Performance culture vs understanding culture for performance

Performance culture or understanding culture for performance

Recently, my wife had some school visitors over. Both of them have spent some time in the Navy and Army and got exposed to various cultures. Their stories were enlightening and educational and the more we spoke the more they realized that I’m an accountant but I’m speaking about cultural behaviours. This surprises most people because I believe that in order to succeed you need to know yourself, and then you need to learn about other people. Only when you comfortable with yourself can you “help” other people. Sometimes it is not about helping, but understanding people so that you don’t judge them but accept them for who they are.

We are human because of our uniqueness, if we not performing according to someone else standard we can only know that through feedback. Sometimes we take feedback negatively, but to succeed in the world of man it is important to understand what their expectations are. In the work place people scurry along without ever giving this any thought. Come year end they don’t understand what went wrong when they have a performance review. I remember when I was doing my CA(SA) articles I asked my Manager what I needed to do if I wanted to be an exceptionally performer, he told me I first need to do what is expected, that is the minimum, and then I must go beyond that. That year I did what was my “job description” and went the extra mile by saving time on an audit and budget which effectively meant more profit for the company. By understanding this I understood what was required and then exceeded the expectation. This is a simple example, but it gave me the freedom to choose what I needed to do to perform and I was not at the whims of someone else’s subjectivity.

Performance management does not make us less Christian, less human, less empathetic, what it does is make us realistic and allow us to perform. Every sportsman knows what he must do to perform, there is a result, and outcome and he and his coach set their expectations and the beginning of a season which they work towards. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes not, but through competing he gets feedback allows him to take corrective action.

What has this go to do with Culture?

My “white” manager had an expectation, I could have been disgruntled for never being excellent performer when I’m working hard. I could have blamed him for being white, I could have blamed him because he is a “manager”. He never knew my culture but I had to learn his western way of thinking, I had to ask questions, probe his logic and understanding without being judgmental. In the end I learnt what was required and could contract accordingly.

Because of lessons learnt I contract with people around what I expect of them, by understanding their culture I learn how to find common ground and that allows for the conversations. How many managers never take the time to learn, they have expectations without understanding whether there is a cultural conflict. Sometimes people don’t want to be exceptional, there is nothing wrong with that and we must also except that not everyone can be exceptional because exceptional is as much about preparing for success and getting the opportunity to do so. I was not exceptional on every audit, but when the opportunity arose I was ready for it.

If we want a more productive Africa, we will need to learn about culture and its impact on performance and not just try and create a “performance culture”

Just thinking!!


One comment

  1. Your insight of performance being about managing expectations is very powerful. To me this is the core of understanding performance, performance management, and achievement.

    When someone is looking at our performance, if we meet their expectations, they are satisfied. If we exceed their expectations, they are delighted. And if we don’t meet their expectations they are disappointed. Where culture comes into play, is that different groups, in different environments, often have different expectations. Our role is to understand their expectations if we are the one’s performing, and to help them understand our expectations, if we are the paying customer.

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