Overcoming Common Global Recognition Fears

One of the most common concerns I hear when talking with large, global organizations about employee recognition is the cultural factor: “People are different ‘over there.’ I’m afraid of offending ‘them’ so we prefer to not implement formal recognition.”

People, that’s just laziness talking. And, as with all acts of laziness in the corporate world, it will cost you in terms of employee loyalty, customer service, productivity and you will ultimately see the negative impact on your bottom line. But I do understand the underlying fear as we’ve heard the horror stories of recognition gone wrong (public, individual recognition in an area where private, team recognition is more appropriate or sending a fleece sweatshirt with the company logo to an employee in Nairobi).

David Cohen expressed it more eloquently than I could in the Unbound Ideas blog:
“Leadership sets the example when it comes to core values and the competencies that stem from them. Despite differences in the local setting, within the walls of the organization, expectations for success are based on corporate culture. For big companies, trouble arises when local norms conflict with organizational values. In such a case, which “culture” gets the upper hand? Should the multinational organization be sensitive or to the local culture or should it run right over it? The answer, again, is to be true to core corporate values while being flexible to how those values are expressed.

“Take the issue of recognition, for example. How does a company recognize its key employees consistently around the world? Should the company definition of recognition dominate everywhere employees work? The important or core consideration is that recognition gets expressed. As to how it gets expressed, that should be up to the local cultural norms. Focus on the value like a laser. Let the behaviors express themselves naturally.(emphasis mine)

We’ve seen the truth and wisdom of this statement across several of our global customers. Traditions in China, for example, are often raised as a concern for a “new” or “different” approach to strategic recognition. Yet, across several customers with operations in China, it is Chinese-based divisions or teams who practice the most recognition of their colleagues.

As with all other strategic recognition advice, recognize any employee who demonstrates your company values as these behaviors are worthy of direct, sincere appreciation and reinforcement, but be judicious in how you do so to respect cultural and personal preferences.

2 comment(s):

At December 22, 2009 7:04 AM, R. William Ayres said...

There's a key truth here: broad values like "recognition" have culturally-specific expressions, which have to be respected.

An example of this: my colleague & co-author knew an American expat manager in South Africa who was confronted with the South African practice known as the "13th check". In essence, South African firms recognize their employees by giving them a bonus check equal to a month's pay, shortly in advance of Christmas. It's an idea with roots nearly 100 years old in the South African economy, and many households depend on it.

Because this idea as very different from the way the home company did things, the expat manager refused to continue it. In the resulting conflict, my co-author was called in to help sort things out. He managed to convince the manager that keeping local tradition was the better approach, but morale was irreparably damaged, and the employees never trusted the expat manager again.

The message is clear: don't try to change the local culture, just because you think your company "does it better". Respect the local ways of doing things, and you can meet with success.


At December 22, 2009 10:20 AM, Derek Irvine said...

Indeed, William! "Respect the local ways of doing things." Respect is vitally important as well to creating an environment in which employees want to engage. Recognition without respect will likely fail. Many thanks for sharing this excellent story.