Is cultural intelligence (CQ) the ‘secret sauce’ to make your equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives bear fruit? In an increasingly global environment, working effectively with others across different boundaries is critical for a competitive advantage. It requires people who are sensitive to different cultures and perspectives, and can adapt their behaviour to built trust and collaborate effectively.
Join Nigel Cassidy and this month’s guests: Ritika Wadhwa, Chief Operating Officer at Cultural Intelligence Centre and Rob Neil, Director at Krystal Alliance, as we explore the benefits of seeking and improving your personal CQ, and the tangible commercial impact it can have for your organisation.
Nigel Cassidy: How to tune into the values and communication styles of people from widely different backgrounds. It's time to boost your cultural intelligence. I'm Nigel Cassidy, and this is the CIPD podcast. Now today, few problems get solved or business gets done by individuals operating solely within their own culture. Almost everyone at some time needs to collaborate with people whose ways, whose ideas, working styles or preferences are unfamiliar or maybe hard to read. And it's a no brainer that we need culturally intelligence staff, people with chameleon like abilities who can get on others' wavelength. And it's also fair to say that training in this whole area sometimes falls short, still focusing on information about different cultures. So in this podcast, we're going to try and take things to the next level, dipping into the latest and smartest scientific research that can show us how to develop and use cultural intelligence to build trust and win customers and unleash diverse teams. With me this month, Ritika Wadhwa, chief operating officer of the research based training and consultancy firm Cultural Intelligence Centre. She's 25 years' board level experience bringing inclusion and innovation into the heart of organisations. Hello.
Ritika Wadhwa: Hi, Nigel. So glad to be here.
NC: And Rob Neil, director of the equity in the workplace consultancy Krystal Alliance. He's a former senior civil servant who was awarded an OBE for services to race equality in the workplace and the community. Hello.
Rob Neil: Hi, Nigel. How you doing?
NC: So, Rob, I mean, there's a lot of definitions of cultural intelligence around the theme of, one I saw, having a natural ability as an outsider to interpret others' unfamiliar or ambiguous gestures as if you were their compatriot. And that's quite a bland but descriptive term. What's cultural intelligence for you?
RN: Well, it, I'm bound to say, Nigel, in that rather padded out definition you shared, I'm not sure where it came from, that there's a lot of essence of cultural intelligence in there. It is about that ability. But you asked me what I think it is, and it's very much for me about how capable one is to operate and function, indeed, relate with effectiveness in those culturally diverse situations and, indeed, contexts. And I mentioned contexts because beyond what some may feel is the, kind of, natural definition of culture, i.e., ethnicity, nationality, race, and all the nuances that they offer up, culture in this instance includes all of that, but it moves beyond that as well. It talks about National Geographic. It talks about organisational culture as well. It speaks to all of that. So when we pare that down, when we knock off the froth in any of that, what we're looking at, Nigel, is the capability to function and relate effectively in culturally diverse situations and contexts.
NC: Ritika, that really speaks to what I discovered, just trying to mug up a bit on modern CQ, is that it does go a lot beyond just learning to be culturally sensitive and aware. It's something which as much, or more, goes on within you, rather than just what's going on with the other person that you're trying to get your head around.
RW: Wow, Nigel, you have done your homework, haven't you? Just picking up on where, what Rob shared there, the norm of culture, really. I want to go back to, culture is the way we do things around here. And so cultural intelligence in my definition is the ability to work with people that are different from us. Ability, capability that we can all develop. So how does it become an individual skill? It's a learning journey. You can't attend a workshop or learn, mug up the definition of cultural intelligence, become a culturally intelligent human being. It's a journey we need to go on. First, identify which parts of cultural intelligence we want to develop, and those are the four capabilities. Do your assessment. Find out where you need to develop your cultural intelligence.
NC: Sorry, you just said those are the four capabilities. So what are they?
