Evaluating and Measuring Communication of Non-Fluent English Speaking Engineers

Ryan Garaygay

VP of Engineering at Acquia



"I had one person on my team who wasn't very fluent in English. In his current role it wasn't necessary to have many interactions with other people, but he was looking to move to the next step and, therefore, communicating fluently becomes more important for him to take on more bigger roles. We knew he wasn't at the level he needed to be at and because this person was already on our team this was a challenge that was on us. So we took this matter seriously. We really only had two options when it came to his communication skills. We either invest in him so that he improves, or we lose him."

Actions taken

"We decided to invest and created a path for him. The plan was presented to him to make sure he agreed and so that he knew what we expected of him. We put aside a budget so that he could enroll in a good language school. He went to classes and those helped. We encouraged more interaction with team members so that he could practice the skills he was learning. We also talked about evaluating his English language skills at work by incorporating them in as one of his KPIs (key performance indicators). This made clear that his improvement was being measured and that it would directly affect his role in the company. I also took the time out to collaborate with him personally.. I knew it couldn't be an afterthought nor could I go about it haphazardly. So we discussed constructive feedback and language corrections in the office, what was appropriate for me to correct and when I was no longer constructive. Corrections, of course, were done privately, but I needed to know whether he wanted me to point out every little mistake or whether to take more of a monitor approach. Luckily, he was willing to learn a lot so I gave him all the feedback that he needed to excel. Finally, we made it an award-based objective (opposed to a punishment-based) especially since is a valued member of the team and just need improvement on this area for example. All criteria was outlined so that it was transparent what he needed to do and at what level he needed to be at."

Lessons learned

"I think you need to decide if something is either important or it's not. Then look at what needs improving. If it's not part of your top three objectives in the year (e.g. for personal, career development), then it's not a big deal. If it causes enough worry to be in those three, then you need to take it seriously even if it's not technical skill related. Furthermore, I think just as we use metrics for numerous other occasions, metrics should also be used for communication. It is validation of where you begin, where you need to be, and the impact communication has on the team. It is proof that the time and effort are being put in and that you are improving. I do not aim for perfection but improvement, be better than last time. Lastly, know that there is a possibility that the person does not want to work hard to move to that next step, or that even after all attempts there is no growth. Maybe there is a different role in the company that requires less of that competency and that's ok. A lot of creative, smart people do not always need to talk. It's not always ideal, but it's a risk-reward ratio that you have to gauge. It could also be, unfortunately, as things change (individual circumstances or otherwise) that maybe the person isn't the right fit for the team, or for the company. This is a difficult discussion to have but you have to be honest with the person and do what you think is best for everyone involved."

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Ryan Garaygay

VP of Engineering at Acquia

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