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Managing Hispanic Employees

Article-Managing Hispanic Employees

Respect the strong cultural importance of the family, and you'll earn the respect and trust of your Hispanic workers.

La familia. The family. Of the many things that are important in successfully managing a Hispanic workforce, recognizing the strong role that family plays in Hispanic culture could well be one of the most crucial. Respect the strong cultural importance of the family, and you'll earn the respect and trust of your Hispanic workers.

That, says Phil Moreman, manager of Hondo Creek Cattle Co., Edroy, TX, is one of the most important lessons a manager can learn about getting the best from a Hispanic crew.

Moreman is quick to admit the situation at Hondo Creek is different from almost any other feedyard in the country. Not only is his entire staff Hispanic, they're all part of a large and extended family.

“I've got third- and fourth-generation family members working here,” he says. “I've got four brothers-in-law and their sons, and they were all born, raised and live right here.”

While that means he doesn't have much turnover, it also means he has to manage his crew a little differently.

“There's a high level of jealousy, and always a concern of ‘is somebody getting a better deal than me?’ And, of course, with the family issue, there's always the turmoil between brothers.”

Thus, keeping everything even in employees' eyes is very important.

“You can't promote successfully from within because of the family issue,” he says. “So you have to bring somebody in from the outside, say to be a head cowboy or cattle manager. In this case, knowing my situation here, I have opted to add that to what I oversee, so I make all those decisions,” Moreman says.

Similar situation

While a situation where nearly all the employees are related may amplify some management issues, the basic situation isn't a lot different than in other settings, according to Gonzalo Fernandez, a Bayer Animal Health technical service veterinarian. Fernandez, a native of Mexico who received his veterinary training there, says showing genuine concern for a worker's family pays off in many ways.

In American culture, he says, the main relationship between the worker and the company is the job that needs to be done. In the Hispanic culture, which places a lot of emphasis on family relationships, you show your employees that you care for them by showing you care for their families.

“Hispanic employees are really going to feel very happy that somebody isn't only worried about the worker and the job they need to do, but about their family as well,” he adds.

That can be as simple as inquiring about their family, he says, such as how their children are doing in school. Then, take that a bit further and recognize birthdays, wedding anniversaries, new babies and other family events.

“Really, if you want to succeed as a manager and be the leader of the group, you need to be concerned not only about the workers, but the family relationships,” Fernandez says.

That connectedness is important, not just in family relationships but in friendships as well, which is why promoting from within is an issue whether or not the crew is related. If you have a crew of four, for example, and they've worked together for years, promoting one to a supervisory position over the other three creates problems all the way around. The three remaining will start assuming the fourth is going to change, that he'll start thinking he's better than the rest of the group.

But there are ways to manage through that situation, Fernandez says. The first is to interview all four workers.

“If all of them have the same capabilities, give them the same opportunity to compete,” he says. “You have to be very clear about the need you have for the new responsibility.”

Age is also important in many Hispanic and Asian countries, Fernandez says.

“The old guys are the clever guys,” he says. The experiences of life and of family are related to age, and that experience is respected. So promoting the oldest member of the crew will help with his acceptance, because his years, knowledge and experience will be respected.

Then, he says, you have to talk with the whole group. “That's a difference with the American culture, which is normally much more competitive.” American culture rewards “climbing the ladder,” and Americans can be very competitive among themselves.

“Generally speaking, in Mexico and in many places in Latin America, it's more like a long, long race. You have to keep the job, do the job as best you can. But at the same time, they don't push you to jump over the rest of the people,” Fernandez says.

However, he points out that he's talking percentages here, and there are certainly some people in Hispanic cultures who behave similarly to Americans in regard to competitiveness.

Promoting from within the crew also creates problems for the new supervisor, who may feel cut off from his long-time friends.

“And of course for the families, the wives of the three guys who remain in the same position, may start talking between themselves. That is going to change the whole family relationship; it's going to change the whole friendship relationship,” Fernandez says.

That closeness within a crew can also work to your disadvantage if it generates jealousy and conflicts between crews, says Sarah Fogleman, Kansas State University Extension agricultural economist.

“It's very easy to see the pen riders get very close, feed truck drivers to get very close, the people who work in the office to get very close,” she says. When that happens, the crew becomes almost like a clique. “So it's easy for conflicts to become the feed truck drivers vs. the cowboys.”

That's why Fogleman encourages feedyard mangers to cross-train their employees.

“That way, everybody has an appreciation for what everybody else does. Plus, you're in a position that if you ever do get short-staffed, you've got a bigger pool of people who can fill in.”

Gaining Trust

Moreman says an important issue he dealt with as a new manager inserting himself into a strong and long-established family culture at the feedyard was gaining his employees' respect.

“It has taken them believing in what I want to get done and trusting in me to make the decisions that are good for the company,” he says.

Gaining that trust takes time. Moreman has been at the yard for nearly four years and says he's always being scrutinized.

“Any time there's an issue, whether it be employee, financial or structural, whatever it may be, they're always watching to see how I respond to it.”

For example, the yard recently replaced a very old, well-used hydraulic chute. “When it was ready, instead of having them deliver it, I loaded up and drove to Kansas myself, picked it up and brought it back.”

Moreman told them he would get a new chute, and he delivered. Doing what you say you're going to do and never failing that promise, he says, speaks loudly to employees that you can be trusted even to the point of terminating an employee.

“I think that, in itself, probably had a big impact in changing things here,” Moreman says. He had a long-time employee who kept fighting with his brothers-in-law, so Moreman terminated him. “It was amazing how much one individual was putting that much of a thumb on the others, keeping them pushed down and stirred up. Once that bad apple went away, the tree began to flourish.”

Gaining and keeping respect helps with employee recruitment. Word-of-mouth is powerful in any culture, and certainly so in the Hispanic culture.

“If you have a good reputation within the Hispanic community, that's definitely going to do well for you,” Fogleman says.

“Managers tell me that if one of their Hispanic employees is going to leave, and if they've been a good employer to that person, they're usually going to show up with their brother or their cousin, someone from that community, who wants the job. So that really helps reduce some of the stress of turnover. But it starts with being a good employer,” she says.