ULG's Language Services Blog

Inclusion, Honesty, and Trust: A Conversation with Nic McMahon, CEO of United Language Group

As seen in Comparably


Recently we sat down with Nic McMahon, CEO of United Language Group, to discuss a wide variety of topics. We started with trust, but ended up talking about the future of work, why managers manage the way they do, and how communication is more important than ever in this modern moment. Nic has worked in the language service industry in varied roles around the world, giving him a unique perspective on how to create an inclusive, engaged team. What we were most surprised by was his candor- it’s not easy leading but it’s worth it when you believe in the people who believe in you- you’re creating a recipe for strength and support, which becomes a differentiator. Read a condensed version of our conversation in Portland, Oregon, where Nic currently resides.

The modern workforce is changing- how can managers utilize culture and trust to empower and engage employees?

Engagement can only come when there is a clear set of standard goals that provide equitable expectations and support to all people involved. As you look to create a balanced return for teams, two things I have found important to consider are: 1. teams today have an inherent expectation for inclusion and access in a way I didn’t when my career started, and 2. what employees expect for “return” is not always money. It can often be recognition, flexibility, empowerment or other options to create work life balance that are prioritized as valuable considerations when creating return for the teams that drive success within your business.

Trust is a hot topic in the modern workforce. How do you use communication to build trust and connect a team?

Honesty really is the best policy. I have navigated some very challenging situations in my time as a leader, and I used to try and position the challenge, as I didn’t want to scare people. Or perhaps I didn’t trust they would help if they knew it was a challenging spot. After years in management, I have seen consistently that honesty builds trust – even when the chips are down, being clear and transparent about what’s needed works best. Some people opt out for sure, but the good ones stay in and build trust and it is always the “good ones” that get you through.

Tactically at ULG, we give transparent company updates monthly when we host live digital town halls, and whenever I am in one of our global offices, I make myself available so that people can ask me anything directly. Our leaders explain why we make cuts or why important or critical resources leave. We spend time to sync as a management team to talk through the “why” so that as news echos through the culture of the business we can maintain an honest and consistent response. It cuts down a lot of the “what I heard” gap filling that often creates more barriers to trust than honesty about risk and challenge does. Finally, we offer an open-door policy where anyone on our team can speak to anyone on the management team at any time about anything. The reality is most people don’t take you up on it, but those that do tend to be the people most driven and engaged and they are the most critical bridges to building trust.

How do you see the work hierarchy changing in the current climate?

Hierarchy as a way to control people is an outdated system that I see dissipating rapidly. Employees in today’s market are empowered and expect to be part of the conversation. I see hierarchy moving towards a focus on management teams providing clear support, resolution and a way to channel input and transparency. Hierarchies are becoming flatter and more open – most employees today have an implicit expectation of access. The hierarchy that exists currently is about making sure everyone is heard, has input and understands the full scope of the opportunity and challenges ahead of the team.

Belonging is a key theme in DEI work and related to trust. What does this mean to you?

Belonging doesn’t mean to me that everyone belongs to every team in the way that everyone belongs to a society. Belonging is about finding an authentic and accurate view of the culture that exists and ensuring that everyone is both encouraged and provided with the ability to be involved in the conversation and community as that culture evolves. Through greater belonging in the culture, it evolves to its best iteration through the combined power of the people within it.

There has been a big shift in the way I think about belonging over the last few years. In the past I always focused on increasing belonging through the elimination of barriers with a “you are welcome” type focus. But increasingly I see the challenge of supporting a sense of belonging as more about addressing the inherent imbalance between groups as conversation starts and evolves. Inviting someone to speak up does not mean the same thing to a person whose grandfather was in danger or hurt for speaking up. To make forward movement on more diversity and inclusion, my approach is to try to meet everyone where they are, rather than where I am.

Any words of wisdom for those reading before we sign off?

I see the glass as half full, always. In my experience, it is usually barriers of our own making that stop us from finding a successful path forward. When a team comes together through trust and transparency; when all voices are heard through a shared sense of belonging and a commitment to find what is possible, we most often find that we do have answers, innovation and opportunity right in front of us.

About Nic:

Nic McMahon is the CEO of United Language Group (ULG) –a leading language solutions provider. Nic has more than 20 years of experience working for many of the top companies in the language industry where he has led diverse global projects ranging from healthcare equity to education disparity to commercial market expansions for the world’s premier control valve manufacturer. He has supported multiple Fortune 500 companies on their journey to achieve global growth. Throughout his career, the impact and opportunity of culture and language have been the consistent thread on his journey. Outside of work, he rides his electric scooter, enjoys gardening outside and focuses on balance.


Topics: Tips