Brian Baird developed his global perspective on a basketball court under the Guatemalan sun.
“I was there with a group called Sports Ambassadors,” he says. “I had that experience of living in a cross-cultural situation and learning another language, [so] I understand a little bit about what those struggles can be like.”
Today, as president and CEO of MagnetStreet, a manufacturer of promotional magnets, Baird uses that understanding to reduce turnover among a diverse staff of approximately 160 employees from around the world.
Smart Business spoke with Baird about how to accommodate diversity while developing a fiercely loyal work force.
Q. Why is diversity in the workplace so important?
It becomes more about why handling diversity well is important.
Employees who feel like they are valued and respected are going to be more likely to stay longer, with less turnover. People who are happier and content in the work that they’re doing, they’re going to be more productive, as well.
Q. How do you bring people of diverse backgrounds together?
You need to be able to be sensitive or have someone who’s going to be managing who’s going to be able to be sensitive to some of the different things that they might be dealing with that are totally foreign to us.
When our plant really began to grow and the responsibilities were becoming more than what our current staff was able to handle, we went out and hired a new plant manager. ... We weren’t just looking for someone who could run an efficient operation and get the most out of our space, our equipment and our people. It was important to us that he would want to treat people well.
Q. How do you determine whether a manager will be a good fit in this regard?
It’s asking the questions, ‘Tell us how you would handle coming into a workplace where people are from many different ethnic backgrounds and languages. How do you feel about working with all of these different people?’
It’s sitting and talking with someone and hearing them talk about what they think about people from different backgrounds all working together and how they see that work.
Q. How do you work through language barriers?
We certainly encourage them to work on their English because that is often such a big barrier for them.
Be willing to take a little longer to train someone at the beginning. Spend a little more time checking in with how they’re progressing and encourage them to take on new responsibilities as things come up.
Q. Is it important to create outlets to celebrate cultural differences?
That’s been a really positive thing. We’ve done things for this diverse group like potluck luncheons where people have brought in their own ethnic foods and have shared them with everyone and have told us a little bit more about where they’re from and what this is that we’re eating. ...
Just getting together and hanging out at a picnic and playing soccer together. Those kinds of things can really help in everyone getting to know each other and just being in each other’s company. It helps when it comes to working next to the same person.
Q. What should all CEOs keep in mind as they strive toward diversity?
The biggest thing is trying to be sensitive to the different cultures that are represented by the work force.
Whether it’s books coming out or movies, (try) to learn a little bit more about (their culture.)
I’m there regularly, and I try to talk to each of them and get to know a little bit about them and their background, rather than just knowing their name and what they do at the plant.
Get to know where they’re from, a little bit about their family and the things that they had to live through.
Know what holidays are important to them. Ask them, ‘So what’s that mean? What would you be doing?’ on whatever the holiday is.
If you’re willing to show a little interest in who they are and in where they’ve come from, it goes a long way.
Q. How does having a diverse work force benefit your company?
If they feel like they’re valued and this is a place where they’re respected, it makes for a much better atmosphere and a much better work environment.
This is not about charity. It’s a two-way street. We’re providing a good environment for people and give them an opportunity to get some work experience and to grow and get more responsibilities as time goes by. In turn, we end up with employees who are loyal and care about the company and want to work hard for the company.
It costs a lot less to have an employee that’s going to work for you for five years than it does to have to replace that employee every four or five months.
HOW TO REACH: MagnetStreet, (800) 788-8633 or www.magnetstreet.com