Don't Underestimate the Value of Recognition

Earl Nightingale, the American motivational speaker, radio legend and author, said the #1 thing customers want is recognition. 

Recognition = Número Uno

And this holds true for your employees, co-workers, and sub-contractors working with you on the job. After all, the saying goes, "Treat your employees like you want to treat your best customers."

People of all ages and races want to be recognized, acknowledged, and respected. But do you treat all the employees on your job the same? Do you respect the work they do? Do you constantly ask them for new ideas on how to improve the work they do? Do you ask them how we can work smarter, not harder?

What about the Hispanic workers on your job? Hispanic construction workers represent a huge opportunity for improving your business in 2012. 

How? Through increased productivity. 

Few companies have developed anything beyond a professional game of telephone (Hey Tommie - go talk to Chava and have him talk to his drywall guys about ways to improve. And then they tell him, he tells you, and you tell me. Sound good?

According to Jay Heizer and Barry Render – both are operations gurus - the U.S. economic system increases productivity at an annual rate of about 2.5 percent per year. Over 60 percent of the productivity gain is due to improvements between labor and management (the remainder is due to more efficient use of capital); that is, working smarter, not harder.

Do you consistently recognize the value of your Hispanic workers? If the language barrier were removed, what ideas and solutions could they offer to help everyone be more productive?  

Are All Employees Created Equal?

As a language consultant for the construction industry, I'm often asked if I can help increase productivity within a company. Here is a typical conversation:

Client: Can you help us increase Productivity?
Me: I'm not sure yet - can I ask a few questions?
Client: Sure.

Me: What new training do you have planned for 2012?
Client: None.

Me: Ok. What percentage of your employees are English-speakers?
Client: 70 percent.

Me: Ok - when you see them everyday, do you say hello?
Client: Of course.

Me: Do you ask them how it's going? If there are any problems?
Client: Absolutely - all the time.

Me: Great - do you ask them if they have any new ideas?
Client: Oh yes, they often have the best ideas - they are actually doing the work.
Me: Exactly - Do you thank them for their hard work? Let them know you appreciate all they do for the company?
Client: Sure - we couldn
't do it without them!
Me: Great - what ethnicity is the remaining 30 percent of your employees?
Client: Uh, almost entirely Hispanic.

Me: Ok - what language do they prefer?
Client: Spanish. Some know a little English, but they prefer Spanish.

Me: Ok - when you see them everyday, do you say hello?
Client: Yeah, maybe. But we don
't speak any Spanish….
Me: Do you ask them how it's going? If there are any problems?
Client: No, not really. We don
't speak any Spanish.
Me: Do you thank them for their hard work? Let them know you appreciate all they do for the company?
Client: No, not really. We don
't speak any Spanish. But they know….
Me: Do you ask them if they have any new ideas?
Client: No, not really. We don
't speak any Spanish.
Me: So, how do you gather new ideas from your Hispanic workers?
Client: Well, we rely on the foreman. He speaks both English and Spanish. He relays everything we need.

Me: Ok - so he's the main link in the chain, everything runs through him? Little to no communication is direct, one-to-one between the guy actually doing the work and someone managing and leading the job, right?
Client: Right.

Me: If there wasn't the language barrier, would you ever run a business this way, with a foreman acting as a human translating switchboard - in your accounting department, for example?
Client: (laughs) Well, no.

Me: Ok. My recommendation? Learn some basic Spanish, highly relevant to getting things done right the first time and you'll be more productive. And this recognition of the language barrier will be appreciated by your Hispanic workers. Guaranteed, because it doesn't happen very often.

There is a reason the childhood game of telephone was so funny. Humans are very poor at correctly relaying verbal information consistently. Especially on a busy jobsite. 

But how big of a problem is this really? We're doing fine now.

The Hispanic population growth over the past ten years in the US has been nothing short of HUGE. Hispanic growth outpaced the White (US Census designation, not mine) growth by a factor of 10. 

Yes. Read that again.

The Hispanic growth in the US in the last decade was around 40 percent. The White population? Around 4 percent. Don't let this stat freak you out because taking advantage of it may be your best bet for making 2012 better than 2011. 

If the country as a whole averages a 2.5 percent productivity gain, surely the bright people at your company can improve upon that, right?

"But why should I learn Spanish? We're in America - Hispanics should learn English."

Good question. I understand your point of view. You want all the Hispanics in the US to learn English? Fine - I want a Shetland pony for Christmas. Neither is going to happen. Let's find the easiest solution to get what we want. Your company is depending on it.  

The fundamental tenet from Earl Nightingale's The Strangest Secret, is "You become what you think about."

Are you constantly thinking, "How on earth are we going to make 2012 better than 2011?" If so, tweak that question just a bit: "How on earth can we work smarter in 2012 than 2011?"

The answer may be right in front of you. Take advantage of the construction IQ on your jobsite today. Remove the language barrier. Harness the latent collection of business improvement ideas.  

Remember the #1 thing everyone wants is recognition. It's Número Uno

Don't let personal biases get in front of working intelligently.

Bradley Hartmann is el presidente and founder of Red Angle - a Spanish language training firm focused exclusively on the construction industry. He can be reached at bradley@redanglespanish.com and www.redanglespanish.com. 

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