugged into this culture, leaders can align and validate everyone in the workforce.

A culture based on a clearly defined, translated, and communicated set of behaviors creates a level of inclusivity that pays off in significant ways, including:

  • Putting everyone on an even playing field
    Everyone is operating from the same “guidebook.” The workplace culture equips all team members, including non-English speakers, to function confidently at a high level. They won’t  wonder about or misunderstand expectations.
  • Building trust and respect
    People of various backgrounds find it easier to trust one another when guided by a shared organizational culture. Regardless of the language they speak, they develop mutual respect as the whole team embodies the same company “code.”
  • Encouraging a speak-up environment
    Because the culture fosters an atmosphere of trust and respect, people are more comfortable speaking up. They’re more likely to share ideas and offer constructive feedback, capitalizing on the value of diverse perspectives provided by people from different backgrounds.
  • Leveling up capabilities
    Many behaviors CEOs weave into a high-performing culture help employees build soft skills vital to career growth. The culture helps people to improve in areas like communication, critical thinking, collaboration, time management, responsiveness, and attention to detail. On-the-job reinforcement of these characteristics increases all employees’ confidence and expertise.
  • Increasing accountability
    A culture based on shared behaviors generates a higher level of positive accountability. Everyone understands and knows how to achieve the same goals, so they are more likely to take ownership of their actions and encourage their teammates to do the same. The culture encourages a team-first mentality and pride in performing well.

CultureWise in Spanish

David Friedman created CultureWise to assist business leaders develop and sustain a robust company culture. Key components of this innovative culture operating system™ include:

  • Multiple defined behaviors that apply to various aspects of business
  • A rich catalog of teaching content associated with each behavior
  • A unique mobile app that delivers these learning tools to people wherever they work

While building CultureWise and working with companies across North America, Friedman recognized the need to make the system accessible to Spanish-speaking teams. To achieve this goal, he engaged long-time colleague Arturo Wolf, who translated hundreds of pages of CultureWise curriculum from English to Spanish.

Wolf, a bilingual specialist and corporate veteran, also assists the company by introducing the CultureWise program to clients with Spanish-speaking employees. He believes strongly in the value of offering the program in Spanish and welcomed the opportunity to bring that vision to fruition. He notes:

“The behaviors described in CultureWise help break barriers of languages because they are universal. They apply to every human being. And when people hear and see them explained in their native language, it fosters an environment where everyone is engaged.”

Schedule a call with a CultureWise consultant to learn more about building a motivating, inclusive culture. And subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to learn about the latest thought leadership on organizational culture.