The Challenge: Engagement Survey Results Creating More Questions

A mid-size agricultural firm in the southwestern US conducted an engagement survey on its workforce for the first time in several years. This network of greenhouse operations had been experiencing turnover and declining performance among its workforce, and a growing divide between office and support personnel and the front-line greenhouse workers themselves. When the results of the survey came back to leadership, the results drove more questions than answers. This left the team scratching their heads about how to act on the systemic performance challenges and retention of their employees. They recognized that a deeper dive was needed before proceeding.

Assessment Insights


Initial review of the survey methods and results identified significant differences in the areas of positive feedback between the office personnel and those in the greenhouses. The average level of positivity itself also saw a spread of approximately 30% across all topic areas and questions. Training, access to needed resources, organizational communication, and clarity of expectations were scored low across all types of personnel – again with greenhouse employees ranking them considerably lower than their white collar counterparts. However, the most perplexing and the lowest scores on the survey had to do with the comfort level of openly expressing opinions at work – and the trust level in the survey itself. When WF measured the correlations between certain question types in the hourly workers, it was discovered that there was a surprisingly high correlation between hourly employees who ranked both fairness and the resources needed to do the job low.

Wayforward’s EEX assessment identified a core group of root causes for this issue. The spring of the communication challenges began in the language divide between the primarily English-speaking office staff and the primarily Spanish-speaking greenhouse workers. This was not a surprise to anyone. The client’s leadership team knew it was a barrier before WF got involved. But it was the nuanced way in which it took shape. The hourly employees were scoring topics like trust, communication, and fairness low on the survey because the majority of their communication was presented to them in written form. Memos were translated into Spanish by a third party service provider, or they were read by bilingual shift leads. This created the effect of receiving all of their information secondhand. It also meant that questions requiring white-collar or leadership answers and explanations took a long time to come back around to the greenhouse floor. The structural, cultural, and role divides became exacerbated by language to a greater extent than they needed to be.

Applied Methods

The executive team learned Spanish and they all lived happily ever after.

Not so! At least during the timeframe we were involved, nobody bridged the language gap. However, we did change the way in which leadership sent communications across it. Leadership communications on many topics – especially clarity around expectations and performance began to be delivered verbally and translated in-person, in real time. This increased the depth of communication along all non-verbal means – including body language and tone of voice. Gemba walks were instituted for leadership and the managers over each of the support departments on a predictable cadence. To the extent that it was practicable for bilingual staff to accompany the leaders on gembas, they did. But all company cell phones were equipped with a translation app. Leaders were pressed to focus their gembas on the needs of hourly employees and helping to correct issues and improve situations that they were informed about or observed to make the jobs of the hourly greenhouse staff easier and more effective. Those without company phones simply downloaded similar apps like Google translate to help support the same type of efforts.

This facetime in spite of the language and blue-white collar divide began to establish more trusting relations between the two groups. Seeing one another focused on solutions and helping behaviors eliminated the feelings of unfairness and uncertainty previously present. Within a few short months, performance KPIs began trending upward for the first time in two years. Human Resources personnel even saw an uptick in job applications that followed closely behind the timeline of the changes.