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Cfma education across cultures


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Cfma education across cultures

  1. 1. r e p r i n t November-December 2010CONSTRUCTION FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION The Source & Resource for Constr uction Financial Professionals
  2. 2. BY PATRICIA KAGERER & GRACE GANDARILLAYes, the Construction IndustryHas Changed, But . . . addressed the passing down of their expertise and skill sets toAs we look at the construction industry over the past 25 the younger generation in a sustainable way.years, the commitment to training and education has notkept up with the ever-changing industry. All of these changes have affected the culture of the indus- try. Just as any nation, religion, or group develops its ownNew materials and processes have been implemented at a culture based on the influences of its people, so has the con-rapid rate, but many contractors have not ensured that their struction industry.laborers and leaders know everything they need to know forproper installations. Technology (BIM, LEED, Lean, Apps, To the detriment of the industry, we have spent the past fewetc.) has changed how construction is performed, and the years perfecting the “faster and cheaper is better” model ofcontractual exposures of contractors have skyrocketed. construction, while paying little attention to effectively train- ing and educating our workers. As a result, “schedule” hasJust as the industry has changed over the years, so has the skill reigned supreme and the industry has paid the price for it.level of its workforce. In many states, laborers are now pre- It is time to change.dominately Hispanic, a term created by the federal government Culture Impacts Safety Outcomesto identify Latin American individuals and their descendantsliving in the U.S., regardless of race. These laborers come from The construction workforce is now characterized by a large,a cluster of Latin American countries to perform the day-to- young, and quickly growing Hispanic workforce and a sizeable,day, unskilled work on our jobsites. persistent difference in occupational fatalities between His- panic and non-Hispanic construction workers.But what exactly constitutes unskilled work? Does it not takeskill to set up a scaffold; install flashing, windows, and shelf One can assume that if a major segment of your workforce isWhen it comes to jobsite communication, it’s important to understand how culturaldifferences can influence the way we interact with each other, especially whenconsidering the large numbers of Hispanics in the construction workforce.angles; pour concrete; and ensure that all aspects of the con- not getting the message about how to perform their job func-struction production are installed correctly? tions safely, then those same workers are probably not getting the message about how to perform the work at all. InstallationThe makeup of our supervisory and project management issues, rework, defects, and delays are all potential conse-teams has changed as well. Where once there were people quences of having an untrained workforce impacted by lan-who had worked in construction since childhood and had guage barriers, cultural differences, and a lack of basic humanapprenticed under their fathers, now there are college grad- management skills.uates who have studied construction science in books andwho are well-versed in theories. Yet the practical experience There are varying opinions about why the Hispanic con-(the sheer know-how of watching and doing and learning) struction worker has a higher propensity to injury than oth-has virtually vanished from the industry. ers in the industry. The most obvious reason is the language barrier. Yet, construction companies, AGC, and OSHA haveOur older managers who have that practical knowledge and invested tremendous amounts of time and money into trans-experience are moving on and retiring, and the industry hasn’t lating materials into Spanish.CFMA BP November-December 2010
  3. 3. education across cultures
  4. 4. education across culturesHowever, there are issues related to dialect, translation, and Third, once we have properly and successfully addressed theliteracy that still hinder communication. Experts point to the training needs of the Hispanic workforce, we must ensurelearning styles of the various countries that are at the polar that our project leaders are educated and dedicated to cre-opposite of the U.S., rendering learning ineffective. ating a culture of success for everyone on the project.Some researchers believe that digging deeper to identify how Our supervisors and leaders must recognize the difference inhumans behave and interact with one another is necessary to cultures, must lead by their actions and their words, andget to the root of the problem and to develop some real solu- must buy into the proven fact that a safe job also minimizestions that will save lives. quality issues and improves