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Cultural Intelligence @ Work

May 5, 2014

Cultural Intelligence

With globalisation, the greater diversity of work forces and the mobility that talented executives enjoy, cultural intelligence is more crucial than ever to successful business outcomes. It’s importance is such that Nanyang Business School at NTU, one of the leading universities in Asia, reportedly established one of the world’s first cultural intelligence research centre, hosting the Culture Science Institute and Center for Leadership and Cultural Intelligence.

Cultural Intelligence (CQ), also called cultural intelligence, is the key to functioning effectively in professional situations characterised by cultural diversity. Within modern work settings, the ability to function effectively in multi-cultural situations is critical for employees, managers, and organizations. With the nuances of human behaviour across cultures, effective and appropriate communication, informed by cultural intelligence, is a key skill for the modern businessperson.

Cultural Intelligence and Why It Matters

Cultural intelligence grants insights into interacting and engaging with others in multi-cultural situations appropriately, as well as performing and communicating effectively. Issues that can crop up as a result of cultural intelligence deficits are ethnocentrism, stereotypes and business blunders.As such, cross-cultural skills are key to  contemporary managers who operate in the global village.

A classic example often cited is the American Sunbeam Corporation, which once launched a new product for the German market. This was a curling iron called called ‘Mist Stick’, from the Clairol product line. Due to Clairol’s lack of culturally intelligence, the company did not know that ‘mist’ was and is German slang for dung. The product was quietly discontinued after a spectacularly unsuccessful market entry. In this case, relevant cultural intelligence would have helped the situation greatly.

Cultural intelligence is a key predictor of future business success, due to it’s link to emotional intelligence, the key to effective management and people development within organisations. A 1992 study by IBM, covering an estimated 2000 organisations over 20 countries, identified that both line managers and human resource (HR) specialists saw HR as a critical success factor in achieving business strategic goals. In essence, the view of participants was that investing in their human capital provided the only realistic basis for achieving and sustaining competitive advantage.

With  the need for policies and procedures appropriate to operations in different countries, cultural intelligence is an essential asset for executives and HR managers. It is the foundation of effective corporate management, especially when operations are often distributed across the world.

Assessing Cross-Cultural Skills

Maria Kassova, a Singapore-based executive coach and speaker, has created a simple functional framework for evaluating cultural intelligence.. You can assess yourself or others by asking these three questions:

  1. How prepared am I in these areas?
  2. What can I do to improve my knowledge?
  3. Who can help me?

Asking these questions helps determine the assets contributing to your cultural intelligence, assessing where you fall short and how you can improve upon your assets .These assets are intellectual, psychological and social assets. Taken together, they represent a specific set of skills and intelligence that enhances the value of executives to their organisations. Intellectual assets are:

  • Global knowledge of an industry, its players, competitors, challenges and trends
  • Strong analytical abilities to consolidate complex factors into meaningful findings
  • Active interest in cultures

Psychological assets are:

  • A desire to experience and learn about other cultures, manifested in a passion for adventure, diversity and open-mindedness
  • Self-confidence and strong interpersonal relationship skills while operating in unfamiliar environments

Social assets are:

  • Cross-cultural empathy, in engaging and connecting emotionally with culturally diverse peoples
  • Unifying multiple approaches to a problem and bridging differences, while maintaining a long-term strategic imperative

Understanding the state of your various assets, and how you can improve them, will aid you in developing the appropriate strategies and tactics for operating in multi-cultural environments. Given that these assets are share with emotional intelligence and social intelligence, developing these assets leads to improvement in these qualities as well.

Want to raise an issue or ask a question? Send an email to shiwen@hrinasia.com.

Resources & Further Reading

Bhatii, A.P. (2009). Cross Cultural Issues in HRM. Simon Fraser University MBA Final Project. 

Caligiuri, P. & Tarique, I. (2012). Dynamic cross-cultural competencies and global leadership effectiveness. Journal of World Business, 47(4), 612-622.

Higgs, M. J. (1994). Global HR Management and Cross-cultural Issues. Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, 1(3), 23-28. 

Jing, P. (2010). Cross-Cultural Human Resource Management, Case Company: Penta Chutian Laser Equipment Co., Ltd. Vaasa University of Applied Sciences Degree Thesis. 

Johnson, J. P., Lenartowicz, T., & Apud, S. (2006). Cross-cultural competence in international business: Toward a definition and a model. Journal of International Business Studies, 37(4), 525-543.

Kassova, M. (2011). Cross-Cultural Skills: Assessing Your Mindset. In Taylor, S. (Ed.) Success 365: 365 great ideas for personal development and achieving greater success. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte. Ltd.

 

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Article Contributed by HR in Asia‘s Team.

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