Managing human resources in the context of international business can be discussed as a challenging task, especially with the focus on selecting sources and methods for motivating employees who work in intercultural environments. The principles of the strategic business management should also be taken into account to develop and apply practices that can be used to help representatives of different cultures to cooperate and achieve the same strategic goals (Harvard Business Review 2011).
Furthermore, it is also important to note that changes in workplaces in international organizations with the focus on cultural diversity stimulate leaders to choose more ethical approaches to motivating employees and developing their potential while making an organization competitive. The purpose of this report is to explain, evaluate, and justify the use of techniques to motivate employees in a modern culturally diverse workplace from the perspective of a manager who aims at selecting the most appropriate approaches based on existing theories.
Background: Characteristics of a Modern Workplace
Modern international or multinational organizations can be discussed as becoming more culturally diverse because of globalization processes and changes in views regarding workforce diversity. Currently, many companies tend to win the global market and develop their operations in different national or cultural contexts. Furthermore, more organizations choose to attract specialists who are diverse in terms of their culture and experience to improve the productiveness and creativity of their teams (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015).
As a result, a modern workplace represents a group of employees who are of different ages and races, and who have diverse backgrounds, cultural traditions and visions, professional experiences, education, and religious beliefs among other aspects. Still, according to the data presented by Rock, Halvorson, and Grey (2016, para. 1), “firms with more racial or gender diversity had more sales revenue, more customers, and greater profits.” The spread of globalization and immigration processes in the world influences this phenomenon, and there is a tendency that future workplaces will become even more diverse in terms of cultures, experiences, and interactions (Harvard Business Review 2011).
Those managers who work in modern diverse workplaces need to address specifics of these settings to achieve higher strategic results and guarantee that their international businesses operate according to world tendencies and respond to changes in the global workforce market.
As it is noted by Sweeney and McFarlin (2015), modern international organizations are characterized by developing integration mechanisms for representatives of different cultures, stimulating cooperation and teamwork, and utilizing advantages of culturally unique work contexts. The focus on diversity is extremely important for multinational organizations, and effective leaders are expected to manage diversity successfully, motivate employees to work together, create a friendly and positive context for cooperation, concentrate their efforts on achieving common goals, and increase their job satisfaction (Harvard Business Review 2011).
The Problem of Motivating Employees in a Cross-Cultural Context
When managers need to work in highly diverse working environments, they also face a range of new issues associated with the necessity of organizing the collaboration of employees with different backgrounds. One of the main problems in this context is the question of motivating those diverse employees who work in international organizations which characterize by cross-cultural contexts (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015).
Researchers and experts determine the following challenges associated with motivating employees in culturally diverse environments: (a) employees representing various age and cultural groups have different attitudes to such motivators as compensations and training (Valcour 2017); (b) representatives of certain cultures are more motivated when they work as a team, and representatives of other cultures prefer to work as individuals (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015); (c) representatives of some cultures are more motivated when they participate in decision-making processes (Harvard Business Review 2011).
Still, challenges associated with motivating culturally diverse workers are not limited only to the listed factors. The problem is that managers often do not understand specific differences that are typical of diverse employees, and they are inclined to evaluate these workers’ behaviors and actions according to their visions and ideas (Valcour 2017). Risks of conflicts provoked by ineffective leadership and motivation are extremely high for cross-cultural contexts and multinational organizations where representatives of different cultures and generations are expected to collaborate (Rock, Halvorson & Grey 2016).
As a result, motivational techniques chosen to be applied in a challenging cross-cultural context can be selected inappropriately. From this perspective, it is important not only to describe approaches followed by managers in international organizations to motivate their employees but also to evaluate their effectiveness concerning such aspects as valuing diversity, respecting employees’ needs and interests, demonstrating leadership abilities, and contributing to the global interconnectedness in a business field.
Techniques to Motivate Employees and Associated Theories
Researchers distinguish between a range of theories of leadership and motivation that provide the grounds for developing techniques that are used by leaders to motivate their subordinates (Harvard Business Review 2011). It is important to focus on motivational techniques inspired by power theories. According to these leadership theories, managers use their power to influence subordinates, and they choose different approaches to motivating employees and affecting their decision-making (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015).
Thus, leaders often use the system of rewards to accentuate their impact and stimulate certain behaviors of employees. Furthermore, according to Chamorro-Premuzic and Garrad (2017, para. 7), “most managers seem to have a natural proclivity to reward employees who are like them … This leads to distorted evaluations of performance, harms diversity, and creates an unfair and highly political climate.”