productivity – each and every time.Others discuss the culture of the jobsites that our superin-tendents are creating in the field. Given a supportive, commu- Who We Come From . . .nicative culture focused on safety, quality, and productivity,would the Hispanic worker behave differently? Would he think Who we come from, how we were raised, and where we werebefore putting himself in harm’s way and communicate safety raised influence our behavior and our ability to learn andissues before an accident occurs? Until these questions are change. Geert Hofstede, the author of Culture’s Conse-studied, tested, and evaluated, they remain unanswered. quences, has spent his life researching, defining, and delving into the complex world of human behavior and its influences.The construction industry has attempted to address safetytraining and education for the workforce with inconsistent Hofstede defines culture as: “The collective programming ofresults. More workers are now taking the OSHA 10-Hour the mind which distinguishes the members of one group orConstruction Safety Training Course than ever before, and as category of people from another.” 1many as seven states have compulsory laws mandating that Culture usually refers to societies, but can also be applied toconstruction workers receive this training. any human collectivity or category, such as an organization,Furthermore, many owners and GCs are mandating that their a gender, an ethnicity, or a family. In the U.S., our societyworkforce be trained, but is the training really working? Are contains different cultural groups (African Americans, His-the ways that training is delivered and monitored effective? panics, Asian Americans, Caucasians, etc.). Yet, these groupsHow do we avoid training simply for the sake of documenta- share certain cultural traits simply by belonging to our soci-tion? After all, the entire purpose of training is to expand the ety. So, within the confines of one geographical area, we haveknowledge of the student, improve performance, and in this numerous cultures operating in, reduce the risk of accidents. A simplified definition of culture is: “The way we do thingsFor the OSHA training to be successful, we must consider around here.” Culture guides our communication, our values,the methods of delivery and ensure that workers are not just and the way we interact with others. There are inherent cul-attending the training but are connecting the practical appli- tural differences based on how we were raised and the envi-cation of the training to their job performance. ronment we grew up in. As a result, an English-speaking American worker may react completely differently to a situa-Three Major Factors that Must Change tion than a Hispanic worker in our country.There are three major factors that must come into play when For example: Two workers are using a bobcat to move mate-exploring how to effectively educate across cultures and, rials on a construction site. A piece of debris from the siteultimately, improve overall performance on jobsites. hits the windshield of the bobcat, causing the glass to break directly in the vision line of the operator.First and foremost, we must acknowledge that the Hispanicworkforce is different from the American workforce. Second, The American Worker: As the debris hits the windshield,we must address and meet the needs of this group by pro- his cultural norms indicate that he should stop the operation,viding quality, measurable education and training that will turn the bobcat in for maintenance, and get another one asprotect our workers and minimize the risk of loss from inex- soon as possible. He fills out maintenance requests and callsperience or misunderstanding. the shop.CFMA BP November-December 2010
  5. 5. education across culturesThe Hispanic Worker: As the debrishits the windshield, a voice inside his The 5D Model of Professor Geert Hofstedehead might say, “I’m in big trouble. My 100boss is going to think I did not take care 91 85.81of this expensive equipment. If I stop 81 82working, I am going to get behind and 80 70.09 69then I will get fired. If I just work throughthe next shift I can turn it in and maybe 62nobody will notice. I can work with this; 60 48.45it is not so bad. I will get my work done 46 40and everything will be okay.” 40 30 29When we dig a bit deeper, we realize that 19.9human beings are pleasure seekers and 20pain avoiders. We don’t like pain, and wedon’t like being yelled at, made an exam-ple of, or taken out of our comfort zone. 0 PDI IDV MAS UAI LTOIf a Hispanic worker is told to finish a task U.S. Mexico Latin America Source: www.geert-hofstede.comas fast as he can and he doesn’t have theright tools to perform the task, to avoidthe pain of asking and the fear of being reprimanded, misun- avoidance relates to how a culture and its members dealderstood, or humiliated, he may go about performing the with and accept unstructured situations. This deals withtask to the best of his ability with what he has to