Comparing Performance Across Cultural Divides

As part of teaching in the United Kingdom (UK) one of the attendees mentioned a common issue found in Performance Based Contracting (PBC); the wish to compare performance across cultural boundaries.  In this case the attendee mentioned their organisation was using a Net Promoter Score performance measure to compare performance of a UK and US part of the same organisation.  A Net Promoter Score performance measure is one that uses feedback to a single question: How likely are you to recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?  The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale.

In this case the US part of the organisation was getting 9.8 out of 10; unquestionably, a great good score.  However, the UK part of the same organisation was only getting 8.8 out of 10.  So why the difference?  Initially, most people will believe that the UK part of the organisation is simply not performing as well as the US part.  However, is this true?

Culturally, people from the US are more likely to give full scores (i.e. 10 out of 10) for excellent performance.  Therefore, the 9.8 out of 10 is possible.  However, regardless of the same excellent performance, people from the UK will not give 10 out of 10 since, culturally, they believe even excellent service can be improved.  Therefore, they must leave room in the score to improve, intending to drive future improvement.  Hence, 9 out of 10, and the average of 8.8 instead of 9.8.

When the UK attendee asked their clients whether there was anything else they could do to improve the performance to a 10, the answer was ‘no’. When the attendee questioned why they didn’t score 10 out of 10, each client simply stated they could not give a 10 out of 10 just in case the performance got better.  However, they were completely satisfied with the services delivered with attendee not being able to do anything better.  A score of 9 was simply the best they could give.

Many of you reading this may believe this is a story; a parable to help explain the cultural issues. However, it is true, and importantly, not an isolated instance.  Accordingly, PBC practitioners need to be careful when directly comparing performance scores between cultures.

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