Performance in the Eye of the Beholder: A Global Study Across 64 Countries

One of the classic topics in I/O research is identifying effective predictors of performance. However, do we all, across the world, perceive what constitutes good performance in the same way?  This is important to understand given the increasingly international nature of business.

We were delighted to have successfully submitted a poster presentation to the 2020 SIOP Annual Conference outlining our study.

Vivian Liu, Aon Global Products Associate, Lei Shirase, Aon Products and Analytics Associate and Manny Gonzalez, PhD Candidate, I-O Psychology at Baruch College & the Graduate Center, CUNY examined whether two established predictors of performance - maintaining composure and driving for results - are perceived to be important to employees’ overall performance, and, if so, to what extent.

The team used a dataset from 64 countries with manager-rated employee performance. They examined how culture influences managers’ perceptions of employee performance and based our hypotheses on Hofstede’s (1980a, b) masculinity dimension of culture. The masculinity dimension of culture refers to the degree to which values associated with stereotypes of masculinity (such as aggressiveness and dominance) and femininity (such as compassion, empathy, and emotional openness) are emphasized (Hofstede, 1980a, b).

Other research has shown that highly masculine cultures such as Japan, Germany, and the US tend to:

  • Have more gender-differentiated occupational structures, with certain jobs almost entirely occupied by women and others occupied by men.
  • Have a stronger emphasis on achievement, growth, and challenge in jobs, more so for men, but also across genders.
  • Are more assertive, less concerned about the quality of the work environment, and tend to have higher achievement motivation.
  • Admire the acquisition of material possessions and value aggressive attempts to acquire additional wealth or income
  • Have lower sensitivity toward ethical workplace behavior
  • Have a greater preference for engaging in unethical behavior

Research also shows that countries low on this dimension such as Sweden and Norway, tend to:

  • Emphasize working conditions, job satisfaction, and employee participation
  • Be associated with a preference for a friendly atmosphere, quality of life, warm personal relationships, and care for the weak.

Personality Characteristics Predictive Of Performance

The first predictor of performance the team explored was maintaining composure. This competency reflects the extent to which employees exhibit a steady demeanor and focus on work in the face of adversity, work setbacks, and dissatisfied or irate customers. This competency is included in many competency models as an effective predictor or component of overall performance (e.g., Kurz & Bartram, 2002). Therefore, they hypothesized that maintaining composure will be positively related to an employee’s overall performance. the results confirmed that composure is positively related to an employee’s performance rating. They also wanted to examine if the positive relationship between maintaining composure and an employee’s overall performance is stronger for countries with a high, rather than low, masculinity score. They found that this is not the case and instead discovered a weaker relationship for countries that have high masculinity scores.

The second predictor they examined was driving for results. This competency was used to reflect the extent to which employees exert high levels of personal effort to maximize productivity, take ownership of their tasks to ensure they are completed in a timely manner and with high levels of quality, and strive to accomplish challenging goals. Again, this competency is also categorized by many competency models across organizational levels and industries (Kurtz & Bartram, 2002). The team hypothesized that driving for quality results would be positively related to an employee’s overall performance – and, if so, that this would be a stronger relationship for countries with a high, rather than low, masculinity score. The study showed that there was indeed a positive relationship between an individual’s drive for quality results and their overall performance rating – but they found that, rather than it having a stronger relationship in countries with a high masculinity score, it had a weaker relationship.

The implications of the study are important as the results provide insights for multinational organizations and how it perceives and measures performance. All things being equal, when employees show some performance behaviors that are incongruent with performance observer’s cultural values, they may become more salient and noticeable, thus influence the performance ratings.

Results indicated that maintaining composure and driving for quality results are both important to employees’ overall performance ratings. However, these relationships were weaker in countries with higher scores on masculinity, contrary to our hypotheses. It seems that countries with a low masculinity score value these two competencies even more.


Hofstede, G. (1980a), Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, Sage, London.

Hofstede, G. (1980b), “Motivation, leadership, and organization: do American theories apply abroad?”, Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 5, pp. 42-63.

Kurz, R., & Bartram, D. (2002). Competency and individual performance: Modeling the world of work. In I. T. Robertson, M. Callinan, & D. Bartram (Eds.), Organizational effectiveness: The role of psychology (pp. 227-255). Chichester: Wiley.

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