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How to Bake Cultural Intelligence into Business Strategy: Q&A with David Livermore

Cornerstone Editors

This is the second Q&A with David Livermore in a two-part series about cultural intelligence. Read part one here.

Recruiters are responsible for hiring employees who have the skills to work cross-culturally, but it's just as important to help employees develop cultural intelligence once they're on board. In training employees and expanding their skill sets, employers can bake cultural intelligence into the business strategy. David Livermore, president of The Cultural Intelligence Center, explains how companies should evaluate cultural intelligence during recruiting and make it a priority across their organizations.

What do you recommend to companies that struggle to integrate cultural intelligence into the recruitment process?

First, ensure you have diverse representation on the search team. To use the overused stereotype, do we only have white men as part of the recruiting process? Are there people coming from both genders and different cultural backgrounds?

But then beyond that, we have actual assessments oriented around cultural intelligence that people may want to use. Even if people use an overall model that has emerged from research that says there are four basic capabilities that are found in culturally intelligent employees [drive, knowledge, strategy and action], that could be used as a qualitative assessment where they might ask people open-ended questions related to the four capabilities.

A third tip is give people a situation and ask them to generate a creative response as a solution. Don't ask, 'Do you have experience in different cultures and do you like them?' Present a situation: You have a German and Indian client that you’re meeting with today. How are you going to present information differently to a German as compared to an Indian? See if they can construct a response with concrete examples beyond a generic 'We should respect people and be nice to people.'

Once employees are hired, how can companies continue to develop their cultural intelligence on the job?

One workshop is not going to make a difference, but an ongoing development plan is. Consider whether you want to address it individually or organizationally. Cultural intelligence isn’t a destination; it’s an ongoing journey of development. Some companies we work with have included it as part of performance appraisals, not so much to say that we’re going to score you positive or negative on your cultural intelligence, but more to say in this next year, what are some concrete goals to put in your professional development plan to keep working on this?

What steps can a company take to make cultural intelligence a company-wide priority?

The ones who are trying to strategically build it into the organization know it starts with leadership commitment. It’s not just an add-on that HR addressed, but it's part of a business strategy. The next step is building awareness, getting people to see why it matters in the first place. That’s often done through a quarterly meeting and bringing in a speaker who talks about cultural differences. Then training is very specific to different areas, for example if someone’s a product manager compared to someone who’s a scientist.

Last week I was with Coca-Cola's leadership team, which has put a lot of emphasis on cultural intelligence, but one of the things they’re asking is how to cascade it to the 200,000 global employees. They continue to look at how they can use webcasts, learning modules and apps as ways to make it accessible to not only the leadership types but people who are individual contributors or bottlers, to bake it into the DNA of the organization.

While it should start at leadership, oftentimes it stops there. Ultimately we judge a company based on whomever we interact with at that company. We might hear, 'I don’t care what the CEO of an airline says, the flight attendant treated me this way.'

Photo: Can Stock

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