An awareness of societal mores and social norms can raise prospects for Mexico manufacturing success.

In general terms, thirty years ago the approximate ratio between U.S., and other foreign expatriates, in positions of top authority and upper management in Mexico manufacturing facilities, and Mexican nationals in similarly situated posts was in proximity of 80:20. Today, because of the improvements that have been made over the years in Mexico’s education system, as well because of a greater familiarity with and adoption of a culture of manufacturing nation-wide, these numbers, for all intents and purposes, have effectively been reversed. Despite this development, however, companies, particularly US-based firms, that are planning to initiate Mexico manufacturing projects for the first time must recognize that taking into consideration the differences in the US and Mexican cultures will greatly affect the success or failure of their efforts.

In a broad sense, the phrase that “Americans live to work,” and “Mexicans work to live” is, to a degree, an accurate characterization of the significant difference in the general outlooks that have been adopted by the societies within each of two of neighboring North American countries over the course of their development with respect to life outside of the world of home and family.

For an American in a position of authority in a Mexico manufacturing environment, below are four practical thoughts to consider when working to motivate the best efforts of a Mexican workforce, and the individuals that make it up:

  • Mexican society, and, by extension, its workforce is generally predisposed to look at things from a greater perspective of collectivism, and group accomplishment, while the American is more prone to put emphasis on the individual, and personal achievement. Taking this cultural difference into account, foreigners managing Mexico manufacturing facilities are well advised to devise and implement strategies that encourage the sharing of group responsibilities, as well as team incentives and rewards for the purpose of accomplishing company goals and objectives. Much like the Mexican family unit, the Mexican workplace, for the most part, is more cohesive than what one encounters in the United States.
  • Typically speaking, Americans are apt to be acculturated, and more familiar and comfortable with a “bottom-up” organizational dynamic. This is to say that in the United States workers are more often encouraged and prone to make observations, make recommendations and suggest improvements in procedures and processes without being prompted to do so by their superiors. Although this is changing, Mexico has historically been a “top-down” culture whereby planning and decision-making generally gets done at the “top.” American managers in Mexico can, however, expect that workers will open up to a greater degree to offer their perspective in a proacive manner over time, as trust between management and its workforce develops.
  • American managers in Mexico should do all within their power to create a stable and fixed schedule, i.e., one that avoids rotating shifts and interchanging members of working groups. While the Mexican workplace in general is more cohesive than that found in the United States, small working units are even more so. Team members, in some instances, become figurative members of each others’ extended family. Keeping strong bonds of friendship intact in small working groups generally enhances productivity and worker satisfaction all around.
  • When in Rome do as the Romans do. Despite the fact that there is no dearth in Mexico of bi-lingual staff that can help American managers communicate as go betweens between themselves and production line workers, making an honest attempt to learn and use Spanish will be viewed positively by workers employed in the Mexico manufacturing facility. Not only does an attempt to learn and to speak the local language signal an intrinsic respect for the country’s culture and its people, but the ability to communicate in the local tongue will enable the American manager engage workers on a personal level, resulting in the creation of ties that foster trust and mutual respect.

Today’s Mexico is a productive and energetic one that is globally in sync. It is imperative, however, to recognize the clear fact that cultural values within a society have an impact on the success or failure of organizations. For this commonsense reason, they should be taken into sober account by Americans when embarking on new Mexico manufacturing projects.