Five Strategies for Training Hispanic Supervisors

Food manufacturers can blend traditional authoritarian Latino leadership style with a U.S.-style "best practices" mode of supervision.

By Mariah DeForest, Contributor

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I wrote "How To Train Across Cultures" for Industrial Management about two years ago because manufacturing executives, especially in the food processing industries, need to teach their growing numbers of Latino first-level supervisors how to boost employee productivity and control costs in the face of tight-fisted retail customers pinching their food-buying dollars.

The article explained how food processors of all types could boost productivity and reduce per-unit costs by training Hispanic supervisors to adapt their traditional authoritarian Latino leadership style to a U.S.-style "best practices" mode of supervision. I also discussed the five key elements needed for effective training of Hispanic supervisors.

On the following pages, you'll find the 5 strategies as well as the results of the training from 23 food processors that used this approach:

Strategy 1. Working with rather than against the natural authoritarian leadership style: While authoritarian supervision is typical in Spanish-speaking cultures, it is a major stumbling block for the success in our country. We showed Hispanic supervisors how to adapt their traditional management style to one more acceptable to Latino workers in America.

Typical Hispanic supervision often amounts to ordering people around, no back talk, as well as rewarding favorites and punishing others. The training showed supervisors how to modify this ingrained concept of authority by acting like a "priest" or "respected teacher." Regarded as authorities in traditional Latino cultures, these figures represent responsive "father" figures, guiding subordinates rather than just chastising them. This helped convince the supervisors this approach did not threaten their authority, and they learned one key to better productivity was helping, rather than just ordering, employees to improve productivity and quality. One of the workers commented:

"All of a sudden, my boss noticed how I was working, and even helped me straighten out a problem I was having with the [machine] on our line. I don't know what happened, but since he started talking to me about the job, I enjoy coming to work a lot more. I even take the OT I used to turn down."

LESSON No 1: The first lesson in training authoritarian-oriented supervisors is to show them how to channel authoritarianism into a more constructive direction. Hispanic supervisors can accept their respect is enhanced, not diminished, by acting as constructive "father" figures. They learn that guiding employees is not a threat to their authority, but a way to engage them in improving performance and eliminating waste. The benefit of this approach was measured by departmental performance improvement, which climbed an average of 8 percent. Waste declined, as did employee absentee rates.

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