Also, the ineffectiveness of relying only on compensations as a motivator is declared by Valcour (2017, para. 3) who states that “how employees experience work from day to day has a bigger influence on their motivation than their compensation and benefits package.” As a result, motivational techniques associated with power theories of leadership often do not guarantee positive outcomes. Furthermore, managers can also use their power to convince employees to take some steps and make some decisions depending on their visions and assumptions regarding individuals’ cultures, and this technique is also viewed as one of the motivational approaches, but it is often ineffective (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015). The reason is in using power and impact to impose personal assumptions and visions on employees rather than examining their values.
The motivation of employees is also discussed from the perspective of situational leadership theories which are also known as contingency theoretical models. While following the principles of these theories, good leaders or managers pay much attention to analyzing working environments and evaluating contingent factors to not only adapt leadership styles but also choose approaches that can be effective to stimulate or motivate diverse employees (Harvard Business Review 2011). For instance, when managers work in an international context and need to supervise cross-cultural teams, they choose motivational techniques depending on the cultures and differences of workers in a concrete team (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015).
Thus, if a team unites representatives of the Western and Asian cultures, managers are expected to apply different techniques to motivate employees to increase their productivity and improve their cooperation. According to the situational leadership theory, an individual approach is required and having analyzed the situation and differences between, for instance, the British and Chinese cultures, a manager needs to motivate British employees while focusing on their promotion and Chinese employees – while accentuating the collective action (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015). Managers need to communicate with diverse employees and recognize their differences and values to address these factors and choose successful motivators.
One more group of motivational techniques is based on the assumptions of the transformational leadership theory. Researchers state that the majority of motivational approaches and strategies which are grounded on the ideas of transformational leadership are most effective to be used in cross-cultural contexts (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015). The reason is that transformational leaders usually act as motivators for their subordinates, and all their actions are directed to inspiring employees and stimulating their creative potential to achieve strategic goals (Harvard Business Review 2011). From this point, such techniques of motivation as support, the focus on challenging tasks, empowerment, inspiration, recognition, the creation of a positive working atmosphere, team building, and goal-orientation are usually typical of transformational leaders (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015).
These effective managers build their relationships with employees with a focus on ethics and such principles as trust, integrity, justice, and equity. In cross-cultural and diverse contexts, employees often need to feel that they are the part of an organization and that their leader believes in them (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015). According to Garton (2017, para. 3), “inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.” Therefore, transformational managers are often viewed as examples of the best leaders who can cope with diverse employees because they recognize and address their needs through support and inspiration while creating an effective team.
Techniques that are appropriate to be used by leaders while working with culturally diverse employees can also be discussed as grounded on theories of motivation. Traditional theories of motivation are the equity theory, the reinforcement theory, the two-factor theory, and the expectancy theory (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015). Approaches to motivating workers which are based on these theories include techniques oriented to the satisfaction of basic needs (job security, high compensations, a work-and-life balance), techniques oriented to achieving goals (team building, goal-orientation, the collaborative work), and techniques oriented to developing employees’ potential regarding their differences (individual feedbacks, appreciation of differences, training, and development, promotion, empowerment) (Harvard Business Review 2011).
In contrast to techniques based on transformational leadership, motivational theories help leaders to focus on diverse employees’ inner qualities and attributes or triggers for their motivation concerning evaluating their needs and goals. Thus, according to Chamorro-Premuzic and Garrad (2017, para. 8), inspirational speeches, for instance, cannot work effectively in some contexts, and “the reality is that the best way a leader can drive motivation is by designing jobs well and putting people in the right roles.” To motivate and stimulate diverse employees to cooperate and achieve common goals, managers need to pay attention to “the functional and psychological characteristics of the job, ensuring that it fulfills each employee’s basic drivers, and helping each person to achieve something they see as meaningful” (Chamorro-Premuzic & Garrad 2017, para. 8).
Therefore, effective motivational techniques should address diverse employees’ features and working styles, respond to their needs, and provide them with opportunities for developing their potential in comfortable environments.
It is also important to pay attention to the fact that some choices of leaders are also explained concerning the theories of change management. Furthermore, researchers also concentrate on the idea that effective leaders often choose motivational techniques to work with employees in cross-cultural contexts while referring to theories of managing diversity (Harvard Business Review 2011). The key theoretical paradigms which can be used as sources for decisions made by managers in international organizations are the discrimination and fairness paradigm and the access and legitimacy paradigm (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015).
According to these paradigms, managers promote diversity in their companies to address legal questions, guarantee equal opportunity, avoid discrimination, and receive benefits (Harvard Business Review 2011; Sweeney & McFarlin 2015). However, in the context of international organizations, diversity of the workforce is the reality, and motivational techniques should include practices based on cultural intelligence and the emotional intelligence of leaders.
