Cultural Intelligence At Work: What We Know From Research

Cultural Intelligence At Work: What We Know From Research

by Felicity Menzies

‘Evidence-based management’ refers to managerial decision-making and practices based on research. Evidence-based management enhances problem-solving and efficiency and improves organisational outcomes.

But business has, in large part, made limited use of scientific evidence. Despite decades of research, management strategies are driven by personal beliefs and tendencies, experience, and anecdotal evidence. Large sums of money are invested in programs or initiatives that don’t work…or worse, cause damage.

Barriers that prevent the transfer of management research to practice include:

  • Organisational politics;
  • Difficulty accessing academic findings;
  • Lack of awareness;
  • A widespread belief that successful management is personality or trait-based.

Narrow the performance gap with Cultural Intelligence

Cultural Intelligence narrows the gap between management research and practice. Over 100 peer-reviewed studies on Cultural Intelligence have been published in academic journals since its conceptualisation in 2003. Dedicated and independent research teams across the globe continue to add to this body of literature. Collectively, this work supports the validity of Cultural Intelligence as a proven model of diversity competence.

Research summary

The four competencies of Cultural Intelligence are not abstract ideas. Social scientists have shown each maps to particular regions of the brain.

In addition, Cultural Intelligence is a better predictor of success in diverse settings than cognitive ability, emotional intelligence (EQ), personality, demographics, and international experience.

Cultural Intelligence explains differences in performance for expatriates, global business leaders, multicultural teams, international negotiators, and other global executives.

Studies show Cultural Intelligence has emotional, mental and behavioural benefits in culturally diverse settings.

Emotional benefits

Cultural Intelligence promotes a positive attitude and mental well-being in diverse settings.

Individuals with high Cultural Intelligence avoid or overcome negative feelings associated with culture shock including disorientation, helplessness, frustration, anger, exhaustion, and impatience.

Those individuals are better able to cope with and accept differences and enjoy engaging with diverse others.

In addition, individuals with high Cultural Intelligence are more resilient and experience less exhaustion and burnout in diverse settings.

Mental benefits

Individuals with high Cultural Intelligence avoid blind spots in their interpretations and judgements. They move beyond a mindless adherence to their own cultural schemas, biases, and prejudgements and take and empathise with the perspective of others.

These qualities improve judgement and decision-making in diverse settings, making individuals with higher Cultural Intelligence better at cultural problem-solving.

Behavioural benefits

Cultural Intelligence increases the likelihood of achieving professional and social goals in diverse settings.

Individuals with high Cultural Intelligence are better able to understand and perform their work roles in a novel setting.

In addition, they can modify their responses appropriately in novel cultural settings. Flexibility in social behaviour helps individuals with high Cultural Intelligence form diverse networks, build amicable and trusting relationships, and exchange knowledge and ideas. They are more effective collaborators and negotiators in diverse settings.

Cultural Intelligence and global business leaders

Cultural Intelligence is relevant at all levels of an organisation but is especially relevant at the leadership level. In particular, domestic leaders may not be successful internationally unless they possess high Cultural Intelligence.

Becoming a global business leader

Studies show individuals with high Cultural Intelligence are more likely to be perceived as potential global leaders and are more likely to be appointed to global leadership roles than individuals with lower Cultural Intelligence.

Being an effective global business leader

Once in the role, leaders with higher levels of Cultural Intelligence are more effective compared to leaders with lower levels of Cultural Intelligence.

Leaders with high Cultural Intelligence have a global mindset; they scan their external environments for relevant and unbiased information. Accessing higher-quality information improves decision-making and risk assessment.

Culturally Intelligent leaders are also better at inspiring and leading diverse workforces. They can effectively manage varied worldviews to articulate a shared vision across the organisation.

Leaders with high Cultural Intelligence are more inclusive. They promote and model the sharing and integration of diverse knowledge, perspectives, and experience. Inclusion drives innovation and helps the organisation to stay relevant amid rapid change across diverse markets. Organisations with inclusive leaders are also more likely to attract, retain, and engage top global talent.

In addition, leaders with high Cultural Intelligence develop strong global networks. They build trust and rapport with diverse stakeholders. Cultural Intelligence supports effective partnering and greater influence across diverse markets.

Summing up: the Cultural Intelligence difference

Cultural Intelligence is a framework for managing diversity that yields tangible benefits.

Companies with leaders and workers who have high Cultural Intelligence are more agile. These organisations quickly adapt processes, products, and services to capture new opportunities and respond to change across diverse markets.

Cultural Intelligence also promotes successful intercultural relations, both inside and outside the organisation. This improves business performance via enhanced innovation, increased workforce engagement, and more effective partnering.

Ang, S., Van Dyne, L., & Rockstuhl, T. (in press). Cultural intelligence: Origins, conceptualization, evolution, and methodological diversity. In M. Gelfand, C. Y. Chiu, & Y. Y. Hong (Eds.), Advances in Culture and Psychology (Vol. 5). New York: Oxford University Press.
Leung, K., Ang, S., & Tan, M. L. (2014). Intercultural competence. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavoir, 1(1), 489-519.
Matsumoto, D., & Hwang, H. C. (2013). Assessing cross-cultural competence: A review of available tests. Journal of Cross-cultural psychology, 44(6), 849-873.
Ng, K.-Y., Van Dyne, L., & Ang, S. (2012). Cultural intelligence: A review, reflections, and recommendations for future research. In A. M. Ryan, F. T. L. Leong, & F. Oswald (Eds.), Conducting Multinational Research Projects in Organizational Psychology. (pp. 29-58). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Rockstuhl, T., Hong, Y., Ng, K., Ang, S., & Chiu, C. (2011). The culturally intelligent brain: From detecting to bridging cultural differences. Neuroleadership Journal, 3, 22-36.
Rousseau, D. M. (2006). Is there such a thing as “evidence-based management”? Academy of Management Review, 31(2), 256-269.
Rousseau, D. M., & McCarthy, S. (2007). Educating managers from an evidence-based perspective. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6(1), 84-101.

Felicity Menzies is CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, a diversity and inclusion consultancy with expertise in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, cultural intelligence and inclusion, gender equity, empowering diverse talent. Felicity is an accredited facilitator with the Cultural Intelligence Centre and the author of A World of Difference. Felicity has over 15 years of experience working with and managing diverse workforces in blue chip companies and is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. Felicity also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.