Ask the Expert – Unlocking Potential: From Underperformer to Asset

In the article, Unlocking Potential: From Underperformer to Asset, we examined a dilemma that many employers face. You hire an internationally educated professional who has the right skills, degree, and workplace experience to be in management, but who under performs without explanation.  This is where Business Edge, a bridging program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, enables and empowers skilled immigrants to move back into jobs where they can fully utilize their skills, education and professional experience at a management level.  Read the article.

There are also other strategies that employers can implement to assist their immigrant talent in performing better. In this series we are posing questions to HR experts to provide insight into getting the most out of diverse talent.

Question markWhat are the risks of linking challenges experienced by employees to culture? How can employers mitigate these risks?

By Athina Schloo, Director of Employee Programs and HR Initiatives, RBC

Culture is a complex and ever changing reality which differs from person to person and can sometime pose some challenges in the workplace. However, if we are quick to link employee challenges to culture, we often fail to see the uniqueness and full spectrum of talents that an employee brings to our workplace. We think it is more effective to see diversity and cultural differences as key levers that can drive our competitiveness and innovation. Every employee brings his or her unique talents, experiences and perspectives to the workplace. True diversity isn’t just a matter of having a strong representation of various groups, but of tapping into this full spectrum of ideas and abilities that people bring to the workplace. Encouraging this diversity is what leads to true insights and innovative practices.

A good place to start is to create a more “open” environment where staff can ask questions and learn about differences. No employee should “hide” something when they come to work. Employers will benefit by encouraging all employees to bring their full self to work every day. Encourage and seek out diversity of thought and actively include different perspectives.  That is fundamental to a workplace where innovation and competitiveness is fostered.

Success is dependent on promoting a work environment that is inclusive of every person and that allows every employee to reach his or her full potential.  We are a people business, as we grow as a global company, we recognize that our edge depends in our ability to attract and retain talent in a global marketplace. Today’s employees are a diverse mix of ages, races, religions, backgrounds, and personalities. They have different or similar lifestyles, sexual orientations, work styles, levels or education and ways of seeing the world. At RBC, we try to create an environment that recognizes the perspective of the individual and builds approaches customized to the individual. That ties in to one of our key values of diversity for growth and innovation.  It has worked well for us and it can work for others too. The idea is simple. The hard work is in being open to it and asking the right questions.

RBC recently released a new whitepaper, “Outsmarting our Brains“, with Ernst & Young that discusses how everyone has unconscious biases that can influence actions and decisions.  Left unaddressed, hidden biases have the power to derail an organization’s success.  By learning to recognize and address our biases, one can mitigate their impact and maximize the potential of individuals, teams and organizations.

Question markWhat are some strategies that employers can use to help newly promoted internationally-trained managers progress in their managerial development?

By Glem Dias, Talent & Diversity Strategist

For internationally-educated professionals (IEPs) that are transitioning into a managerial role there is an added level of complexity. They are operating not just outside their individual expertise, but must understand the cultural context where results depend on the ability to collaborate, influence and engage a team and others colleagues.

Here are some practices that an employer can use to support new IEP managers:

  • Work with the new IEP manager to create and implement a personal development plan (PDP) that addresses critical developmental gaps. The leader should meet with them once a quarter to review the PDP and provide feedback and coaching;
  • Match the IEP with another manager who is highly respected to share peer-peer level insights and lessons learned;
  • Provide a “new manager” toolkit and guide them to resources to hire, on-board, set goals, engage, develop and effectively manage performance of the team;
  • Encourage the new IEP manager to create a network to gain on-going feedback;
  • And consider “360 feedback” towards the end of their first year.

Question markAssume Sarah’s employer recognized cultural barriers were linked to certain performance issues. What interventions could her employer have made once the poor performance was perceived? 

By Sabina Michael, Program Manager, Business Edge 

The first step in a situation like Sarah’s is for the manager to provide timely feedback. Too often internationally educated employees such as Sarah receive their first form of real feedback’ in the form of a termination notice. This is too late; and it represents a situation where everyone loses.

Delivering feedback, however, is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. Managers who work with internationally-educated professionals (IEPs) need to recognize that different cultures understand and perceive feedback very differently.

In Canada, professional settings are often characterized by indirect communication. Thus, if a manager is delivering feedback to an employee from an indirect culture, they might deliver it in a method fairly similar to how they would for a Canadian-born employee.

If, on the other hand, the IEP comes from a culture where the communication is very direct, the employee may struggle with indirect feedback. They may find the ‘feedback sandwich’ difficult to decode, and therefore miss the point completely. A manager should strive to give direct feedback in order to clearly convey the message. Focus on the content of message, rather than on non-verbal cues such as body language, intonation and register in speech.

Further, it is critical to set clear goals and concrete deliverables. Employees are then able to understand and focus on the key deliverables. Managers should allow for frequent check-in meetings to provide employees with the opportunity to clarify questions and review performance. Additional support from a mentor, coach or ‘cultural buddy’ would also be of great help.

The manager and IEP alike should keep the following in mind. Each should strive to increase their understanding of the other person’s perspective before jumping to conclusions. And each should address cultural issues in an open, honest way before they become insurmountable. Sarah’s case is one where everyone loses. Described here is a situation where everyone comes out ahead.

More Resources

Video – Business Edge for Internationally Trained Professionals – learn more about the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto program from participants, employers and faculty.

Video – Integrating Talent Video– Reward and Recognition
Cultural differences can influence the effectiveness of performance feedback in a diverse workplace. The effects of these differences are highlighted in the fourth installment of Integrating Talent, a training video created by TRIEC that follows the fictional experiences of the skilled immigrant Tarek and his employer MetroCan Technologies.

Roadmap – Manage Performance
In this section of the Roadmap learn how to set goals, outline expectations and provide regular feedback to help skilled immigrant employees perform effectively.

E-learning coursePerformance Management
This course examines the role of cultural norms in performance management and leadership.

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