Performance reviews can be anxiety-inducing for the manager as well as the direct report. With cross-cultural differences and varying communication styles added to the mix, the desired outcome may be challenging to achieve.
The frequency, directness, and formality of performance reviews vary by company but also by country. In countries that tend to practice more explicit styles of communication and concentrate on the task, such as the US and the UK, performance reviews can be heavily documented, may occur more often than annually, and take on a greater air of formality. In countries where group-orientation is strong with a preference for an implicit communication style, such as Japan and Mexico, the focus may rest on the entire team’s performance rather than on any one individual’s performance.
Harvard Business Review states the purpose of the performance review is “to strengthen your organization’s culture and reinforce its values.” This is achieved when managers foster development, engage employee’s strengths, and set priorities for individuals and the team.
Tips for Managing Performance Reviews Across Cultures
- Clearly state the purpose of the performance review is to ensure the individual and the team grow and excel
- Maintain awareness of differences driven by culture to effectively communicate negative feedback so the message is more clearly discerned by the recipient as negative feedback
- For Israeli managers, who may be more accustomed to direct feedback communication styles, be sure to spend time incorporating and stating what went well
- Among dispersed global teams, turn on cameras when performance reviews are remote to fortify a personal connection given hybrid and remote work environments
- Create a feeling of trust among your team and promote psychological safety so that your feedback and suggestions are accepted without embarrassment or shame
- Overstate the point with reports from countries like Italy and Singapore who practice more implicit, or high-context communication styles. This helps avoid the impression “they don’t get it”
- Attempt to adopt to a feedback style too far out of your usual practice, such as going from the US style of injecting optimism in negative feedback. This may send the wrong message
- Use jargon or metaphors; plain language improves a mutual understanding
In her book, The Culture Map, author Erin Meyer tells the story of a French finance director who struggles to give performance feedback to her American colleagues. Although she follows the dictum that Americans favor direct communication, it seems her feedback was too brutal and explicit.
Her error was in forgetting that her US direct reports prefer to receive negative feedback indirectly. This was quite the contrary to what she was accustomed to in France. Most of her French direct reports expected explicit feedback about what was not going well, unlike US Americans, who were accustomed to hearing several positive messages before they were given areas for improvement. US managers tend to soften negative criticism with positive comments.
A performance review may conclude with a brief re-statement of overall performance of the past year (or relevant period) along with adaptations to make for improving performance. For employees hailing from highly egalitarian cultures, such as Sweden and Israel, invite an open discussion for ideas on performance improvement. However, when managing subordinates who are from cultures that tend to value hierarchy, such as Japan, a manager’s well-considered directive can be more effective and even expected.