International business: cultural intelligence

/ March 23rd, 2011/ Posted in Management Innovation / No Comments »

cultural intelligenceWhat is cross cultural management? That previous post gave the situation (posed by Leung et al. [2005] who seem to argue for a technocratic convergence) of an HR manager needing to roll out a training program across multinational locations. An individual will be influenced by national culture, the working group dynamics, and the technological environment – and these influences are fluid. For example, team members working in a new situation will resort to culture-specific ways of communicating, until they see how others are contributing to the common task. New technology introduces uncertainty, again causing a default to cultural prescriptions. Consider now the idea of cultural intelligence – another concept relevant to global HR managers’ work.

In Thomas, David C. et al. 2008. Cultural intelligence : domain and assessment, International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 8:2 123–143 a useful construct is carefully built that sets out a definition of cultural intelligence. It is a system of attributes.

The authors aim to establish discriminant validity for the idea of cultural intelligence – CQ as some call it – and differentiate it from, for example, “intercultural competency” or “global mindset”. They rely upon a view of intelligence that involves learning and adaptation, but distinguish cultural intelligence from “social intelligence” or the popular notion of “emotional intelligence”. Cultural intelligence, in the authors’ view, must include:

  • personal adaptation – feeling comfortable and well adjusted to a foreign setting;
  • practical efficacy and capacity for task completion in a foreign setting;
  • successful interpretation of and sending of signals (gestures, words, actions); and
  • meta-cognition, which is an ability to be self-monitor, process feedback and do continuous change.

I don’t think the article establishes cultural intelligence really as new thing unto itself, as opposed to an amalgam of pre-existing things. When Thomas et al. explain that cultural intelligence will correlate highly with adaptation, efficacy, etc – well, that seems circular, because adaptation, efficacy, etc. are the very definition of CQ they propose. In the authors’ conception, it is the combination of the particular traits mentioned, integrated through self-reflection and self-regulation.

It seems cross cultural management is a field that struggles to establish clear constructs and definitions, especially of “culture” itself.

Apart from the logic question, the idea of cultural intelligence as Thomas et al. construe it paints a rich picture. Using it, an HR manager would have a rather fine-grained instrument by which to assess employees’ ability to work in foreign settings

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