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Foreign Manager’s Underperformance: Reasons and Solutions

Posted by Binh Nguyen on Feb 5, 2015 3:35:00 PM

You hire an ideal manager, in your opinion, who has the right skills and experience. Your expectation is that the new manager will drive the company in the right track and double profit. However, for some reason, the manager doesn’t perform well or meet your expectations. The question here is do you attempt to work out the problem with the new manager or do you fire them?

The problem could be an inability of some employees to navigate the intercultural dynamics of the workplace. Professionals who are new to the workplace’s culture often find their soft skills are no longer working, like their communication, networking, and ability to advance. Over time, foreign managers can lose confidence and stop engaging.



Cultural Factors

It’s a particularly disruptive problem in the workplace because culture is difficult to recognise as a root cause. The foreign manager can be fluent in English, overqualified for their position and, on paper, poised to advance. But their inability to navigate a new culture can come across as a language problem, or worse, as a lack of interpersonal and other soft skills. 

Intercultural barriers limit opportunities to gain visibility in a company and harm relationships of the manager with colleagues and management. The result is that both the foreign manager and colleagues will find a distance between them and they will not give each other feedback on their work. The situation, hence, will be worse because nobody tells them what the problem is. 

In response to cultural problems that lead to foreign managers’ underperformance, it is suggested that the company should develop a method to give appropriate feedback to help the new managers to learn the skills needed to gain visibility and build networks. Communication is emphasised, for instance, how to decode subtle messages and manage difficult conversations in a new culture.

The premise is that in order to avoid the underperformance due to cultural factors, the company should encourage foreign managers to think about the cultural shift employees experience when they switch companies. From this perspective, it will be clear to the foreign managers that they are able to adapt to a new culture. Gender also plays a role in the process. Men and women may take a different approach in negotiating style, networking, and relations with a manager.



Develop a 360 degree feedback  

If the foreign managers often do not recognise intercultural barriers that cause underperformance, the employers should be able to do that job. Therefore, it is important to have a clear and effective way to communicate and give feedback in the way that cultural boundaries are not a problem. 

360 degree feedback, also called multi-rated feedback or panoramic feedback, depends on evaluations from those all around the foreign managers in the evaluation process. This evaluation model not only relies on a superior who judges the person’s performance, but also draws in observations, opinions, and ratings from co-workers, subordinates, internal customers, external customers, and most of the people who have contact with the person regularly in a professional setting.

The model could vary, depending on the company, position and which specific area that they want feedback on. The feedback may be quantitative (numerical scores) and qualitative (narrative comments).

To recognise whether foreign managers’ underperformance is a result of workplace culture, the company should rely on 360 degree feedback reviews as a strong indicator. If interpersonal, communication, or other soft skills are, sub-par, the source may be cultural, not personal deficiencies. Another sign is a person with high potential who you want to see take on roles of greater responsibility, but who is simply not changing and not adapting.



Foreign managers may not openly discuss their concerns and vulnerabilities with a manager, and in addition, most managers do not have the time or competencies to coach on soft skills, especially those linked to culture to their co-workers. Hence, the 360 degree feedback will play an important role to provide the necessary information for both parties and the company can consider whether they will continue to invest in international talents or re-focus on domestic talents.

One of the common problems is that some people feedback that someone has underperformed, but the person simply is not aware of it. Through 360 degree feedback, foreign managers can be trained on recognising intercultural barriers and how to better communicate from their end. Cross-culture interaction is much harder than normal interaction. And if the foreign managers do not have the support from the company, it becomes very hard for them to perform in the workplace.

To sum up, it is common that employees will face difficulties when they go to work in another country. The employers have to predict the possible issues in terms of cultural and interpersonal issues that foreign employees may face and solve that. And one of the most common way to get the opinions of everyone in the organisation, in order to help the employees to improve the situation, is 360 degree feedback.

This is our opinions. What about yours? Please leave a comment.

Topics: improve productivity and performance, Charismatic leader, Charismatic leadership, Leadership Skill Improvement, Effective Hiring, Employee Assessment Tools, effective hr manager, Effective and Efficient Employees, manager

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