Even in small plants, bilingual management may help a diverse workforce operate efficiently.
In many manufacturing companies, from the shop floor and the IT department to engineering, employees speak a multitude of languages. This gives managers new communication challenges.
It's important to have one standard language (which might not be English) that everyone must use. If you need to, provide continuous training for employees and help them see why a single language is important. They will understand the need to comprehend details in instructions, and the social effect of having a few employees conversing in a language that others don't speak.
As a courtesy, managers should learn a few words in as many languages as possible. Hearing "hello," "good-bye," "please" and "thank you" in a familiar language can be team-building. Gestures and body language aren't precise, but they can help. Being willing to laugh at your own poor accent or pronunciation with employees humanizes you in their eyes. Next time they see you coming, they'll be more likely to show rather than hide problems, or to bring up an idea.
Also, think about the power of images. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially in work instructions or safety posters. You can use photos, drawings, color codes and numbers to get many ideas across. It's fairly simple to use two or more languages in facility signage. Think of the last large airport you passed through.
Finally, consider how to share and respect cultures. You can't schedule a day off for every national holiday, but you can recognize them with lunchroom banners or small special events. For example, think about having an international potluck lunch. There's nothing like breaking bread to break down barriers.
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