Do You Promote an Employee with Limited English? Five Points

Situation: The CEO of a small but profitable company has a promising employee who she wants to promote to a supervisor role. The challenge is that this employee has limited English. Promoting this individual may upset the current supervisor. Do you promote an employee with limited English?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Before making any decisions consider taking the “lead” position in manufacturing short-term instead of promoting or hiring a supervisor.
    • This will allow you to fully understand the manufacturing operations, as well as any points of art in the operation that can serve as the company’s foundation IP.
  • To think about the role of supervisor or Plant Manager, visit a Starbuck’s for an hour and watch the Starbucks Manager. This individual will, over the course of the hour, perform all functions within the establishment. This is a good model for a hands-on supervisor for a small operation.
  • Given the small size of the current operation, look for a more modest role for the position. Instead of Operations Manager perhaps Plant Manager. This will allow the individual time to grow into a larger role as the company grows.
  • How should the message be delivered to the promising employee with limited English as well as to the current supervisor?
    • Tell the employee “We like you and think that you have real potential. Would you be interested in an English as a second language course to build your English skills? We’ll pay for the course.” It is important to be enthusiastic and positive with the individual as you have this conversation.
    • A supplemental alternative is to reimburse the individual’s use of one of the online programs like Babbel or Duolingo that enables learning or improvement of language skills using a mobile phone. These programs are inexpensive and highly effective with diligent practice.
    • Promoting this individual above the current supervisor may generate a problem. This doesn’t prevent the promotion. Just assure that it is done carefully and be prepared for the current supervisor’s reaction.
  • When it is timely, instead of promoting this individual immediately, consider offering a temporary lead role for key tasks of increasing levels of responsibility. This will allow time for the individual to prove their merit and capabilities to others over 2-3 months.

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