David Livermore tells a story of a problem McDonalds had when they started operating in India. The company motivates work teams in the USA and Europe by rewarding hardworking employees with the distinction of “employee of the month.” It was very successful in America where people want to be noticed and individualistic…it was a total failure in India where people want to blend in and be part of the group in a collectivist culture.
In this series on multi-cultural leadership, we have been talking about the important subjects of communication, trust, and human resource policies. Today I will share some ideas about the subject of how to approach motivation in different cultural situations.
As we saw in the example of McDonald’s trying to motivate their employees, well-intended motivational plans can sometimes cause more harm that good.
Motivating employees to accomplish more in both quality and quantity is one of the most important jobs that a leader or manager must do. And it often is not easily done when working in one culture, but complications are magnified in a multicultural setting.
2 Kinds of Motivation
Motivation is usually divided into 2 types: extrinsic (outside of oneself) and intrinsic (inside oneself.)
The rewards gained from extrinsic motivation will “push” an employee to do tasks that he would normally find boring, unlikeable, or even disgusting. These rewards may be something as little as a smiley face on a daily assignment written by a 3rd grade teacher, to all-expense-paid vacation for meeting a large sales goal, a raise in salary, or a job promotion. Often, people think of these as financial rewards, but they can include many other things such as notoriety, fame, parental or coworker approval, etc.
This varies by culture. As an example, lets think about parents wanting to motivate their child to do better in school. Extrinsic motivation in the United States and other Western countries would typically be to provide an external reward (an ice cream cone or more TV time) for better grades. External motivation in a “shame and honor culture” (like some Asian and Middle Eastern cultures) would be to criticize, scold, or punish the child for disappointing grades. For an excellent TED Talk on the subject, you can watch Dan Ariely.
Intrinsic motivational rewards are positive feelings received from the task itself simply because the employee enjoys the work. My wife is intrinsically motivated to solve Sudoku puzzles. Me…not so much.
Where Culture Meets Motivation
As if motivating employees wasn’t hard enough in one culture, it is greatly complicated when dealing with multiple cultures. I only have time to share 2 today.
1. Choice– More choice typically is very motivating for employees from individualist cultures and generally decreases motivation for those from collectivist cultures.
2. Competition– Having a more competitive environment will usually motivate individuals from individualistic cultures while it normally will demotivate workers from a collectivist culture.
For the multicultural leader, we must think through the important issues of motivating our employees of different backgrounds. It’s hard work, but the “rewards” (intrinsic and extrinsic!) are great.