work with. how hard a society tries to control the uncontrollable.Unsafe? Perhaps. The most likely scenario? Absolutely. Long-Term Orientation (LTO): The extent to which a culture programs its members to accept delayed grat-The Culture We Create ification of material, social, and emotional needs.Hofstede argued that people carry “mental programs” that are THE FIRST CRITICAL DIMENSION: PDIfashioned by their family life during early childhood and rein-forced in school and organizations – and that these mental Two of these five dimensions are very important whenprograms make up each nation’s culture and values. exploring education across cultures. PDI, which indicates a person’s comfort and respect for authority, is the first impor-Hofstede analyzed the ways in which cultures differ from one tant dimension.another and developed a model, which he called the “FiveDimensions,” to identify areas where cultural clashes can cause The higher the PDI value, the more deferential toward author-problems in the workplace.2 They are: ity a person will be. As a result, a person will not question orPower Distance Index (PDI): Power distance is con- verbalize a difference of opinion when it comes from ancerned with attitudes toward hierarchy; specifically, how authority figure. While America has one of the lowest PDIs,much a particular culture values and respects authority. Mexico and other Latin American countries have some of theIn other words, how much does a person or group expect highest.and accept an unequal distribution of power? PDI & Plane CrashesIndividualism (IDV): The degree to which individuals Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers applies Hofstede’s researchlook after themselves or remain in the group. Collectivism and explores “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.” Gladwellis the polar opposite of individualism. highlights the circumstances of two plane crashes – a Colom-Masculinity (MAS): The emotional roles between bian flight (Avianca Flight 52) and a South Korean flightgenders (i.e., tough vs. tender societies). (Korean Air Flight 801) – and how the culture of the pilots andUncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI): Uncertainty crews may have contributed to each disaster. November-December 2010 CFMA BP
  6. 6. In his book, he focuses on how well the pilots communicated Regardless of how many hours of safety training a Hispanicwith each other and with their air traffic controllers. Gladwell construction worker goes through, the culture he comesargues that since both Colombia and South Korea rank from – coupled with the culture created at the jobsite by thetoward the top of the PDI list, the subordinate members of superintendent and management team – will play a monu-their cockpit crews were unwilling or unable to speak up as mental role in whether or not an employee speaks up beforeassertively as they should have about safety concerns, which placing himself in harm’s way.contributed to the crashes. Until we stop training for training’s sake and really trainPDI & Hispanic Construction Workers employees on cultural awareness – and train managers onApplying the same theory to the high propensity of the His- how to create a culture that values open communication,panic construction workforce to sustain catastrophic honesty, safety, quality, and productivity – we will continueinjuries, we can assume that the Hispanic population is not to have significant safety issues.comfortable speaking up when they are asked to perform THE SECOND CRITICAL DIMENSION: IDVunsafe acts and/or that they fear reporting safety issues on The second important cultural dimension is that of individu-projects, both contributing factors of accidents. alism vs. collectivism. Americans value individualism andWhy would this be so? Because the Hispanic culture carries an rank the highest among nations for that value. Our entireingrained respect for authority. Therefore, a Hispanic employee concept of the American dream (achieving our goals and thewould not dare challenge a boss for fear of causing him to “lose proverbial “what’s in it for me”) plays an important role inface” – an attitude that discourages innovative thinking and tak- America’s initiative. As a result, American supervisors may make incor- The complete opposite is true of people from Latin Americanrect assumptions about their Hispanic countries. The Hispanic workforce responds favorably toemployees – for example, that “what’s in it for us” vs. “what’s in it for me.” The Hispanic cul-they are not trainable or lack ture is about being part of something, a feeling of belonging,initiative. watching out for one another, and working together for the good of everyone. Imagine the confusion of a new immigrant from Mexico work- ing on a construction jobsite where the supervisor creates a “what’s in it for me” culture and management gives bonuses based on schedule only. In addition, each subcontractor per- forms its own work for its own sake, instead of seeing