It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the time of yearly performance reviews.
While dissatisfaction with performance appraisals (especially rare ones: once a year, unfair, biased, and time-consuming) is widespread, most organizations continue to exercise this practice because nothing better has been invented yet. Or has it?
We will not dive into the analysis of performance reviews as a practice. We will focus on helping you, our clients, to work through this experience as mindfully as possible, considering your and your diverse team’s needs and cultural differences.
1. Learn to master performance reviews sooner
Many immigrants discover the performance review only after it has taken place. We frequently receive calls from clients asking: My manager has just sent me an e-mail asking me to share my achievements and challenges from the past year. What should I write? I need to respond to my leader ASAP.
Needless to say, even at this moment, these people do not realize that the upcoming year’s salary increase, learning opportunities, or promotion directly depends on this communication. They often see it as a simple report that needs to be submitted to the manager.
Advice for People Leaders:
a) Understand that your newly onboarded internationally educated employees might be from a country or organization where the performance review process was never in place. They need to learn about performance reviews and how to prepare for them. Communicating early and with all possible detailed instructions about the process flow and expectations will save energy and time, and it will show your team that you care about their performance.
b) Avoid terminology that might confuse people for whom English is a second language. If they come from countries with higher power distance or hierarchical cultures, they might hesitate to ask you for clarification—even if they don’t understand what the term means.
Advice for Internationally Educated Professionals:
a) A performance review is a formal assessment in which a manager evaluates an employee’s work performance, identifies strengths and weaknesses, offers feedback, and sets goals for future performance. Performance reviews are also called performance appraisals or performance evaluations. The results of these conversations directly impact your future in the organization.
b) Ask about the performance review process in the organization as early as possible. We recommend doing this as early as the interview process. When the hiring manager provides you with an opportunity to ask questions, include this: “Could you please share the performance review process in your organization? How often, by whom, and how exactly will my work be evaluated?”
In the past, many organizations have conducted annual performance reviews for their entire workforce; however, more and more companies are moving toward a frequent feedback performance management system in which managers conduct quarterly, monthly, or even weekly reviews. Some organizations are doing away with formal performance reviews in favor of more casual manager check-ins and one-on-ones.
If you understand clearly the process of evaluating your work and the KPI (key performance indicators) you are required to focus on, you will be more successful.
2. Be aware that you are a biased person.
Let’s make it clear: We all are biased, and we are not self-aware enough. This affects employees and managers alike, not only during the review process but throughout life. Similarity bias, negativity bias, implicit bias, recency bias, and all other biases will never disappear because we are humans. We need to learn to recognize and deal with them, and we desperately need to become more self-aware.
Advice for People Leaders
People are drawn to individuals who are similar to themselves, often at the expense of those who are not. Cultural differences often contribute to such prejudice. (By “cultural differences,” we mean not only cultural background but also worldviews, beliefs etc.)
Never stop learning from your team members about their perspectives on day-to-day life. Be culturally curious.
If you have a diverse team, understand that your members navigate self-promotion, speaking to power, a directness in communication, feedback, decision-making, disagreement, and time management in totally different ways sometimes.
People from cultures that are low on self-promotion will have achievements under their belts, but they will wait for your recognition and be surprised if there is none.
For someone who is used to direct feedback in their country, the crucial negative comment you put inside that sandwich will be lost and not received as intended.
A team member with many ideas but who belongs to a culture where anything needs to be discussed in the group first before being presented to the leader will only showcase the innovative potential in this conversation if you have designed it to do so.
We can help you understand how to navigate these and other differences for the entire team’s benefit. Reach out
In the meantime, examine your assumptions, and if you can invite a trusted advisor on your team to help you with this, do so.
Advice for Internationally Educated Professionals:
It is important to understand that there are differences in processes back home and in a new country.
Customizing your behavior to the expectations of a new culture is not a burden but an opportunity to find “a sweet spot” with someone who sees the world differently. Reframe your perception of the situation for your own benefit.
You will face various challenges in the process: the authenticity challenges (this is not the true me), competence challenge (I do not have the required skills), resentment challenge (I feel frustrated or annoyed that I must do this in the first place) likability challenge (people (or I) will not like this version of me) or morality challenge (I have legitimate concerns about the ethical nature of the behavior I’m about to perform). All are valid but also manageable. Reach out to us if you need help navigating these waters.
In the meantime, here are a couple of suggestions about the performance review process:
Most of North America is used to the so-called “feedback sandwich,” when the feedback you need to hear is wrapped up by positive comments from both sides. If you come from a culture where you are clear on what is white and what is black, what is right and what is wrong, you might get confused. Positive wrapping might create a feeling that the constructive feedback provided in the middle was insignificant compared to all the good things that were said. It is important to understand that the middle part of the sandwich matters most. Ask your manager to tell you more if you are not clear on any required adjustments in your behavior or performance.
No one likes bragging, but some cultures consider even “talking about your true achievements” unacceptable. Self-promotion is almost taboo there. In these cultures, your good deeds are supposed to be seen and recognized by others, not you. North America is not one of them. It’s your responsibility to track your results and successes and to mindfully present them so that you are not bragging. It is not an easy task to keep that balance, but it is possible.
Start by regularly completing a log in which you track projects you have worked on and results you achieved, as well as skills you have acquired and used to contribute to the team’s success. It’s tedious work, but it always pays back. When people look back at the year and try to recall everything, what they remember best—and, therefore, focus on most—is what has happened most recently. The brain ascribes predominance to actions and events that are easier to recall. It’s easier and more natural than you might think to forget the details of tasks that you performed weeks or months ago. Lacking this information, it is difficult to present your work well when needed.
c) Directness in communication
If you come from a culture where “No” can have 25 meanings, a performance review in North America might be challenging for you. Directness in communication is another dimension that often causes problems for internationally educated professionals during the performance review process. Don’t expect your manager to guess your needs; they will usually guess them wrong. Take the lead at your next performance review in a respectful and open way, with an understanding of organizational goals and priorities, and you will succeed.
3. Come to the conversation to impact the relationship positively
Advice for People Managers and Internationally Educated Professionals:
Come to the performance review prepared and truly strive to make the conversation effective. The purpose of reviews is two-fold: an evaluation of performance (as accurate and actionable as possible), but also the development of the employee’s skills in line with job requirements.
If you don’t have such intent, what’s the point of such meetings?
Don’t make the performance review a routine check-mark procedure without any positive impact on your future and the future of your organization.
If you don’t foresee any positive outcome, then probably it’s time to side apart with that organization or employee.
Don’t waste your time, money, and energy.
Quiet Tenacity’s mission is to help employers and internationally educated professionals understand each other better. Performance reviews should bring joy; they should not feel daunting. Let us help. We know where the shoe is pinching.