Motivation across different cultures — 3 key tips
Motivating anyone to change or try harder can be a tall order, even when you’re working with people of similar backgrounds. But it’s much more difficult when dealing with employees whose values and backgrounds are different from your own.
Motivation across different cultures requires extra skill and care. Managers need to accurately interpret the situation and design a strategy that fits an individual’s values and needs.
The three steps listed below will help you design motivation strategies that are culturally aware and, therefore, useful in your efforts to maintain a harmonious and productive multicultural workplace.
1. Interpret current behavior
Effective behavior change begins with accurately interpreting why an individual is involved in undesired or subpar behavior. Understanding why a person behaves in a particular way makes it easier to modify that behavior.
For example, it is common for managers to misinterpret an employee speaking a foreign language in the workplace as a sign of disrespect. In fact, most often, using another language is an effort to communicate a job-related message accurately, a sign of extreme stress or fatigue, or an effort to speed up the communication process.
You might be wondering, “How can I possibly know enough about cultural differences to accurately interpret all the different behaviors I may encounter?” The answer is simple: Ask. Getting to know your employee can help you better understand what motivates them. At some point, you can ask them why they are late for work or failed to get a job done on time. If you do so with respect, you gather valuable and accurate information that will help you motivate the change you desire.
2. Communicate expectations
Explain your expectations in a way that can be understood by someone who was not raised in your same culture. You would be surprised how often employers and managers fail to explain what they want and why they want it. But it’s important when you’re focusing on motivation across different cultures.
Immigrant or international workers are rarely formally instructed in the values of U.S. culture and even less often in the desires of U.S. management. To go the extra mile, have your explanation and other important communication translated into their native language, if applicable.
Explaining what we want from others is not easy. Often, the most familiar procedures, policies, and expectations are the most difficult to articulate. One example is the need for team members to voice their problems and complaints so that you’re aware of issues that you should address.
Many people from other cultures have a great deal of respect for their managers and are less likely to complain, exhibited in many factories and companies in China. Your employees will never know what is expected of them until you take the time to explain that you need to know about problems in order to do your job well and make changes that could help others and improve productivity.
Whatever the issue is, it’s difficult for any employee to be motivated to reach your goals if they’re unaware of your expectations.
3. Emphasize positive reinforcement
Reinforce desired behavior. Most of the time, this is simple. Notice that workers are performing well and praise them for it. However, as Erin Meyer notes in her book, The Cultural Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, when it comes to motivation across different cultures, this step becomes a bit tricky.
For example, Meyer describes an incident where a French employee received negative feedback from her manager about her performance. But because her manager was American, he preceded the negative feedback with a fair amount of positive feedback. The negative aspects of the review didn’t register with the employee because the French tend to be very direct with negative feedback while implying the positive. So, while she left her review feeling good about her performance, it’s doubtful she was motivated to work on those areas where she was falling behind.
Furthermore, behaviors such as expressing problems or admitting a lack of understanding can be difficult to reinforce because there is the temptation to shoot the messenger. It is understandably difficult for managers to praise the worker who arrives bearing news of a missed deadline or a broken piece of equipment. But still, try to distance yourself from the problem long enough to praise the staff member for keeping you informed, and encourage them to continue to do so.
A word on communicating
For all three steps above, effective communication is critical. But it’s important to remember that what’s effective in one culture may not work well in another. If you’re finding your way of expressing ideas and feedback is not having the desired, motivational effect, do your homework — read up on the cultures involved and adjust your approach.
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