Personnel e.bulletin – July 2014

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Managing a Multicultural Workforce
Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.

We live in business environments that are growing ever more diverse. As a business owner, you need to know how best to manage a multicultural work force. Your leadership in multicultural management will also be important as you sell to an increasingly diverse customer base and deal with suppliers who represent a variety of world views.

Advantages to a Multicultural Workforce – The Business Case
Multicultural workforces are good for your business. First and foremost, you know all too well the intensifying talent shortage in the plumbing-heating-cooling industry. You must be able to attract diverse talent and you sure better be able to manage and retain the talent once you do.

Other advantages:

  • Idea generation – a wider range of ideas and experiences can give you a leg up on innovation and creativity and on new potential avenues of generating profit.
  • Customer connection – your ability to communicate and connect with a wider range of customers will accelerate growth.
  • Employee engagement – diverse workforces have higher engagement levels and lower turnover rates.
  • Company image – your customers care about your employment practices.

While the business case for diversity is clear and compelling, the challenges are not insignificant.  Cultural differences often lead to difficulties with communications and a rise in the friction that can develop as people with different expectations and habits interact. It is important for you to create an environment in which the positives of diversity are maximized and the negatives are minimized.

Ways for Your Multicultural Workforce to Thrive – The Action Plan

Lead by Example

  • Start by setting the tone – without a commitment from you to an open and receptive work place, any investment you make will be weakened. Diversity must be perceived as a priority.
  • Be accessible – maintain an open door policy for all employees.
  • Actively seek input from minority groups – soliciting the opinions and involvement of minority groups is beneficial not only because of the contributions that they can make, such overtures confirm that they are valued by the company.

Communicate – Listen

  • Broadcast your diversity message – company policies that explicitly forbid prejudice and discriminatory behavior should be included in employee manuals, mission statements, and other written communications.
  • Call people by the name by which they like to be addressed. As a rule, don’t shorten or modify names to fit the dominant culture or to make them easier to remember or pronounce.
  • Treat people as individuals, not members of a cultural group with whom they might identify. Don’t get worked up over what makes one group of employees different from another. Instead, listen, be attentive, and lead using what you learn.


  • Invest in training programs – training programs designed to engender appreciation and knowledge of the characteristics and benefits of multicultural work forces have become common in recent years. Two types of training are most popular: awareness and skill-building. The former introduces the topic of managing diversity and generally includes information on work force demographics, the meaning of diversity, and exercises to get participants thinking about relevant issues and raising their own self-awareness. The skill-building training provides more specific information on cultural norms of different groups and how they may affect communications and behavior.
  • Onboarding programs are ideal for introducing workers to the company’s expectations regarding treatment of fellow workers, whatever their cultural or ethnic background.

Recognize and Reward

  • Revamp reward systems – your performance appraisal and reward systems should reinforce the importance of effective diversity management. This includes assuring that minorities are provided with adequate opportunities for career development.
  • Avoid cultural bias in you promotion and pay practices.
  • Learn the reward and recognition preferences of each team member, regardless of cultural identity. One size does not fit all – one size fits one.
  • Make room for company-sponsored social events – picnics, softball games, volleyball leagues, bowling leagues, etc. can be tremendously useful in getting members of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds together and providing them with opportunities to learn about one another and to feel valued.
  • Be open to socializing during the work day – let them socialize as they like and according to their cultural norms, providing it doesn’t interfere with the work or unit cohesiveness.
  • Offer flexibility – flexible work environments may have particularly beneficial results with people from nontraditional cultural backgrounds because their approaches to problems are more likely to be different from past norms.


  • Appreciate individual differences – be very careful to not make the mistake of assuming that differences are always “cultural.” There are many sources of difference. Some relate to personality, aptitude, or competence.  It is too easy to fall back on the easy “explanation” that individual behavior or performance can be attributed to the fact that someone is “Hispanic” or “Jewish” or “a woman.” Jumping to this sort of conclusion is more likely to reflect bias and intellectual laziness than it does culturally sensitive leadership.
  • Sidestep assumptions – in the absence of reliable information there is a well-documented tendency for individuals to assume that other people are “like them.” This is almost always an inappropriate assumption; for those who manage diverse work forces this tendency towards cultural assumptions can prove particularly damaging.
  • Learn the difference – some cultural differences matter a great deal in the workplace while others do not.
  • Establish neutral codes of conduct – each culture has its own set of customs and acceptable mannerisms. Sometimes barriers are created because a worker from one ethnic group does something to violate the cultural norm of another. Establish neutral codes of conduct that apply to everyone.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Creating a workplace where employees of all backgrounds feel accepted takes time and lots of effort. Be patient and be willing to learn from the mistakes you make along the way.  Keep in mind that at the most fundamental level; most people share a universal set of motivators. Among them are:

  • Being treated as a professional, with respect and consideration.
  • Having a clear sense of purpose and direction.
  • Understanding how their work touches customers and contributes to the success of the enterprise.
  • Expressions of appreciation.

Focus on these elements and you will find it rewarding and relatively easy to lead an increasingly diverse workforce.  Remember that everyday you are getting closer to achieving a workplace where the word “diversity” is no longer spoken. It just happens, and when it does, you will experience better business outcomes.

This content was developed for the PHCC  Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. ( Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of Jun 2014. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training.

The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at

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