PART 1 – The art of giving praise (in a culturally relevant manner)

A key component of performance management is the act of providing feedback. The question then becomes: how do we achieve desired outcomes with the varied expectations and needs that come with the cultural diversity prevalent in most businesses today, whether domestic diversity, international diversity or both? What is the impact of our unique culture values?

Whether feedback is fundamentally positive (praise) or negative (criticism), both content as well as the manner of delivery are what ensures the feedback becomes useful and well received by the recipient. In my experience working with global teams, this means a variety of approaches are required to suit the needs of individuals within these very culturally diverse teams. Let’s look at some examples related to praise:

The Scandinavian “Law of Jante“, a term to describe a culturally acceptable code of conduct common to Nordic countries, means being singled out as very ‘special’ in public through overt praise is not culturally comfortable for most Swedes.  There is high value placed on humility and the belief no one is better than anyone else. (you might even see the King of Sweden on public transit, or shopping at IKEA for example!) The preference here is that public praise be directed to the group versus an individual and even then it should be kept toned down and not too extreme. This contrasts with North Americans, who are generally competitive, will likely value being singled out in a group setting (i.e. ‘shout outs’) or privately for their achievements, and have a strong focus on celebrating the personal win.  This cultural group wants and needs regular praise from their leaders to remain motivated and engaged.   

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For different reasons, in countries like Romania and Russia, it is also ideal that any praise be directed to the full team if delivered in a public setting, and done in private when intended for an individual. The dominate cultural value here is collectivism, or a preferred focus on ‘we’ versus `me`. This translates to prioritizing what’s best for the group or family unit over the individual, with a stress on the importance of personal relationships.   If I single out someone for praise in this cultural group, they may feel I am disregarding the important contributions of their teammates. Conversely, the cultural value of individualism (‘me’), which is prevalent in North America, reflects an emphasis on personal rights, individual initiative, achievements and the importance of people taking care of themselves and their immediate family.

Next let’s ask “Should we praise?” Germany, for example, is generally not a big `praise` culture. Manager feedback will usually be direct and focused on what can be improved. Employees are expected to do their jobs well and don’t expect or look for regular praise from the boss. If a German leader then goes to manage a team from North America, they may need to flex their feedback style to recognize the stronger competitive values prevalent there, and ensure to regularly provide praise along with constructive criticism to boost/encourage strong performance.  Ignoring this cultural preference could result in lower engagement, with unhappy employees feeling unappreciated for their contributions. 

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) provides us with the skills to be effective working and leading in culturally diverse situations. When we look at the leadership capabilities required for performance management of diverse teams, we are able to see a clear application and benefit from all four CQ elements:

• CQ Drive (I am motivated to learn how to work with different cultures)

• CQ Knowledge (I understand how cultures and their values are similar and different)

• CQ Strategy (I plan for interactions, and check my cultural assumptions)

• CQ Action (I adapt my behavior appropriate to the cultural situation)

In other words: CQ can help us establish a starting point or best educated guess on how to most effectively deliver our feedback for a given cultural context and then how to further check and adapt for the desired impact and outcomes of our performance management efforts.

We are all unique individuals with differing preferences, fully independent of our ‘cultural’ backgrounds. This means we must be aware of the dangers of negative stereotyping, and also strive to be aware of personal biases. Culture definitely matters in talent management and as such managers embarking on the annual performance review cycle should consider applying their cultural intelligence capabilities to increase leadership effectiveness when managing culturally diverse teams.

– Tina Merry, Global Leadership Consultant, CQ Certified Advanced Professional

Part 2 Constructive Feedback Across Cultures

Other references:

Cultural Intelligence Center (research links)

What is CQ and why should the Games Industry care?

Image 2, copyright: Etiamos Image 2789756

Original article on linkedin

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