RW: So the four capabilities, which is the cultural intelligence framework, starts with CQ drive, the why, the motivation for you to be able to work with people that are different from you, the persistence, the frustration that we sometimes feel with some cultures, i.e., my culture is that I'm a woman, but I find it frustrating to work with men, let's say. So identifying that within myself and understanding my why is the CQ drive. The second capability is CQ knowledge, the what. It is what we know, what we want to know more about, the differences within cultures. The third capability is the CQ strategy. How do we plan for these multicultural interactions knowing what we know, the what. And the last capability is CQ action. How do we behave in situations that we are not familiar with, having used that framework holistically?
NC: OK. So I know that you use that framework professionally. I just wonder, Rob, I've also seen references to metacognition, cognition, motivation and behaviour, perhaps some slightly older science there. Is that kind of the same thing? I mean, we don't want to get too stuck on these definitions, but it does come down to working out what these headings are that you need to look at.
RN: Well, yes, like anything when it comes to the language, Nigel, you get into levels. Some people make it their business, indeed, their art, their skill, in taking language to a more, what's often termed sophisticated. Sometimes it can become confusing. You know, we've got people working in academia, people working in interaction with the public. And so language is all important. And you do have to, as part of that cultural challenge, you need to be able to adjust. You need to be able to understand what's being said enough to respond to it. So when we talk about meta or metacognitive, I like to very often break things down. I'm not an academic. You know, I grew up bypassing a university until I was much older. So I actually entered the workplace without going to that level of education, and then learnt, if you like, on the job. So when I look at the capabilities, as have been beautifully outlined there by Ritika, the why, the what, the planning and the behaviour, we are talking about what goes on on the inside, the intrinsic motivations, the intrinsic development of cultural intelligence, that, you know, the appetite, the curiosity, the building of your internal library, the knowledge, what you know, and how you can build on that. You carry that with you, and then you segue into the external stuff or the extrinsic stuff. And it, there, Nigel, we're talking about your published declaration, the planning, the action plan, the strategy, the guidance, the statement, the code of ethics, stuff that everyone can see tangibly. So you use the fuel from within, the appetite, the curiosity from within, and you convert that into an outward sign of what it is you're carrying with you. And if you take that into an organisational context, you begin to see that culturally intelligent leaders do well in converting that internal motivation, that intrinsic stuff, into the extrinsic offer to those around them.
NC: And you talk about outward signs. And of course, one outward sign, Ritika, is that we do have organisations which are, or are supposed to be, diverse and inclusive by design. So if that's the case, why do we actually need to do further work on this? I mean, why do we need to seek cultural intelligence as a thing if our workplace is already supposed to be diverse and inclusive?
RW: I think the keyword there Nigel is supposed, yes? If I can pick up on that.
RW: So is it?
NC: You read my drift there.
RW: Yes. We didn't plan for that, but that worked naturally. So, in a nutshell, Nigel, in a nutshell, how I would articulate that is, ask yourself the question, do you want to be an effective leader in a diverse, digital and divided world? If the answer to that is, yes, then you need to go on this journey, because the fact of the matter is that we are living in a diverse world. And just because there's diversity or supposed to be diversity, that doesn't mean that will lead automatically to productivity or innovations. If those diverse teams do not know how to work with each other, don't know how to communicate, do not come from a place of respect, creating a psychologically safe environment for each other, that will not get the results that you look to get. In fact, it's the opposite. Having homogenous teams, those that look like each other, think like each other, it's easier for them to work together. When you throw diversity, which you're supposed to throw into the mix, if you do not have cultural intelligence, that diversity backfires and is counterproductive.
NC: I mean, clearly, this is something that you should want for yourself because it's the right thing for your organisation. Is there any sense that you might or you could do this simply because your organisation might perform better or do better business?
RW: It starts with an individual journey. And this is where we go back to the CQ framework of the CQ drive, which is, what do you as an individual want to achieve in your effectiveness? And then, as an organisation, what does that translate into? What is effectiveness for the organisation? What outcomes are you looking for as an organisation? And that's the CQ drive. If your motivation for the why is clear, your business case for the reason for developing cultural intelligence and going on that journey becomes clear.
