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To avoid performance loss, make managers culturally aware when assessing diverse employees

Following on from last month’s examples of how an understanding of cultural differences is critically important in selling and marketing to people from different countries, races or ethnicities, this month we look at why it is also vital in managing talent.

We were recently asked by a client to find out why its ethnic minority employees were expressing so much dissatisfaction with its HR policies. By any standard, its policies were best practice, and yet its employees from under-represented races, or ethnic backgrounds, thought it discriminated against them.

An examination by IDC found that the client’s performance appraisals for white people were more positive than those for black or ethnic minority people. Nevertheless, the client was adamant that there were no differences in capability at recruitment.

How can a company with best practice diversity and equality policies, and diversity-led HR policies, be unintentionally favouring its white employees?

 The reason for the anomaly was the way these policies were being implemented by managers. The managers had not been trained to take account of cross-cultural differences when carrying out performance or promotion reviews or interviews.

White North American and white men from northern Europe tend to be more assertive when talking about their achievements and successes than either white women from these regions or people from Asian, African or Latin cultures. People from the latter groups tend to be more hierarchically-oriented, and place more emphasis on group, as opposed to individual, achievements.

Managers unaware of these cross-cultural differences unwittingly rate people in performance and promotion interviews in -ine with their perceptions of behaviour from their own culture.

An Asian woman is more likely to see success pointing outwards, e.g. "it was due to the team’s efforts that we succeeded", and failure pointing inwards, e.g. "it was due to my being too busy to give my team the attention it needed that we did less well against that objective". She might be perceived by her manager as being less successful than a white anglo-saxon male colleague.

The white male colleague is more likely to perceive success as pointing inwards, e.g. "I overcame a lot of obstacles and as a result I succeeded", and outwards with regard to failures, e.g. "I did everything possible to deliver that objective but the IT department let me down".

A lack of cross-cultural awareness by managers can have profound consequences in the assessment of performance and ability in multi-cultural workforces. It means that the best people from under-represented groups are not necessarily being promoted, or fairly rewarded for their contributions, and this can result in disaffection, disengagement and possibly their resignation. This means the subsequent productivity and performance of the workforce will be less than it might have been.

Ian Dodds Consulting has extensive experience of helping organisations increase the performance and productivity benefits that come from creating a level playing field for assessments of a multi-cultural workforce.

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