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Cultural Intelligence Offers Diverse Rewards

We live in a world beyond borders. Our ability to work is no longer limited by geography, but only by our ambition. The ease of international travel alongside the vast opportunity of our digital landscape provides a connected world of global collaboration. A breakfast meeting in Malaysia turns into a conference call with London, then a day ended with a face-to-face meeting with clients in Indonesia.

It’s not just big companies exploring the value of these opportunities. Increasingly smaller businesses are reaping the rewards of our connected world. Navigating this landscape requires a crucial new understanding of intelligence. It is no longer enough to simply be business smart, or rely on out-dated concepts of IQ. In this connected world the business environment is a shifting platform of culture, belief and nationality. Navigating this new landscape requires an intelligence that can adapt. This is the landscape of cultural intelligence, or CQ.

What is cultural intelligence?

Cultural intelligence is not an attribute that can be measured. There is no standardised test by which we can assess a person’s position on a pre-defined scale. Instead, think of CQ as a form of cultural empathy, an ability for a person to understand and appreciate a diversity of views.

There are numerous examples of cultural attitudes which can impact our business dealings. In parts of Asia, a bow is a traditional greeting rather than a handshake. Shaking with the wrong hand in certain areas of the world is a terrible insult. And offering the thumbs up as a sign of approval will most certainly not be met with approval in some areas of the Middle East.

But cultural intelligence is not just understanding the points of views of others, but having a deeper understanding of yourself. What are the values which are intrinsic to who you are, and which are those you are willing to adapt to work across different cultures?

Common Purpose, a UK-based NGO, have been championing cultural intelligence for years. They define this self-appraisal through the concept of our ‘core’ and ‘flex’. Our core covers those principles and ideas that are at the heart of who we are, and how we live. Those are the elements we will not bend. Our flex are instead those elements of our identity which we don’t consider unbending, and can adapt to new cultural circumstances.

CQ is about understanding ourselves, and understanding others. Only by doing so will we have the intelligence to operate successfully in an increasingly global world.

The value of cultural intelligence

As a global company, the value of cultural intelligence is something GE are keen to advocate. We work across a diverse range of countries, each offering their own unique challenge and opportunity. Indeed there is perhaps nowhere that diversity of opportunity is more pronounced than right here in ASEAN.

It’s for that very reason that GE is proud to sponsor Common Purpose in their inaugural ASEAN Leaders Programme, helping to develop cultural intelligence in our region’s leaders of tomorrow. Of course in understanding diversity, providing diverse perspectives is equally key. The ASEAN Leaders programme was heavily engaged with leaders from nations throughout ASEAN, meaning business, government, NGO’s, academia, and leaders from a wide range of sectors could come together to meet, work together and nurture their own CQ.

This business value of cultural intelligence is not just an abstract concept. The value of diversity in business is well documented. A US study showed that companies ranking in the top 25% of diversity on their boards displayed over 50% higher return on equity than those which ranked in the bottom quartile. Much like CQ itself, it’s hard to quantify the direct value of diversity, but the evidence is clear that it delivers real value for business.

A separate study by Harvard Business Review undertook to assess the further value of diversity in leadership. The study looked at those with multiple traits of both inherent diversity, i.e. a diverse background, and acquired diversity, essentially the diversity acquired through interacting with other backgrounds or cultures. The results showed that those companies with leaders displaying both these traits, what’s described as ‘2-D diversity’, were 45% more likely to grow market share and 70% more likely to report successfully entering a new market with their business. This element of CQ ensures a leadership that not only understands how to capitalise on opportunity, but engage diverse stakeholders to deliver success.

CQ delivers opportunity

It’s no surprise that leadership and diversity are areas which together can drive the most change. Decision makers enjoy a unique position to capitalise on the significant benefits that diverse perspectives can offer.

Diversity itself is of course a vital goal, and it has been shown time and again that both racial and gender diversity at senior levels in an organisation can have significant positive impact on business results. But diversity itself is not all that is needed, appreciating and understanding how to act on the views of those diverse perspectives is where the greatest benefits lie. That is the value of cultural intelligence. That is the principle at the core of the ASEAN Leaders Programme.

Cultural intelligence may not provide a handy scale by which we can measure it, but it does provide us the framework for effective leadership in our increasingly global world. CQ is not a talent one must be born with or live without, but a skill which we can acquire through an open-mind and a willingness to interact with other cultures. In doing so, we not only provide ourselves with a valuable lesson in how to live, but acquire an invaluable understanding of how to successfully conduct business in a world beyond borders. Thanks to Common Purpose and the ASEAN Leaders Programme, our wonderfully diverse region is better equipped to enjoy those benefits than ever before.

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