Performance Management in a Diverse Workplace

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We are living in difficult economic times. Government and private sector alike are looking to get lean, find efficiencies, think outside the box and be strategic. In times like these, every person in an organization is expected to contribute and in many cases this contribution is recognized through Performance Management. Performance Management is no longer a punishment for under achievers but rather a system for championing all employees’ performance.

One succinct definition of Performance Management comes from Susan M. Heathfield ( Guide). "Performance Management is the process of creating a work environment in which people are enabled to perform to the best of their abilities." She explains that effective Performance Management requires managers to be in continual discussion with the employee to set standards, establish expected outcomes and provide orientation, coaching and feedback. The key to these activities is the communication between the employer and the employee.

As one out of every ten skilled workers in the local labour market is an Internationally Educated Professional (IEP), it is important to recognize the influence of cultural factors  on performance management in order to maximize engagement and productivity within your organization.  In implementing any performance management system, managers face communication challenges.  In a diverse workplace, these challenges can be especially complex.  

A local organization offering support in this area is Hire Immigrants Ottawa (HIO).  HIO dedicates an entire training module to communication and, most recently, they created a module to specifically address Performance Management in the Diverse Workplace.

What follows is a brief overview of some of these challenges that are explored in the HIO Performance Management module:

- Managers may discuss expectations or provide feedback in vague terms, using colloquialisms or slang that may be unfamiliar to an IEP. This can lead to confusion, and depending on their level of comfort, the employee may hesitate to request clarification.  

- Managers may not provide concrete examples of their expectations or expected outcomes, and assume these are clear.  However, IEPs may come from a work culture that does not resemble the North American matrix organization and its particular way of measuring outcomes.   In this case, providing examples goes a long way to clarify how your organization measures performance.  

- Sometimes, in an effort to avoid micromanaging or being condescending, managers are not specific with instructions or details on how they would like a project to proceed.   In many cases however, they are creating an information void for the IEP.  This can grow if the IEP in turn doesn’t understand that they can ask their manager for more detail or information. Some IEPs come from cultures where there is a one way flow of information based on power in relationships, and posing questions to the manager can be seen as demonstrating incompetence or even threat.

A very common challenge managers have when preparing to provide feedback to IEPs is, "What is appropriate to give as feedback regarding certain habits or behaviors in the workplace? Is it politically correct to ask IEPs one thing or another?" Nancy Mark (HIO Cultural Competency Instructor) teaches this great rule of thumb, "Charming behaviour that management and other employees can live with need not be addressed, but anything else must be discussed for the good of the employee and the organization." In her experience, Ms. Mark has always found the following two questions to be respectful and well received by IEPs in feedback situations:

"This is what I learned about personal space/group conversations/sharing food, is that different from what you learned?”


“How did you get feedback on your performance before you moved here?"

The Performance Management Training Module at Hire Immigrants Ottawa offers a wealth of information and practical ideas for anyone charged with Performance Management duties in a diverse workplace. Register to attend one of HIO's complimentary training sessions ( Tell Nancy I sent you and ask her about the famous "Feedback Sandwich Method". She has a great story to share.

Kerri Pereira is a National Research Council of Canada Associate HR Generalist

Any views or opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent those of NRC.

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