the com- mon goal of what is best for the project. Training, education, and incentives that are focused on the “what’s in it for me” mentality will simply not achieve the expected results and ROI with Hispanic workers unless the in- herent cultural issues are considered, addressed, and accepted. For companies with especially high numbers of Hispanic employees, their future success (possibly even their sur- vival), depends on moving some of these employees into leadership roles. As always, some leaders emerge naturally, but many contractors are making a concerted effort to edu- cate and promote their Hispanic workforce. The Chilean Miners’ Experience with Leadership During an interview on CNN, Robert Sutton of Stanford Uni- versity and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss explained whyCFMA BP November-December 2010
  7. 7. education across culturesChilean mine shift foreman Luis Urzua is the model of a good Walk the Talk: The Hispanic culture is one of pride, loyalty,boss. “Mr. Urzua lead with compassion and he consistently and respect; yet, each of these must be earned. A superin-put the needs of the miners ahead of himself. He cared about tendent who sits in the trailer all day and only comes out tocreating structure.” 3 bark orders and complain is not going to earn the respect of the Hispanic worker (or any worker, for that matter).Urzua created structure early on when the group had no ideawhether or not they were going to be rescued. He scheduled A superintendent who is present, visible, and interested intimes to eat and turned their vehicle headlights on for 12-hour the job as it is being performed is the one who will reap theincrements so that the miners felt the structure of 12-hour rewards of a loyal crew. A superintendent who is not afraiddays and 12-hour nights. (When people are under stress, a to get his hands dirty (and who will work side by side withgreat leader creates predictability to calm the situation.) the crew when necessary) will earn both respect and loyalty.Finally, Sutton observed that Urzua consistently celebrated Include Family: Americans tend to separate work and fam-small wins since it was impossible to control whether or not ily life. Family, however, is of primary importance in thethey would be rescued. Outlining the little steps (such as Hispanic culture, and this value can be exhibited at the work-staying in shape, and what would be eaten and when) creat- place.ed an achievable, manageable path toward rescue that the For example, a Hispanic worker may bring his family withminers were able to embrace. him to pick up his paycheck. To engender trust and loyalty from this employee, his supervisor should take the time toThe Chilean miners’ experience stands out as a powerful meet and greet his family. And, the family should also beexample of how superintendents and PMs can create a simi- included in company safety initiatives.lar culture using the tools of: 1) structure, 2) compassion,and 3) small, incremental, well-thought-out, well-communi- Here’s another example: Our company partnered with Gain-cated steps to achieve the daunting task of building an entire ing Power Institute ( to cre-structure from scratch. ate a hands-on, daily wellness initiative that not only covered safety education but also health, exercise, and nutrition. OurBest Practices in Working employees involved their families right from the beginningwith the Hispanic Workforce and continue to share their “5 Minutes to Power” messagesOur experience working with a predominately Hispanic with their spouses and children.workforce in El Paso, TX provided the opportunity to take a Be Sensitive to Translations: Bilingual people are oftenlook at many of the cultural issues that impact overall per- used as translators on construction projects. This can work ifformance on construction sites. The following is a list of best your superintendents and PMs learn how to deal with a num-practices that can improve communication, respect, and ber of issues that can cloud communication: dialect, lack ofleadership when interacting with a predominately Hispanic subject-matter knowledge, and the accurate use of termsworkforce. that can change the meaning of a message.Identify the Group’s Leader: The leader may be someone When hiring someone to verbally translate information or towho speaks better English than the others. Typically, each translate written documents, make sure that the translatorwork crew looks to someone who will explain and spend time speaks the same dialect as your audience. Also, be careful totranslating, evaluating, and representing the group. select someone who has the right experience and the right relationship with the crew. Superintendents and PMs need toTo identify the leader, simply watch the dynamics of the take the time to notice if a 12-sentence translation has beengroup. After a daily huddle or a jobsite meeting, the group turned into a few spoken words. Why? Because when this hap-may linger and one person will be clarifying the expecta- pens, the chances are high that your company’s message hastions of the supervisor. That is the person you need to get been “lost in translation.”to know and establish a rapport with. Taking this step willbe key to effective communication and earning the respect Your jobsite management team must also understand thatof the crew. when a crew stands around after a meeting looking confused, November-December 2010 CFMA BP
