Better Business Through Cultural Competence


It is clear that our globalized world is becoming more interconnected every day, meaning increased cultural competence among business leaders and their employee bases can lead to greater success. 

Yet unfortunately, though many business leaders see the need for cultural competence in their organizations, they do not pursue intercultural learning initiatives. In a recent study, the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed over 500 executives from around the world about their current dealings with international business or their plans for global engagement. Seventy percent of respondents believed that their company’s operational presence overseas would increase, and 78 percent said that in the next few years there would be more cross-border collaboration of teams. 
When asked about the challenges they faced while competing in global markets, the executives surveyed specifically mentioned issues in cross-border communication and collaboration. Fifty percent of respondents said that misunderstandings have impeded their international business dealings, which have resulted in financial losses for the company, and that the cause – lack of clarity in intercultural communication – is just as critical as financial gain. Another 50 percent of respondents said that the greatest threat to smooth operations is differences in cultural norms. A staggering 90 percent said that better understanding of intercultural communication would improve the firm’s profit, revenue and market share, and that actions should be taken to educate employees regarding cultural differences. Yet only 47 percent said that their companies did something to help with preparedness or had an appropriate system in place for selecting people who were suited for intercultural dealings. 

So what can these executives to do create cultural awareness and cultural competence in their organizations? Recent research by The Georgetown Consortium Project shows that it is not the amount of knowledge one has about cultures, the time spent engaging with people in country, or even learning a new language that increase a person’s cultural competence. It is the intentional, persistent and focused attention of a person’s self-reflection on their learning over time that leads to greater understanding and competence. 

In essence, while reading about cultures, traveling abroad and learning a new language are important and life-enriching, a deep level of cultural competence comes from not only knowing something about others but also from knowing one’s self. When people pay attention to and reflect on their attitudes, feelings and actual behaviors, and then use that reflection to help alter their actions and reactions to situations, they can supplement knowledge with the internal exploration of who they are.

With the Cultural Navigator – and its constituent assessment tool, the Cultural Orientations Indicator – organizational leaders and their employees have a wealth of cultural competence learning solutions only a mouse click away. They can learn about their own cultural preferences and those of their colleagues and people in different countries, thus generating knowledge of and respect for other cultures – the basis of cultural competence.