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March 27, 2006
Performance Management: Does 'One-Size Fits All' Work?

By Bob Brady

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Las Vegas, Nevada--Employers with staff in different industries and regions of the world should not be mandating a single, uniform performance-management system across the entire organization. While a few companies, such as Toyota, have been successful with this kind of approach, many others have foundered when they tried to do it, said Jocelyn Berard, managing director of DDI Canada, at the Society for Human Resource Management's Global Conference last week.

This is bad news for the many employers who believe they need a standardized system, not just for legal compliance, but for succession planning and the unifying effect of a "company culture." The good news, according to Berard, is that it is possible to develop a uniform system that takes into account cultural and professional differences between groups. Berard called this a "Geocentric" approach. It uses some universally accepted approaches to performance management but adapts the details of execution (the "hows") to account for differences in what people expect in terms of their interactions with superiors.

Best Practices

As a starting premise, there is considerable agreement about what constitutes best practice in performance management, Berard said. You need communication of clear expectations, performance and development guidance, and, finally, feedback.

But that is where the agreement ends. For example, some cultures don't automatically assume that risk taking and initiative are good things, so they are reluctant to offer feedback, particularly to their supervisors. Nor are they willing to share information about weaknesses or shortcomings. So, even though there is agreement about the basic process, implementation can take users to completely different places.

To avoid this, Berard urged listeners who want to use a uniform performance system to start out by finding a behavioral model that allows for classification based on human expectations. During the talk, Berard used the Hofstede Model of cultural differences, which has four major dimensions, "individualism/collectivism," "power distance," "masculinity/femininity" and "uncertainty avoidance."

For example, under the Hofstede Model, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands have individualistic cultures, and Japan and other Asian countries have collectivistic cultures, Berard said.

Once you know what a group expects, it is easier to create a process that will allow the group to conform to the "Geocentric" system productively. For example, in a hierarchical culture such as China , a manager might be perceived as weak if he or she asks a subordinate to help formulate goals and objectives, Berard said.

Comment: While this approach is most relevant to employers with overseas staff, the same logic applies when managing different kinds of employees. One-size doesn't fit all. Uniformity is important and required in most organizations, but adaptability based on the individual characteristics of employees will help you get the most out of your staff.

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