NC: OK. So Rob, do you want to, sort of, take it from there and, sort of, maybe talk us through examples of areas where better performance in this area will pay dividends for the organisation? I mean, this could be anything from, I don't know, negotiating more effectively, to being a better leader, being a more profitable organisation or what?
RN: Yes, sure. Just to recap on one of the questions you posed Nigel, when Ritika quite rightly picked up on your word supposed to be, we only have to look at a range of evidence empirically when we look at workforce in any of the sectors across the world. I'm focusing on the UK because that's where I'm based and that's where I work. But if we look at our public services, if we look at our private sector boards and the FTSE 100, if we look at the spread of resourcing across the charitable sector, we can see disparities almost by every dimension of diversity, whether it's, you know, less than half the boardrooms filled with women, whether it's the absence of people of colour in those decision making spaces in the public sector. When we look at how funding is allocated in the charitable sector, there is more than a theme. There is disparity that has certain groups of people losing out, and not just losing out from within the organisation, but almost by extrapolation, losing out by the service that that organisation provides to the people that it's there to meet the needs of.
And so leading up to your next question, we are able to benefit from the evidence that is around us. Some organisations measure this stuff well. And so their navigation of what needs to happen, their ability to understand, acknowledge and act on what's needed is more efficient. And so they can say, let us set targets for recruitment of X people at Y level, because we are underrepresented in that space. And almost as a flip side to that, some organisations measure it badly, Nigel. They ignore the data. They measure the wrong things. They haven't got the appetite for this stuff.
And I like to think of, what is it that drives us to be more inclusive? I would contend there are three main things that drive us. There's the moral driver. We do this because our hearts tell us it's the right thing to do. And to include everybody as best we can is the right thing to do. There's the legal driver, the legislative driver, the force of the law. And it may surprise you, you know, many senior leaders will get around the table when they recognise and acknowledge that if they don't do certain things in the organisation, they might be hit with a lawsuit. You know, there might be an employment tribunal that punches a real hole in their budget. And then that segues into the economic driver. You alluded to it in your question there, Nigel. This makes economic sense. Many a report, McKinsey, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, they have conducted numerous exercises in demonstrating that the more diverse your senior leadership teams, the more diverse your decision-making spaces, the greater innovation takes place. Once those diverse people get to know each other, think of Tuckman and the stages of team development, forming and storming has these two teams, homogenous and diverse, almost neck for neck and no real discernible difference. Indeed, as Ritika says, the homogenous team will move more swiftly into what needs to be done because they know each other. But the moment the diverse team starts norming on the doorstep of performing, the moment the diverse team gets to know each other and they really unpack all of the wonderful synergy, the richness of that difference, the homogenous team cannot keep up. They cannot keep up with that diverse team. The diverse team soars often into the distance in terms of innovation, effectiveness and creating solutions to the challenges that they face.
NC: And talking of storming, Ritika wants to come right back on that.
RW: On the storming. Your question on the benefits, I just want to, sort of, you know, allude to what Rob has shared there and go to what our research within the Cultural Intelligence Centre has found. Organisational benefits of being a culturally intelligent organisation is improved productivity, reduced conflict and misunderstandings, profitability and cost savings, and reduced employee turnover. Those are absolutely the organisational level benefits, but of course, there's also the individual level benefits of being an effective leader, of better judgement and decision making, better personal adjustment and adaptability, and to be able to sell an influence across a range, diverse range of people.
NC: I want to ask you both about improving your cultural intelligence performance. I mean, if we were to take IQ, Rob, I mean, it's a moot point, isn't it, amongst scientists as to whether you can boost your own IQ, your natural intelligence with practise? I mean, I'm rubbish at all those tests. Does the same apply with CQ? I mean, how valuable is training? I mean, some people, we know, are naturally sensitive, they're more tolerant, they're better at reading others. Others have an innate tendency to stick their foot in it and cause offence. So to what extent can you take people on this journey and really show results?
