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Key Tips for Motivating Employees Across Different Cultures

Key Tips for Motivating Employees Across Different Cultures

Motivating anyone to change or try harder can be a tall order, even when you’re working with people of similar backgrounds. It can be much more difficult, though, when dealing with employees whose values and backgrounds are different from your own.

Motivating employees across different cultures requires extra skill and care. Managers need to accurately interpret the situation and design a strategy that fits each individual’s values and needs.

The three steps listed below can help you design motivation strategies that are culturally aware and can be useful in your efforts to maintain a harmonious and productive multicultural workplace.

1. Interpret Current Behaviour

Effective behaviour change begins with accurately interpreting why an individual is involved in undesired or subpar behaviour. Understanding why a person behaves in a particular way makes it easier for you to help them modify that behaviour.

For example, when managing a diverse workforce, some managers may misinterpret an employee speaking a foreign language in the workplace as a sign of disrespect. However, most often, speaking 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 behaviours I may encounter?” The answer is simple: Ask.

Getting to know your employees can help you better understand what motivates them. It allows you to connect with them, and them with you, and provides insight into why they are late for work or failed to get a job done on time. If you approach them and the situation with respect, you gather valuable and accurate information that will help you motivate the change you desire.

2. Communicate Your Expectations

Explain your expectations in a way that can be understood by someone who was not raised in your same culture as you. You’d 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 motivating employees across different cultures.

Immigrant or international workers are rarely formally instructed in the values of our culture and even less often in the desires of our management. To go the extra mile, and if possible, have your explanation and other important communication translated into their native language.

Explaining what we want from others isn’t easy. Often, the most familiar procedures, policies, and expectations are the most difficult to articulate. For example, you need 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. Your employees will never know what’s 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 are unaware of your expectations.

3. Emphasise Positive Reinforcement

The key to motivating employees (or anyone) is to reinforce desired behaviour. 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 can be a bit tricky.

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 the employee left her review feeling good about her performance, it’s doubtful she was motivated to work on those areas where she was falling behind because of the way the information was framed.

Behaviours 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’s 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 for motivating employees. However, 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 isn’t having the desired, motivational effect, do your homework—read up on the cultures involved and adjust your approach.

Motivate Employees Across Different Cultures in Your Workplace

It can be a challenge to motivating employees from different backgrounds, but when you do, you can unlock the great benefits of cultural diversity in your workplace. The good news is that you don’t have to solve this challenge on your own. At Monster, we understand the needs of a global workforce and have solutions to share with you. Post your job listing on Monster for free to recruit, hire, and engage the best employees across cultures.