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Want to Get Prime Performance and Results Now? Learn How to Motivate Your Multicultural Workforce
by Jinsoo Terry


'Multicultural' and 'diversity' have become common buzzwords. Many executives feel they ought to be doing more about these issues in their companies but don't know exactly what to do or even if anything is needed.

It's not just about having lots of rice dishes in the cafeteria or making sure that Ramadan and the Chinese New Year get the attention they deserve. Nor is it merely a matter of training in multicultural awareness and tolerance, political correctness or even legal obligations. These are all fine and most CEOs we know require them. But they miss the real point.

The issue is not that companies, for the first time, have workforces composed of people of different cultural backgrounds, many of whom are struggling with English as their second or third language and are having a tough time adjusting to your company culture and the society at large. These things have been going on for centuries. They are not new.

What's happened really is that the business world has awakened to the fact that there is great value in a multicultural workforce. It's a goldmine. And there are actions to be taken, from the very top of the company through all levels of management to the shop floor, that will help turn that hidden ore into shiny, glittering gold in the form of increased efficiency, revenues, profits, better quality and a more enjoyable and productive work environment. The mix adds variety, creativeness, different skills and work ethics and many other benefits, which are good! - really good.

This is not something for a CEO to 'tolerate' or 'make the best of.' This is a key factor in making a real success of any organization. CEOs need to learn to take full advantage of it.

How does this best appear in the real world? Here are just a few examples: Juan is from El Salvador. He drives a forklift truck in the warehouse and has a hard time talking to his boss or understanding what the gringos really want from him. No one realizes that he has a degree in marketing and valuable experience in his country. Kim has arrived from Vietnam, loaded with skills but very shy about making suggestions, so most of what she knows and what she can do is wasted by the company.

Forget the 'Asian' label: they are Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean (North or South), Laotian, Philippine, Burmese, Nepalese and many, many more, each with their own distinct cultural training and ethnic characteristics. There are different colors, appearances, languages, customs, eating habits, religious beliefs and ways of living.

Forget 'Hispanic' as a label. You have Maria from Mexico, Pedro from Peru, Angelica from Chile, others from El Salvador or Argentina or Puerto Rico, Cuba, Paraguay, etc. And then the Brazilians, where do they fit in?

Aren't they all supposed to melt into this great melting pot? Only they don't.

Some of these people speak English better than your average American employee; others are really struggling with the language. Regardless of language, each is an individual with knowledge and skills, ambitions and goals. Each can probably be contributing far more to your company.

Where do you start? What's your responsibility?

I am talking from experience now, not theory. I have landed in such an environment where it was all being done completely wrong. I saw what was needed and, over a period of just a couple of years, turned a multicultural workforce, one that was doing just the minimum to get by, into a team of bright, contributing employees, full of pride, initiative and fun. The result was a tripling of revenues, greatly increased efficiency, and considerable improvement in quality. Return items dropped from an average of 10 to 12% down to 2% and we created a much more pleasant and fun environment for the whole company.

I found that the CEO was key to this transformation and that the changes and improvements had to start at the top and work down. The CEO and the directors determined the company climate.

So what are the steps needed to mine and purify the gold that is already in your company?

Check your own attitude.

How do you regard this cultural diversity? A challenge? An issue to be dealt with? A necessary evil? A legal requirement? Or a huge opportunity to take your company to a new level? If not the latter then you need to change your mind and see this diversity as a goldmine, not a headache. The potential assets are huge. You already have them. It is even more of a plus if your company sells to or deals with people of other cultures or trades internationally; the presence of members of those cultures in your workforce is a real help.

Establish the current 'State of the Union' in your company with regard to multicultural factors.

The key points to look for are communication, trust, responsibility and initiative, and teamwork. When my company is called in to a client company to help with these factors, we usually conduct a survey and rapidly find out where things stand. These key points are the main points we look at. If they are high, we rate it a healthy multicultural environment and the company should be reaping the benefits.

Foster and promote open communication in all directions.

Make the effort to break down and get your managers to break down any communication barriers that exist. I wasn't CEO of my company. I was a VP in charge of manufacturing. When I wanted to break down the communication and cultural barriers, the first thing I did was to have my desk moved out of my office and onto the factory floor. I took my lunch breaks with my work force and shared their food and conversation. I insisted that they tell me about themselves, their lives, their families, their goals and their background. I found out some remarkable things. Most importantly, they started to talk to me.

Acknowledge that different cultures view leadership differently and have different expectations of a leader.

Criteria for effective leadership in America are different from those in Europe, Asia, Latin America and other parts of the world. It is important to find out what these different ideas are and be sensitive to them when you manage your team.

Be trustworthy and gain their trust.

This is vital. If you always do what you say you are going to do, they will start to trust you. There is a conscious effort involved here. Next, go out of your way to show them that they are trusted. When they trust you and they feel trusted, they will start to contribute actively to the success of the company, which they now feel a part of. Without that sense of belonging, they will do the minimum needed to avoid being fired. It's a big difference.

Realize that the average English-as-a-second-language employee, although capable, may be reluctant to make decisions.

A different culture, a lack of confidence, struggling with the language -- all of these may create a hesitancy in the minds of the employees to make decisions that need to be made. These employees need to be actively encouraged. Only then will initiative and more contribution follow.

The above are the key points. These points need to filter down through the organization so that they become the operating climate, not rules or instructions or burdensome restrictions.


Over the years I developed an approach for managing a multicultural workforce, which I have called 'F.U.N. Management'. This is not about being funny and clowning around. F.U.N. stands for Fun, Unique, Nurturing.

The 'Fun' part includes humor but it is a way of looking at things in a positive and unserious manner, which works far better than heavy blame, loud demands and tightlipped disapproval.

'Unique' refers to you being yourself and encouraging others to be themselves to bring out the unique strengths in each individual, the most valuable thing about every individual.

'Nurturing' happens in three stages: nurture yourself; nurture those around you; give something back to the society. These three points go a long way to breaking down the barriers that can exist by reason of culture and language.

While there is a lot more to each of these points, this is a brief summary of a philosophy which I have seen successfully transcend all cultural and language divisions, resulting in a real team.

Many years of consulting with and training a variety of companies has enabled my company to distill these key points and provide effective solutions for them. And while this is just a summary, you can take these points and implement them immediately in your company. You will reap the benefits that come from motivating a multicultural workforce.


The Author


Jinsoo Terry is the Founder and CEO of Advanced Global Connections, LLC, a company she formed in 2004 to meet the demand for training, consultancy and other services related to multicultural business activities in the US and abroad. She is a columnist and speaker in the US, Asia and increasingly in Europe, and has gained an international reputation as an expert on multicultural and motivational issues. In Korea she has become a well known business and motivational speaker and has signed her first book contract with one of the country's top publishers. Visit for more!

Many more articles in Diversity in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2007 by Jinsoo Terry. All rights reserved.

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