Applying organisational diagnosis to design rewards for an international workforce

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Patricia Inez Meiring, doctoral student in organisational psychology and risk with Middlesex University, explains the theory and practice of organisational diagnosis modelling

There are multiple influences on behaviour that can constrain performance and improve it. An understanding of the bigger dynamics of influence, such as national cultural characteristics, organisational structure and behaviour, resources, perception and motivation is necessary for HR professionals to develop processes more wisely.

Organisational diagnostic work can support the creation of a ‘blueprint’ for organisations looking to understand and work with the psychological aspects of influence, particularly when working internationally.

This means a strategic HR practice that helps develop HR management systems and processes and figures out where strategy, culture, and a people-first approach fit, can benefit organisational performance.


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Working in the Middle East was perplexing at times. I was based in multinationals supporting staff populations to be safer and more productive. During implementation of my work I encountered many unexpected consequences in the behaviour of people and began to engage with both the data and psychological theory to inform my practice.

HR and OD are said to work hand-in-hand to deliver strategic HR that can support implementing effective strategy into the organisation so that employees feel empowered. Oftentimes, HR units are incredibly busy with day-to-day operational items. So much so that there feels like little time for the magnitude of what can seem like more strategic HR and OD, and by implication, change.

OD practitioners can be hired to work with HR and leaders to diagnose the influences that may be at play in the organisation. This is also true of project management teams in setting up major projects that occur across borders with clients, stakeholders, and a workforce that are from different national cultural groups.

Many of the management systems that are set up correspond to specific operating standards, particularly safety, which is set against International Safety Standards. However, in some cases in large organisations the implementation and setup of procedures will be followed against the corporate standard of operating.

It is the belief here that with more knowledge of the specific make-up of the major project or new organisation (a merger or transition), practitioners can introduce more process variability to OD strategy and create a better ‘fit’ for the workforce it is built for.

An example can be found in the reward processes for people in different companies in a joint venture. Rewards or incentives (those not based on benefits or salaries) can look like bonus, on-the-spot rewards, and public recognition or appreciation by leaders or peers.

What I discovered was that public recognition is favoured by some populations but not others, on-the-spot rewards are favoured by some leaders but not all of them, and the approach to giving and receiving of rewards can be vastly different between companies and populations.

Any perceived difference in the criteria, reason, or amount of reward can lead to confusion, frustration, and at times a way of creating informal networks of power or dependency, unsolicited trade-offs, and divisiveness in staff populations.

If employees are constructed from different national cultural groups then these consequences can seem even more unproductive than necessary. In different countries and cultures, a reward can be given based on differing criteria.

They can be based on equity (what is done to receive the reward), equality (what is fair within the group), or seniority: Equity allows for the work to get done. Equality maintains group harmony. And seniority maintains hierarchy.

In some cultures, the need to maintain group harmony and a steer toward the maintenance of seniority is most important, and where there is a mix of cultures inside of an organisation these criteria may not be over apparent or seem inappropriate.

To add to the dynamic, rewards can also change depending on the context in which they are made so that a group can be rewarded for the same achievement based on different criteria from one day to another.

Rewards are just one small piece of the puzzle. When we have organisation structure (the typical hierarchical versus flat), there are some populations in multinational organisations that will prefer it one way.

Like any HR process, organisational structure carries with it decision making power and so this can be confusing for populations in organisations that merge.

What organisations need are sense-making tools that tell a story about the national culture history, influences and leaders within it.


This is part one of a two-part article exploring the importance of a rewards strategy tailored to international differences. Check back tomorrow for part two which will discuss the key findings of the research and how they can be embedded in the workplace.

The full article of the above is published in the November/December 2020 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.

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