Improving cultural intelligence

Jan 09 2012 by David Livermore Print This Article

Learning and Talent Development (L&TD) professionals are crucial allies for assessing and developing cultural intelligence (CQ). Recently, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development(CIPD) and the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) carried out a joint survey of L&TD practices in India, the UK, and US that offers several strategic insights for those of us committed to improving the CQ of working professionals.

1. In-House Programs Ranked Highest by Practitioners

Practitioners from all three countries view in-house customized programs as the most effective way to teach new skills. Canned, generic presentations on CQ, diversity, or cultural differences do little to help practitioners apply intercultural effectiveness to their day-to-day work. And numerous studies indicate that the closer learning occurs to the environment in which it will be used, the more likely people are to retain that learning.

A little effort to conduct a needs assessment beforehand will allow for relevant examples, case studies about CQ. And the more the material can be applied to the specific organizational culture and niche, the better. There's nothing too surprising about this. But the longer you train CQ, the greater the temptation to rely upon facilitation skills and familiar content, only to end up offering generic sessions that may be "okay" but not so "great".

2. External Events and Coaching are Best for Leaders

In contrast, the survey suggests that leadership capabilities are better developed through external events. By removing leaders from the constant interruptions at the office and allowing them to learn and interact with peers from different organizations and industries, they expand their understanding of how to effectively lead in a global context.

As I noted in a previous article, effective, global leadership requires an ability to adapt one's leadership style to a variety of situations, cultures, and personalities.

In addition, the L&TD leaders strongly affirmed the value of individualized coaching sessions to develop leadership skills. Many organizations have found that coaching is the best way to help leaders develop a personal development plan for improving CQ. Using CQ to lead effectively is best done with the benefit of a coach who offers personalized input and support.

3. Big Potential Seen in High Potential Programs

The top priority in talent management programs across all three contexts (India, UK, and US) is investing in the up and coming leaders of an organization. There's no group of individuals with whom it makes more sense to prioritize CQ assessment and development than future executives.

It's often assumed that the younger generation, by default, is better at working across cultures. The research simply doesn't support this. Emerging leaders may not need as much convincing that CQ is an essential capability for but they still need help to develop it. The high potential programs that most effectively incorporate CQ assessment and development do so by integrating it throughout the program rather than isolating it to one session.

4. Different Takes on e-Learning

It's no surprise to find that e-learning is prominent across all the L&TD contexts surveyed but there were differences among the approaches used. The US directors plan to place more energy on e-learning programs this next year than their peers in India and the UK; but the British organizations report the most extensive offerings currently. And India L&TD leaders are more interested in smart-phone approaches to e-learning than computer-based ones.

All three contexts see a much lower level of completion among employees who participate in e-learning programs compared to live trainingónot surprising given the self-directed discipline required.

This raises some interesting challenges about if and how to use this mode of learning for cultural intelligence. Delivering CQ training to thousands of employees across the globe often requires e-learning approaches but fresh, interactive approaches are needed that truly engage individuals rather than giving them one more, boring, module to plod through on their own.

We should glean all we can from the L&TD field to assist us in how we help working professionals improve and apply CQ. And I'm always a fan of sharing ideas with each other. What's one of your favorite ways to get people thinking about or applying CQ?

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About The Author

David Livermore
David Livermore

David Livermore is a thought leader in cultural intelligence (CQ) and global leadership and the author of "Leading with Cultural Intelligence". He is president and partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan and a visiting research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.