  8. 8. education across culturesthey are signaling that your company’s message was not ac- PATRICIA KAGERER, CSP, ARM, CRIS, is VP of Risk/Safetycurately conveyed. Management for Jordan Construction, Dallas, TX – chosen as one of the 2010 “Safest Contractors in America” byBe Very Careful with the Following Question: “Do You EHS Today Magazine. Patricia directs the risk and safetyUnderstand?” Nine times out of ten, you’ll get an answer of management functions at Jordan, and specializes in man-“Si.” This does not necessarily mean they understand. It may agement system implementations that affect corporate cul- ture, insurance procurement, and overall safety and quality.mean “Okay,” or it may be said as an attempt to show respect.The best way to ensure that your company’s message has been A frequent speaker and writer, Patricia will be speaking onunderstood is to look for opportunities for the workers to “Creating a Successful Organizational Culture for the His-demonstrate or repeat back the instructions. panic Workforce” at CFMA’s 2011 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Dallas, TX.A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: Mock-ups, plans, She has received numerous professional awards, includingdemonstrations, examples, and photos are excellent ways to being named one of the “Top 25 Women to Watch” byenhance the communication process on a jobsite. Giving peo- Dallas Business Journal, 2008 “Top 25 Women to Watch”ple the opportunity to observe the work being performed will by Business Insurance, and “2007 Safety Director of the Year” by QUOIN/ very beneficial in avoiding injuries and unnecessaryrework. Patricia holds a BS in Business Administration from Regis University and a Masters of Education and Human Devel-Open Your Mind and Spirit to Learning: The world is not opment from Southern Methodist University.flat, and English is not the only language. (In fact, most Phone: 214-349-7900Europeans speak a minimum of two languages.) Americans E-Mail: pkagerer@cfjordan.comhave long held the opinion that they only need to know Website: www.cfjordan.comEnglish, an attitude that limits our view of the world andpresents an ego-driven culture to everyone else. GRACE GANDARILLA is Risk & Safety Manager for JordanSo, open your mind, and help your foremen, superintendents, Construction in El Paso, TX, where she directs the risk/safe- ty management functions, monitors all jobsites, and ensuresand PMs to open theirs. Explore the opportunities for learning compliance with all safety and environmental regulations.a new language and getting to know the people who work onyour company’s projects. It is not as difficult as you think. It Grace has over five years’ experience in General Industryrequires two things to learn a language: a willingness to try and and six years of General Construction Safety. She was named one of the 2010 “Top 25 Women to Watch” byto practice. Business Insurance and is the author of Defend Your Profits: Tools for Quality Construction and Bottom Line Improvement.Educate and Empower Leaders: Our company has part-nered with Branta Worldwide ( to embark Along with Patricia, she will speak on “Creating a Success-on a comprehensive leadership training initiative for all of our ful Organizational Culture for the Hispanic Workforce” atforemen, superintendents, and management team to learn CFMA’s 2011 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Dallas, TX. Grace is a member of AGC and the American Societyabout the importance of the culture we create on our jobsites. of Safety Engineers (ASSE).Our goals: to reduce exposure to incidents, and to improvequality and productivity in the process. Phone: 915-877-3333 E-Mail: ggandarilla@cfjordan.comFinally, we all need to realize that our way is not the only way. Website: www.cfjordan.comThe real meaning of a team environment and a culture of Endnotes:success is accepting and appreciating diversity, along with 1. Geert Hofstede. Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors,differing experiences and points of view. It helps to see diver- Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. Sage Publications, 2001.sity as a competitive advantage, instead of a hindrance. After 2. Ibid.all, diversity helped make America great for over 200 years, 3. it is here to stay. n ship.cnn. Oct. 14, 2010.CFMA BP November-December 2010
  9. 9. Copyright © 2010 by the Construction Financial Management Association. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in CFMA Building Profits. Reprinted with permission.