Employee and team performance speaks for itself: Did the team achieve its goals? Are employee objectives being met? Is the expected progress being made? But when it comes to managing a team to hit those benchmarks — well, there’s a lot more grey area. And while there are many theories about the best ways to manage a team to achieve success, companies that operate in different regions, both domestically and globally, know the answer can be more complicated. Regional differences in the way performance management is handled can be vast, and there can be important implications that organizations need to take into account.
“I worked for a company that had different regional offices in Vancouver, Seattle, New York, and Hong Kong. The US offices functioned roughly the same, with the same method of performance review and management. Canada was slightly different, but Hong Kong really surprised me,” said Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of lawn-care platform Lawn Love. “Performance reviews were done quarterly at the Hong Kong office, whereas they were annual for us. Many more metrics were looked at [in Hong Kong], including a ratio of work to vacation time. I think, in general, each individual worker was scrutinized way more and subject to surveillance to meet performance standards [there].”
Yamaguchi’s experience underscores just how different the approaches to performance management can be in different places. Everything from how formal assessments are, to how often they occur, to what metrics are considered most salient can all vary widely. Jack Wiley, Chief Scientific Officer at management consulting firm Engage2Excel and author of The Employee-Centric Manager: 8 Keys to People-Management Effectiveness, said that expectations about how people will be managed can arise from regional expectations.
“In individualistic cultures like the United States, one’s priorities run more toward one’s own goals, which suggests a greater emphasis on a manager-to-individual-subordinate performance management style,” said Wiley. “In collectivistic cultures, there is an emphasis on giving priority to the goals of one’s group, and this suggests performance management that is more manager-to-group.
“Performance management is an essential element of effective management, but its application in different regions around the world should reflect an awareness of cultural differences,” Wiley continued. “Forcing an individualistic approach in a collectivistic culture will be met with resistance.”
Differences in the way different places look at performance management can even include political and historical factors. For example, according to Michael Hammelburger, CEO of sales consulting firm Sales Therapy, “in Central and Eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary, performance management is influenced by its socialist past. The former Soviet Union used to use annual reviews to sanction employees for over- or under-performing. This has created a fear of being judged at work, which causes people to be overly cautious in their career decisions,” he said.
The talent pool — and, critically, the work culture — in every part of the world is shaped by its own mix of historical precedent, cultural expectations, and regional influence. And accounting for these regional differences from the dominant culture of wherever the company headquarters happens to be located can be crucial when it comes to communicating goals and motivating and assessing team performance, experts said.
“The performance management process has to address the regional teams' cultural, behavioral, and social issues,” said Paola Accettola, principal and CEO of HR services firm True North HR. “Leaders need to understand the motivation at a cultural level to develop a plan to understand the regional needs. And they need to take the time and be intentional about the process by doing the research, as there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution.”
But while there may not be one universal blueprint for creating a performance management approach that works for all regions, experts say there are some best practices to consider. Here’s what they recommend.
3 Best Practices for Handling Regional Differences in Performance Management
1. Do the research.
To develop a responsive, effective performance management culture, Accettola said that companies should start at the ground floor. “Firms need to do their homework to understand and know their audience to be impactful; there can be a general idea in place, but leaders need to modify it to fit the region accordingly,” she said.
For organizations operating in a new or different region, that can mean surveying employees, doing research, and consulting with regional experts, like consultants with expertise in multinational workplaces or those who have real-world work experience in the cultures in question, to develop a plan for how employee feedback will be given and goals will be assessed — and being open to modifying the approach as more is learned from the employees themselves.
“Many decisions follow a top-down approach, but the motivation should be bottom-up,” Accettola said.
2. Look to leaders.
Regional differences are real, but so are individual differences among managers and team leaders — and performance management should reflect both.
”We’ve noticed slight variations in work style and approach to managing workloads in different areas,” said Kyle MacDonald, VP of Marketing and Development at small business fleet management firm Force by Mojio. “Our California team is pretty different [from] our British Columbia team, for instance. [But] at the end of the day, different managers will bring their own styles of leadership to their teams, regardless of the circumstances.”
In other words, being responsive to local expectations is essential, but giving company leaders space to develop an approach that works for their teams and their own management style is important, too.
3. Don’t assume.
Similarly, Accettola said, it’s equally important not to create a performance management plan based solely on broader cultural norms without taking into account the culture and team of the regional office in question. Work culture across the United States, for example, is by no means uniform, and the way performance is managed at certain startups in Silicon Valley can bear little resemblance to the way it might be managed at a white-shoe law firm in New York.
“Different people...have varying motivations, and it is the job of the leaders to determine what motivates the employee to get the best out of them,” Accettola said. “Employers need to evaluate performance management as a process, and once a good process is in place, leaders must focus on the employees as humans and their unique ways of being motivated.”
Ultimately, Wiley said that while it’s essential to give regional differences their due, what organizations need most when it comes to performance management is a clear sense of their organization’s big-picture priorities.
“When done correctly, performance management is about aligning all resources toward the goal of high organizational performance,” he said. “Smart organizations will allow for regional variations — it is the best approach for achieving the desired end without running into unnecessary obstacles of the organization’s own making.”
Keeping the focus on the end result — and not just on finding one universal way to manage everyone’s progress toward it — is what keeps companies moving forward.
“What is important is that high levels of performance are achieved,” Wiley said, “not that certain management processes are implemented in identical ways in all geographic regions.”