Why Cultural Intelligence is Important to Business

Litzy Profile.jpg

This month on Advice From Leaders, we had the pleasure of speaking with the incredibly insightful writer, trainer, and consultant: Litzy Baeza. Litzy shared some insights into cultural intelligence with us including why we might want it, and how to develop it. Litzy’s experience and passion for Intercultural, Cross-Cultural, and Diversity & Inclusion is inspiring and motivating to us! Follow along with our interview below to gain valuable insight into these areas and some tools you can use!

  1. What is cultural intelligence?

    I’m going to start with Emotional Intelligence. We’ve all heard about Emotional Intelligence lately (EQ), and that’s the ability to pick up on the wants, the emotions, the needs, of other people. CQ – Cultural Intelligence, I believe, goes a step further because CQ is the ability to work effectively across cultural differences and it picks up on the values, the behaviours, the attitudes, and beliefs inherent in cultures. Sometimes these values and behaviours are very hidden, we’re not aware of them. Someone with high Cultural Intelligence will be able to pick up on the underlying values and behaviours etc. It’s not only used to understand cultural differences, but CQ can really be used to understand any context where differences arise in a workplace setting.

    CQ predicts things like personal adjustment, adaptability, judgement, decision making, leadership, negotiation, trust, innovation, leadership effectiveness, profitability; so, there is a whole range of different things that CQ can work effectively across because with CQ we’re attuned to those underlying values and behaviours. The other thing about EQ is emotions are culturally conditioned. Emotions vary widely across cultures. EQ is a very North American concept. It can’t be easily used for example in other countries where emotions aren’t really picked up upon, for example, a country like Japan. So that’s why I think CQ is the next EQ and an important competency to have in the workplace (or in any business setting).

  2. Do you have an example of when you might see cultural intelligence or a lack of it in the workplace?

    There’s a whole range of different examples, but I kind of focused on two here. One is the way things are communicated.  For example, we have cultures where [they] are very high context. Those are cultures that communicate in ways that are implicit and they rely heavily on context. Low context cultures rely on explicit verbal communication. People communicate in different ways and people can get really frustrated.

    Another example may be a person that comes from a culture where there is a high-power distance, so this means that the relationship between bosses and subordinates is one of dependence. People need, in some cultures, a higher degree of unequal degree of power than other cultures. So people in low-power degree cultures, the relationship between bosses and subordinates is one of inter-dependence, so, this may cause issues when managers or people in leadership positions are trying to manage groups of people that come from a high-power distance like countries like, Latin American countries, African countries, Middle Eastern countries, where the boss is the powerful one. Countries like Canada and the US are very low-power distance; We want there to be employees adding their ideas to projects, working independently. Those are some examples of where you might see challenges with cultural intelligence.

  3. Why is cultural intelligence so important for businesses?

    We see a lot more organizations and businesses working internationally, or they have a diverse group of employees working in their organizations. We’re also seeing a high number of newcomers and immigrants coming into the Canadian workplace, and we’re just going to see these numbers increase. Immigration Canada is highly recruiting people to come to fill roles, one example is the tech industry for example. The numbers keep shifting, but there is going to be about 185,000 – 225,000 open tech roles by 2020 and it is newcomers and immigrants who are going to be filling these roles. There is a high push of people coming from India and other countries. In order for them to successfully work in the Canadian workforce, you need to have leaders that have a high level of cultural intelligence, that understand the values, the behaviours and the attitudes and beliefs of the newcomers coming into the workforce. This is going to be super important for them to work effectively.

    The other thing is we all know that companies that work with diverse groups and cross-culturally have high productivity rates and usually the advantage of this is high. So those are other important aspects to consider cultural intelligence in the workplace. Employees who possess a high level of cultural intelligence in businesses play an important role in bridging divides and knowledge gaps in their organization. They educate their peers about different cultures, they transfer their knowledge between diverse groups, they help build interpersonal connections and they include the interpersonal processes in a multicultural workforce. Those are some important aspects for businesses to ensure leaders have high cultural intelligence.

  4. How can companies help employees develop cultural intelligence?

    There is a variety of ways. Firstly, you can have people like myself come in and train people. There are lots of different options, NorQuest is huge on diversity and inclusion as well, so there are different organizations in Edmonton that promote inclusivity and help develop that cultural intelligence. The other cost-effective way to increase cultural intelligence is by having cross-cultural coaches. Those are employees who actually come from other countries and can help leadership, supervisors, etc. understand how their culture works. Hire people who are diverse as well, so they come in and have diverse ways of doing business, so that’s another way for companies to help develop that cultural intelligence.

  5. What are 3 ways an individual can take it upon themselves to develop cultural intelligence?

    I’m working off of Dr. David Livermore’s (American Ph. D. and expert in Cultural Intelligence). He says, and I’m just taking two of them, I’ve added one of my own, but he says that: First and foremost, having the drive. So that’s the willingness to work with others that are different from us. This will help us in situations that may be challenging or frustrating. It’s also helpful in overcoming explicit and unconscious biases. Understanding what it means to have a bias, and then trying to work through those biases. Biases never go away, but we can try to work with them. Second is having knowledge. A lot of people think cultural knowledge means understanding what people eat or what people drink, or what the authentic dances are or dress, things like that. It’s not really understanding that part of a culture, it is understanding how culture can shape someone’s behaviour, attitudes, values, and beliefs. That’s super important.

    There’s a lot of theories out there that are helpful to understand, one of them is Geert Hostede. He has a great website called Hofstede insights and he’s a pioneer of value dimensions underlying all cultures. On his website, you can analyze [value dimensions] for business. There are some free tools out there where you can analyze different value systems of different cultures, so you would take your culture, for example, Canada and I can compare it to a culture where I might be going to work.

    For me, the last point, or the third point, is putting yourself in situations with people from different cultures. Not just going to different cultures but perhaps participating and learning more, being curious, going to different events where cultural groups are existent, trying foods, asking questions, these types of things will get you into the mindset of a different culture and how they think.

To learn more about Why Cultural Intelligence Matters, and to hear from Litzy herself, you can check out her recent presentation: “Why Cultural Intelligence Matters, Even if You Never Leave the Workplace!” at DisruptHR YEG.