Promoting In-House Leaders: Operator Outlines Strategy

Posted December 16, 2022 at 12:18 pm

It’s widely reported that today’s laundry operators face challenges in recruiting mid- or higher-level managers. The resulting dearth of supervisory help can affect both operations and staff morale – not to mention customer satisfaction. The answer, says Emeka Okeani, president of Shared Hospital Corp., Nashville, TN, a surgical supply co-op, is to seek talent in your own organization. But to do that in today’s workplaces often requires a sense of “cultural intelligence” that can allow an employer to see rising leaders that others might overlook.

Okeani describes cultural intelligence as “the ability to adeptly and seamlessly recognize, appreciate and empathize with various cultural contexts, situations and environments.” He adds that any operator can master this tool, regardless of their exposure to diverse cultures. “It is an individual capability that is brought alive by intentionality and effort,” he writes in a forthcoming article in February’s Textile Services. “The possession of this intercultural fluency enables the hiring manager to properly assess the qualities of an existing employee – even hourly paid ones – and cull out budding talents and attributes.”

For example, an operator might miss a rising wash floor employee because the staff member is an immigrant with limited English. In his article, Okeani asks, “Could a potential manager star be missed because he/she is not superbly proficient in the English language? After all, a temporary deficiency in the English language is never a permanent personal attribute.” He further suggests that companies can and should consider addressing this challenge by offering classes for nonnative speakers of English.

Another issue of cultural agility for hiring managers is the tendency to misread behaviors that could stem from a person’s cultural background. Such behaviors can give a false impression that an employee isn’t suitable for management. In his article, titled “Recruiting and Nurturing a Diverse Management Team,” Okeani shares a story from an industry colleague who told him management was passing over a candidate because she had a “docile personality” that in part reflected her cultural heritage. “She was not proficient at touting her skills and talents, partly due to the culture of her country of origin, and therefore was not considered for upward mobility,” Okeani writes. In this case, a culturally perceptive supervisor saw through the fog of stereotypes and reached a different conclusion about the woman’s management potential after evaluating other aspects of her work record. “An astute manager observed her skills and talents in areas of follow-through, creativity of ideas, and overall focus and perseverance,” Okeani writes. “Besides, she was a ‘sponge’ in absorbing new information and processes. The company took a chance on her, and she has performed beyond expectations in her managerial role.”

Okeani is a dual U.S. citizen who emigrated from Nigeria in the late 1970s. He recently earned a doctorate in leadership and professional practice and is the author of a book, The Hand, that highlights the experiences of immigrants to the U.S. The book describes how people from various cultures have overcome cultural barriers to achieve success in a new environment. He also was the winner of the TRSA’s 2022 Diversity Recognition Award. Watch for his article in February’s Textile Services.

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