Performance management plagued by cultural barriers

2005

As global enterprises seek to improve employee performance, many are finding that the best laid programmes can fall foul of unforeseen cultural differences and taboos.

A study of manufacturing operations on three continents by consultants Novations Group has found that programmes aimed at managing employee performance face particular resistance.

According to Joe Kaplan, director of Novations Group's measurement practice: "Even though nearly 90 per cent of managers agree it's essential to measure performance, 60 per cent think a new system would do more harm than good if it violates the prevailing norms and values of their country.

"At one location more than 70 per cent of managers criticised a proposed system as culturally inappropriate or irrelevant."

Employees' most common complaint is that such programs lack validity or objectivity, noted Kaplan, who said a typical comment is "It doesn't measure the right things."

In some cases, Kaplan believes, American management innovations have taken on a negative connotation. At a Western European plant one employee dismissed a planned programme as an "American thing."

Moreover, seeking to boost productivity or improve global competitiveness is increasingly seen as unwelcome American interference.

In Asian countries, Kaplan said, resistance to competency-based performance measurement takes a different form.

"These societies place high value on hierarchy, tenure and experience and employees aren't comfortable with a system based on merit. Any new performance evaluation system is not likely to gain acceptance if it's used to rate, rank or promote people."

American employees, conceded Kaplan, are no less sceptical of new performance management systems.

"In the U.S. employees are suspicious or mistrustful of any initiative championed by management. A performance improvement programme might be considered a scheme to impose forced rankings and reduce head count."

According to Kaplan, no performance management system is perfect, nor does it need to be.

"Our research shows that a new system will be accepted if it's shown to lead to individual growth and development and also has top management buy-in. If there are clear, positive payoffs employees will willingly participate."