Diverse employees are expected to be motivated according to their culture and background differences to address their expectations and stimulate their potential (Harvard Business Review 2011). In this context, much attention should be paid to the diversity and culture awareness training adopted in multinational organizations. From this perspective, all possible motivational techniques which can be applied by managers to work with employees who have diverse backgrounds are based on certain theories in the field of management, and their effectiveness is proved in many cases. However, it is important to pay attention to the fact that some motivational practices are more effective than others to be used in international contexts.
Justifying the Selection of Motivation Techniques in Cross-Cultural Contexts
The problem of motivating diverse employees in international companies requires a solution in the form of determining motivational techniques that can be applied by managers to achieve success. While focusing on the most appropriate techniques which can be used to motivate diverse employees in cross-cultural contexts, it is possible to conclude that leaders should address different employees’ needs depending on their expectations (Rock, Halvorson & Grey 2016).
Furthermore, they should build trusting relationships between team members, as well as leaders and subordinates, provide opportunities for professional growth, and ensure training and development (Harvard Business Review 2011). Besides, leaders need to provide employees as team members and individuals with those tasks and responsibilities which can be fulfilled with the focus on persons’ backgrounds and differences.
The need satisfaction as a “hygiene” factor in the workplace is important to prevent employees’ turnover in most Western cultures, and associated techniques include the provision of a fair salary, the guarantee of safety, training, and development, and the guarantee of a work-and-life balance (Sweeney & McFarlin 2015). Still, high compensations, benefits, and the provision of comfortable work environments can be not enough to motivate representatives of Western cultures in a diverse team who are focused on advancing their careers. However, these factors can be viewed as motivators for persons from developing countries (Harvard Business Review 2011).
Moreover, individuals belonging to collectivist cultures can ignore both aspects and be motivated by possibilities to work as a team, build cooperative relationships, and orient to the common goal (Harvard Business Review 2011; Rock, Halvorson & Grey 2016). Therefore, a good manager is expected to respond to the interests of diverse employees while guaranteeing the satisfaction of basic needs according to the “hygiene” factor, paying much attention to creating effective and friendly teams, and proposing opportunities for promotion.
From this perspective, the motivation of employees in a cross-cultural context is based on the principles of key motivational and leadership theories, according to which a good manager should not only propose fair compensations but also provide feedback, demonstrate support, inspire, focus on the challenging work, guarantee the provision of advancement opportunities and empowerment for employees (Garton 2017; Harvard Business Review 2011). Still, the work with diverse employees depends not only on satisfying individual needs and expectations but also on developing environments for effective collaboration when views of diverse workers are encouraged, discrimination is prohibited, and biases are avoided (Valcour 2017).
These techniques are based on the principles of theories of diversity, and they include the use of culturally appropriate reinforcers, the respect for persons’ values, and the prevention and management of cross-cultural, gender, or generation conflicts (Rock, Halvorson & Grey 2016; Valcour 2017). All these techniques are justified by theories and studies to be applied in international organizations.
Also, good managers should avoid focusing on their assumptions regarding diverse employees to concentrate on their needs without referring to biases (Harvard Business Review 2011). The values and needs of employees can be different while comparing them with each other’s visions or while comparing them with leaders’ ideas (Chamorro-Premuzic & Garrad 2017). From this perspective, the goal of managers working in cross-cultural contexts is to identify priorities and preferences of diverse employees to use them and create a successful team, as well as to adapt them to an organization’s strategic goals.
The research in the field of managing cross-cultural teams and working with employees in international organizations indicates that such standard motivation approaches and techniques as high salaries, benefits, empowerment, goal-orientation, and career advancement opportunities are not equally applied in all cultural contexts or for all employees. Even if these techniques are good to be used while working with representatives of Western cultures, variances depend on nations, and representatives of developing and developed countries view these techniques differently. More variances can be observed while speaking about representatives of Eastern or Asian cultures who value collectivism, team building, trust, and support.
From this point, there is no list of techniques that are good to motivate all employees in various cross-cultural contexts. However, managers should analyze the preferences and expectations of their workers without concentrating on their own general or wrong assumptions and propose a motivational strategy that includes techniques appropriate for diverse individuals as members of an organization that has the common goal to achieve.
Chamorro-Premuzic, T & Garrad, L 2017, ‘If you want to motivate employees, stop trusting your instincts’, Harvard Business Review. Web.
Garton, E 2017, ‘How to be an inspiring leader’, Harvard Business Review. Web.
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Rock, D, Halvorson, HG & Grey, J 2016, ‘Diverse teams feel less comfortable – and that’s why they perform better’, Harvard Business Review. Web.
Sweeney, P & McFarlin, D 2015, International management: strategic opportunities and cultural challenges, 5th edn, Routledge, New York, NY. Web.
Valcour, M 2017, ‘Motivating people starts with having the right attitude’, Harvard Business Review. Web.