the cultural nuances of employee recognition
Culture | August 11, 2015
It was a recognition moment that seemed so promising, but ended in disaster.
James wanted to recognize Sarah for her great work on the recent global rollout of a new project management tool. She led the effort to coordinate the project and ensure all of their offices around the world were informed and trained on the new program. But James and Sarah didn’t work in the same office – or even the same time zone. James was in the company headquarters in NY, while Sarah worked in Sydney.
So James went above and beyond, making sure Sarah’s recognition presentation followed all the best practices. He scheduled a time to recognize Sarah at a convenient time in her time zone. He emailed her entire office to make sure they could all be there to attend. Sarah was an outgoing, social person, so James figured she’d want as many people to be there as possible. He reserved the biggest conference room in the office so there would be enough space for all the employees to gather. He carefully prepared statements and ensured no other company business would be discussed. He set up a conference line for the region’s executive to dial in and listen to the presentation. This was Sarah’s time to shine, and James wanted to make sure she got all the attention.
When Sarah found out about the recognition moment that was being planned for her, she waited until the morning of the presentation…then called in sick. She asked James to cancel the recognition moment and not reschedule.
What went wrong? Wasn’t Sarah excited to be recognized for all her hard work?
It turns out, while this recognition celebration seemed like something an employee would want in the U.S. (or China, or India), this is not how employees prefer to be recognized in Australia. In focus groups, Australian employees spoke of being more comfortable with informal, team-based recognition. Putting an employee in the spotlight can be embarrassing, awkward, and downright terrifying.
What should have James done? Perhaps recognize Sarah along with team members that helped her with the rollout, or scheduled it in an informal morning “tea break” that employees gather for daily. He should have invited a few others, but not the entire office. And he should have ensured it had more of casual, informal feel, not a big event.
Global focus groups around the world found that employees need and want to be recognized for great work, no matter where they live. The key is to understand the cultural nuances of how to recognize employees for the efforts and results. Use this checklist to ensure you are appreciating employees in a way that is most meaningful to them, and avoid the cultural confusion that James experienced.