Intelligence of the 21st century



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  • Today’s globalized organizations are characterized by a highly diverse force workforce. This has resulted in managers and employees interacting with individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds daily. Leveraging opportunities of the 21st century requires individuals to develop a global mind set and intercultural competence. So how do we adapt to new cultures, who should adapt to whom, and how can organizations make the most of the rapidly increasing diversity across the workforce? The primary reasons that intercultural competence has become a critical skill set is due to the growth of diverse markets, and an increasingly diverse workforce. Cultural faux-pas has put employees in awkward and confusing situations on a regular basis. For example, you are talking to a person from a different culture, and he or she doesn’t look you in the eye. Is it a personal quirk or a cultural difference? Do you find it offending that the person is not looking you in the eye and talking? How do you know, and how do you deal with it? Why does culture poses several challenges in our work life and how do we overcome them?

    Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede defined culture as the “collective programming of the mind that sets one society apart from another”. Culture is also described as the deeply rooted patterns of values, customs, attitudes and beliefs that distinguish one group from another. Culture has a profound influence on an individual and subconsciously guides one’s thought patterns, behavior and actions. The ability to work and relate effectively across cultures is a critical capability for today’s global managers that enables them to succeed in cross-cultural scenarios; be it tapping the opportunities in emerging markets, avoiding a cultural faux pas, attracting and retaining diverse talent and customers, or increasing profitability. Scholars have identified several types of intelligence, including academic intelligence (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ), spatial intelligence, social intelligence, etc. So which is this intelligence that provides the practical and interpersonal skills needed when the cultural context changes. Professors Soon Ang and Christopher Earley introduced the concept of Cultural Intelligence (CQ), which they defined as the capability of individuals to function effectively in cross-cultural situations. CQ enables individuals to not only understand the nuances of a novel cultural environment, but also enables them to work effectively across national, ethnic and organizational cultures. CQ is not an ability that one is born with, but rather a capability that can be acquired through different interventions and training.

    CQ is a critical capability for navigating today’s increasingly global and diverse business environment. There are four sub-capabilities included in CQ, each of which includes more specific skills, or sub-dimensions, that can be measured and enhanced. CQ Drive or motivational CQ is the interest, confidence and drive one has to adapt to intercultural situations. Do your managers and employees have the confidence and drive to work through them? CQ Knowledge or cognitive CQ is the knowledge one has about different cultures and its role in shaping interactions and work. Does your staff understand the way culture shapes how people think and behave? Do they have an overall understanding of how cultures vary? CQ Strategy or metacognitive CQ is the ability to making sense of culturally diverse experiences and planning accordingly. Do your managers carefully observe what is going on inside one’s mind and the minds of others? Can your employees draw on cultural understanding to solve complex problems. CQ Action or behavioral CQ is the ability to exhibit appropriate culture specific verbal and nonverbal actions. Do your employees know when to adapt their body language, facial features or voice tone to another culture and when not to adapt. Are they able to interpret the verbal and non-verbal aspects of customers from other cultures? To find answers to many such questions, the CQ scale has been developed that enables organizations to measure the CQ of their employees and enhance it further through different interventions.

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