what is Cultural Intelligence anyway?
People on the move: across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, from South East Asia towards DownUnder, through Southern Africa into South Africa and from Central America to the North
They all call, sooner than later, for jobs and many of them will eventually influence our working place, and change our staff structures. Diversity Management becomes a core competence, and Cultural Intelligence [or cultural quotient] a main tool. Only, how to get that «darn» CQ? Or, even, what is it anyway? The term CQ was created early this millennium and featured, for example, in the 2006-textbook «Developing Cultural Intelligence at Work» (ISBN 9780804771726) by P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang. Earley is Dean of the Connecticut School of Business and Ang Professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Their book introduces intercultural capabilities as a form of intelligence and explains how to identify and develop Cultural Intelligence. It is not that difficult:
«Cultural Intelligence is an outsider’s natural ability
to interpret and respond to unfamiliar cultural signals
in an appropriate manner»
As per the authors, CQ is distinguished by three core features: the head, or the ability to discover new information about a culture; the heart, or one’s motivation and confidence in dealing with a culture; and the body, or the capability to adapt actions and behaviour so that they are appropriate in a new culture. A manager with a high CQ therefore can enter into new cultural settings (professional, organizational, regional, and personal) and immediately understand what is happening and why. He or she can confidently interact with people, and engage in the right actions. Filled with real-world examples and case studies, the above-mentioned book explains how to assess one’s own skills and improve one’s CQ.
Cultural Intelligences requires several capabilities, including motivation, drive, strategy and implementation. Therefore, a motivated manager must have an interest in other cultural values and behaviours (even if «only» generated through private travel to other countries), and then aim at understanding it. At the working place, then, a strategy must be developed to acknowledge cross-cultural situations, and then a concept prepared on how to handle the differences between management and staff, and among the staff. Or even from employees towards foreign or culturally-different stakeholders, clients and suppliers.
There is a consensus, that diverse workforces, whose members have developed cultural intelligence or proactively entertain their cultural differences, are more productive workforces. And so a diverse team with high cultural intelligence will outperform homogeneous teams.
It’s about respect
Understanding employees from other cultures and their daily and sometimes very personal needs determines effectiveness in the workplace, influences how conflicts are handled, and shapes the future. While basic social skills and respect for other cultures can be enough, CQ is especially important in stressful situations or in the fast-changing and volatile environment as we see it right now. Without it, mutual distrust can set in, language barriers can grow more divisive, and different people in the group may bring disparate approaches to conflict.
But while certain fortunate children might have learned cross-cultural intelligence from their parents, the intelligence is far from being innate for all. So it is a developmental skill that comes with coaching, training, and lots of dialogues, and the working place is one area, where this can be executed well. To stimulate interests and participation of all involved, some basic tools are available, such as (if suitable):
- Visual identification of corporate values about diversity and the respect for different cultural values and behaviours; possibly with a remark in the Mission Statement.
- Allow diversity in the infrastructure and decoration of your offices (Blog-Wall, World Café in your company’s kitchen, etc.).
- Introduce educational tools to your management team, with printed literature or relevant cross-culture seminars.
- Identify a diversity-liaison-officer among your staff (not someone from HR) to entertain with the topic by introduction activities and dialogue.
- Introduce Business-English courses for all staff in order to continuously improve the quality of communication and reduce misunderstandings and accidental cross-cultural insults.
- And mix foreign with local employees in a best-possible fashion in order to avoid the formation of minority groups.
- Finally, activated and stimulate a regular and ongoing topic-relevant dialogue about differences. Communication is key!
He is a consultant, coach, speaker & publicist about cross-cultural issues and cross-border competences in the global business environment. He talks about communication and international marketing, focuses on the emerging markets, and often features Japan and China.