Cirque Du Soleil’s approach to global staffing.
What is Cirque Du Soleil’s approach to global staffing and how does this reflect its cultural values?
Cirque Du Soleil is not only a transnational company, it is also what can be described as a blue ocean company. Cirque has created value in the area of entertainment by offering something that has not been offered before in contrast to red ocean markets where success can only be achieved by out- competing your rivals. This has meant Cirque has unique predicaments, particularly around attracting and retaining the right talent from a very small pool.
Cirque as a company has a global Integration strategy with a very strong ethos around performance and creativity which needs to be reflected in all shows regardless of where they are being performed. Cirque in its recruitment, for both performance and corporate roles, places an emphasis on five major attributes, creativity, commitment, responsibility, team play and passion.
Cirque’s approach to global staffing takes a geocentric strategic approach whereby Cirque, although it is a single international entity, recruits worldwide to all posts. Nationality is ignored in favour of ability. Recruitment and selection is aligned with the organisation’s strategies and recruitment is directed at those with the attributes needed to achieve its strategies (Millmore 2003). An example of this can be seen in its website which recruits by worldwide location and information is provided in five different languages,
The HR department at Cirque has a strategic role as a navigator (Evans et al 2002 ) particularly around the marrying of local customs with the expectations of Cirque’s touring employees. As a global organisation Cirque has undertaken a balancing act with key policies that apply globally but are adapted to incorporate local practices and conditions. HR has had to develop long- term policies and practices that achieve the organisation’s long- term strategic plan.
Cirque’s role as a navigator is reflected through its HR practice of an open and unhindered communication policy and includes integrating the global perspective of its employees to ensure uniformity e.g. when there is a significant new HR policy of change HR managers will travel to each of the touring shows to collect the views of the staff and feed them in to the change.
Cirque on the surface appears to be a collective organisation (Hofstede 1980, 1991 referenced in Jackson 2002). There is an extended family which commands loyalty and the focus is on harmony. Relationships in this sort of organisation are almost familial, e.g. Cirque manages cultural diversity to avoid clashes through the development of a cultural awareness programme and provide career development for retiring performance artists to stay within the organisation. However Cirque is also an individualist organisation which hires on individual competency and values individual voice. Cirque’s communications policy is open and includes an uncensored employees’ section in a monthly publication.
What appear to be the pros and cons of this approach?
Within Cirque’s global staffing there are expatriates, third country nationals, local nationals and residents, all of which can throw up complex issues around culture, adjustments, immigration, legalities and variation in terms and conditions. There are of course obvious advantages and drivers for an organisation like Cirque having a global recruitment policy that is driven by a geocentric approach. Advantages and drivers include increased access to a very specific limited labour pool, transference of technical skills, facilitation of a multi-national workforce, integration in to local markets and ensuring the company’ s message and ethos is spread and reinforced globally.
Cirque’s global perspective has meant when recruiting performance staff Cirque taps into multiple talent pipelines including recruiting worldwide from sporting events (65% of performers are former athletes), Circus Schools and Erotic Arts Festivals. It also helps it to identify trends and new developments. It has built an acrobat school in Mongolia as part of succession planning.
Cirque’s global approach to recruitment means it has experienced problems similar to those experienced by Ikea (Grol et al 1998 referenced in Jackson 2002). There have been cross- cultural issues around practices and behaviours. Cirque has had to adopt a multi-cultural model that seeks to understand cultural differences rather than override them.
One of the issues Cirque faces as a global recruiter is dealing with the complexities relating to the number of different types of international employee and how to manage within business strategies, company values and cultural expectations (Briscoe and Schuler 2004 referenced in Sparrow 2007). Temporary staff who work for Cirque are all paid the same rate regardless of position. The rate of pay differs from city to city and country to country and temporary staff operate under a three strike rule which means if employees make the same mistake three times they are asked to leave, sometimes without being given a reason. This type of dissatisfaction has the ability to affect the Cirque Brand which is vital for its recruitment policy. As Sparrow (2007) identifies, alignment of reward to realities of local labour market can be a source of tension in an organisation.
The importance of Cirque’s Brand means that as a geocentric recruiter the organisation needs to have robust policies for managing communication and cultural diversity, including avoiding cultural clashes. The first time Cirque toured Japan it had a high number of staff complaints due to cultural differences, particularly around the stoic response of the Japanese audiences.
Where an employee is experiencing a change of culture, psychological adjustment has been highlighted as vital to performance, job satisfaction and retention (Bhaskar Shrinivas et al 2005; Sullivan & Bhagat 1992 ). Cirque managed this by developing a cultural awareness programme. The programme included an employee assistance programme which provided access to professional help and counselling for touring professionals, and there is a language training programme for performers. Cirque has as part of its global HR policy introduced cultural adaptation policies, e.g. HR found that in some cultures greeting by kissing each other on the cheeks was acceptable, in others tantamount to sexual assault.
Ethically corporate social responsibility can be a minefield for Cirque. It has focused on pushing the company ethos alongside an extensive cultural awareness programme. But it has found itself dealing with monopolies (for example the Georgian Knuckle Dancers) which can mean striking deals that go against organisational values or home country ethics and having a negative effect on a local market. Cirque has sought to develop a “meta- ethic” as proposed by Martin, Flores & Nakayama (2001) based on three principles: humanness – respect for all; dialogic – centrality of human relationship and mutual support; and finally speaking with and to rather than for or about.
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