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How do employee motivations differ in various cultures?

How do employee motivations differ in various cultures?

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I am applying for a post which involves managing multi-cultural teams; a new challenge to me. However, in every other way, this is the ideal job, in the ideal company and location. Can you give me any pointers to help me succeed, not only in the interview, but actually in reality, if I get the job?

Having worked for a global organisation where I was managing teams based in different countries, this is definitely a question that appeals to me. The first and more important thing is, not who and how your team is, but who and how you are. Examine your own biases and prejudices and resolve them honestly. Aim to become, first and foremost, a role model for respect, by being open, fair, inclusive and engaged.

Here are my personally tried and tested tips for multicultural management success:

Positively celebrate uniqueness
Be determined to identify and unleash the multifarious skills and knowledge which a diverse team brings to your organisation’s table. Managing diversity is an all-encompassing process where no one feels or is left out. It means celebrating differences, overcoming discrimination and promoting inclusiveness.

Don’t assume all differences are cultural
Above all, diversity is not about group differences, but individual differences. Just like you do not speak for your entire culture every time you speak, so, understand each individual in your team is unique and does not represent a particular group every time he or she has something to say. Also, beware becoming so PC that you lose sight of the fact there are many sources of difference such as personality, age, ability and competence. Don't try to explain behaviour first on the fact someone is a particular nationality. Look first at their individual personality and work performance.

Vive la difference!
Don’t define culture simply by race, colour, creed, sex and national origin. Consider generational, language, communication and work style differences too. Get to know each member of your team as an individual and ask them to identify differences they believe apply to them as opposed to their colleagues. You could conduct an employee survey via a written questionnaire to elicit feelings and preferences about work style, schedules and preferences, then use this knowledge to assign relevant tasks and responsibilities.

Think outside your own cultural expectations
Don’t expect everyone to think and act like you. Consider differences such as:

  • Direct or indirect? Some colleagues may appreciate forthrightness, while others would see this directness as losing face. So, be aware of when to be direct and when a more oblique ’all in this together’ approach might reap dividends.
  • Differing attitudes to hierarchy. Some employees brought up in a very hierarchical culture will naturally show you a lot of deference as their manager, with an accompanying reluctance to question you, argue with you or even ask you to clarify. Staff like this can be easily passed over without notice of their merit.

    On the flip side, some staff from more liberal cultures will think nothing of being openly questioning. Where this might be seen as aggressively challenging your ability, it is, actually just digging deeper into what you know and learning more from you.

Harness the positives
Multicultural teams have a lot of positives to offer: greater creativity and innovation, deeper knowledge of and greater success in marketing to foreign markets, culturally aware customer service and – if you have teams based around the world – 24-hour work rotations.  Identify ways to utilise the different talents of your multicultural team. Motivate employees, using special assignments and promotion to more responsible positions that utilise their skills, qualifications and diverse contributions.

Think singular
Foster a workplace where all employees feel they belong to a single whole. Work on ways, perhaps with the input of industrial psychologists, to help employees identify commonalities and parallels between themselves. Introduce fun, social outings, as well as team-building games and activities. Introduce cross-departmental groups who might otherwise not interact to exchange and share ideas, concepts and experiences. Introduce awareness and skill-building training to focus on the meaning of diversity and getting participants thinking about relevant issues and raining their own self-awareness.

When all is said and done, managing a multicultural team is about nothing more than managing a group of fascinating and diverse individuals. It only takes honesty and sensitivity to succeed.

Good luck with the interview!