Lala Foods transferred an entire service department to Mexico. That transition, however, wasn’t nearly as smooth as they had hoped. Miscommunications, frustrations, and inefficient meetings were only the beginning for the popular dairy product company serving Mexico and South America.
Allyson, the compensation and benefits manager for LaLa Foods, realized that the new teams were struggling. Tasks were taking longer, colleagues in both the US and Mexico were frustrated, and little was going as planned.
As turnover increased, Allyson knew that something had to change. She saw that it wasn’t just a language issue; many employees spoke both Spanish and English.
There Was a Different Issue Beyond Language Training
LaLa Foods employs around 35,000 individuals in Mexico and South America, and about 300 in the US. As a well known brand in Mexico, the company wants to make their reputation just as strong in the USA. But that means the US teams have to efficiently and accurately communicate with the Mexican teams.
To streamline processes, the finance department was moved to Mexico. US colleagues who were once able to walk across the hall and talk with the finance department now had to email or set up video chats with the department based in Mexico.
As a consumer packaged goods company, there are many levels of customer interactions that need to be handled. The US based team interacts with local vendors and customers, and the Mexican team handles processing, accounts payable, and a lot of the IT work as well.
But when you’re not all on the same page, snags come up. Sometimes it is largely a language barrier, but other times, it has more to do with cultural differences than anything else.
They ran into a problem that only a customized solution from Fluency Corp could figure out.
Conflict Arises Between Different Cultures
The methods of working in Mexico are vastly different from those in the US. Micah Bellieu, founder of Fluency Corp, describes it as “a bit of a turtle and hare” situation. Where both parties have the same end goal, but the means of getting there are considerably different.
For many of the US based employees, work is very task oriented. If there’s only 30 minutes allotted for a meeting, then you jump right in and get started in the meeting. But that’s not how things are done in Mexico. In fact, if you don’t spend 10 minutes or so talking about kids, weekend plans, and catching up, you come across as downright rude.
Of course that sets the entire meeting on edge from the beginning. So at the end, when the question is asked, “Are there any questions, anything that’s unclear?” A simple and straightforward, “No” would result.
But that, “No” wasn’t the truth. There were plenty of questions, but the conflict at the beginning of the meeting meant that nobody wanted to raise their hand and ask the questions.
Communication was Breaking Down; Inefficiencies Increased
Situations arose where work wasn’t done as requested, or it wasn’t done on time. The goal of creating this cross-cultural team was to streamline processes. The reality was that miscommunication and conflict led to frequent inefficiencies.
“The Mexican team is very transactional,” Allyson tells us. “The US teams were not expecting that. They [the Mexican team] would process transactions exactly how they were written.” But that’s not what needed to be done; double checking for duplicates and asking clarifying questions was expected.
After Micah presented at a global HR workshop, Allyson and LaLa Foods knew that Fluency Corp was exactly what they would need to help solve this problem.
A Custom Solution Beyond Language Training was the Only Option
Off-the-shelf cultural and communication training doesn’t exist. Because cultures vary incredibly, even within a small geographic area, and because every culture interacts differently, you would need billions of courses to accurately cover all of them.
In the same vein, communication challenges are situation specific and company specific. Understanding the issues before providing a solution is critical to ensure the training is relevant and immediately applicable.
Instead, Fluency Corp sits down with every company to discover how they operate. Only then can they create customized training that fully addresses what’s going on within the cross-cultural departments or communication challenges.
For LaLa Group, it was a unique combination of global communication with SASS training.
SASS – which stands for Simplified, Ask, Support, Slow Down – helps corporations fully understand where their communication is falling short. What seems perfectly clear to the speaker is often misinterpreted by the recipient. These misinterpretations are compounded when there are language or cultural differences.
By simplifying the language, asking for input on what made sense (and what didn’t), finding support through communication training, and slowing things down (people speak really fast, slow it down by 20% for better understanding), the groups talking to each other were able to relay the right information.
Learning about Different Cultural Norms
In the US, it’s very fast paced. In Mexico, things are a bit more leisurely.
To fully understand how these cultural norms affect interaction, Fluency Corp developed a role play to emphasize the differences. Individuals were randomly assigned either an A or a B.
Those receiving an A designation were to be reserved, speak quietly, stand at least 3 feet apart, don’t shake hands, and don’t talk much about yourself. Group B, however, was the opposite. They were energetic and loud, touching people on the arm when they speak, hug when you first meet them, and ask lots of questions.
The goal was to illustrate the vast differences in the way people interact. And for those who are naturally an “A” to understand that the “B” isn’t being rude, but rather doing what comes naturally to them, and vice-versa. Throughout the exercise, the two groups gained an understanding of how awkward it is when you’re dealing with a person that’s the opposite.
The Cultural & Language Training Resulted in Less Stress & Fewer Resignations
With nearly every cultural and language training, the biggest successes can’t be measured and quantified.
Instead, they are seen and felt in the workplace, in the office culture, and in the job satisfaction amongst all the teammates.
The end result is that employees have a better feeling about coming to work each day. Increased job satisfaction means that there are fewer resignations. Over the course of about a year, LaLa Foods noticed that there was roughly a 50% improvement in turnover rate. More people were staying because of the improved cultural awareness and communication.
But it doesn’t stop there. Many of the US based employees were seeing jobs being transferred to Mexico; the knee-jerk reaction was that they were about to lose their job. With cultural training and improved communication, everyone found out that nobody was coming for their job; instead, they were able to work with some amazing cross-cultural colleagues.
When resignations did come down the line, sharing those responsibilities with the rest of the company was much easier. So as a person from the payroll department left, it wasn’t a mad scramble to find a replacement; instead, it was a promotion from within the Mexican team to alleviate the burden on the US team.
Off-the-Shelf Rarely Works: Fluency Corp Customizes the Training
Allyson explains that “Micah customized the approach for the need. She took the time to understand what the issues were, and really dug in. It wasn’t a surface-level training at all. She customized the content, and then followed up every two weeks to check in and see how people were doing: did they implement, are they following through, what struggles they were having.”
It’s not just enough to learn a new language, but also how to use it in a certain context. You also must learn aspects of the new culture that goes along with that language.
When everyone understands – and respects – the differences, only then can an organization say that they truly have their communication firmly in place.