RN: Well, I start with myself as an example. I first took the CQ assessment now, what are we, five years ago, and I have taken that CQ test at different levels and different exposure to involve other pieces of feedback from other individuals as well. And I have improved my CQ score, my CQ capability, and as Ritika shared earlier about the four key capabilities, I have consolidated some of those areas in which I happen to score high, drive and action. I was scoring high off my first assessment on those two capabilities, but I was very low on CQ strategy, worryingly low, and I was moderately low on CQ knowledge. But therein lies the beauty of CQ, as indeed with most assessments, it's no different really. But once you've shone a light on that, once you are aware of that, and you are on that journey to improving it, you actually are able to consolidate your strengths, protect against burnout, you know, share the load with others. Understand there is a choice often when it comes to action, not just the first thing that comes into your mind. Those were some of the pitfalls that I was falling into, Nigel, and in so doing, Nigel, freeing up time, freeing up energy, to focus on my knowledge building and my strategy production. And I was able to do that in, and as part of, my day job, at the time a civil servant. So I even got better at those tests, Nigel, that you referred to, because within the civil service, many will know if they're listening to this podcast, you get a battery of verbal non reasoning, all kinds of tests, that at the get go, at the very start, I was not much good at. I got better at them as a result of improving my CQ. And of course, what you are introduced to along the way are approaches, such as what's offered in Daniel Kahneman's work, Thinking Fast and Slow, System 1, System 2 thinking, you can exercise different parts of your brain. And as with any iterative process, and if you're putting yourself in the way of difference, what begins to happen is you begin to increase your appreciation of difference, your interaction with that difference. And so you get better. Invariably, you get better. It's like building a muscle. It's like going to the gym. You are on that journey. You will gradually get better at improving and demonstrating your own cultural intelligence.
NC: But clearly one of the drivers for you was the fact that you really wanted to do this. And you really understood the benefits of working on some aspects of yourself. So Ritika, how do you engage people with this? How do you convince them this isn't just another initiative, along with the diversity inclusion, but this is something which is good for people, which is good for organisations?
RW: The way I convince people, and luckily I haven't had much of, much convincing to do so far, is really understanding the nub of their issue. Because everybody has some challenge as an individual, as a team or as an organisation that you're looking to solve.
NC: I mean, are there any examples that spring to mind of people you've worked with, of changes that --
RW: Lots --
NC: Your work has --
RW: Lots of --
RW: Yes, absolutely. So how do you develop empathy in leaders, so that they're able to give better feedback to their staff, in a culture where you're hiring people that is just high power distance, hierarchy is everything, when you then hire someone that is low power distance, does not enjoy hierarchy, just enjoys direct communication versus indirect communication? Just understanding those different cultural values and understanding those challenges is all it takes. It's all it takes to, because the cultural intelligence, the framework, is so adaptable and flexible that you tell me what your challenge is, and I will be able to find a way to resolve it by using this framework.
One of the clients that we work closely with, she's born and brought up in the UK, but as a Muslim woman in a very cultural context of being a Muslim woman in a Muslim household, where hierarchy was everything. And she went out to work in the world. She's born and brought up here, educated here, went to school, university, all of that, and went through all the other tools and assessments that are out there, until she stumbled upon CQ. Then she said to us that CQ is the only model that has actually given language to how I have been feeling in the workplace. So the way my cultural background translated into the workplace was that I was only hiring people that were high power distance, because I am high power distance, hierarchy means everything to me. Until one individual that was hired in the team had low power distance, doesn't care much for hierarchy. The friction came into place. It's only when we understood that the whole team sits on one end of this spectrum and this one person sits on the low power distance, that's when we understood how we could work better together.
NC: That's a very powerful example, things really fall into place when you put it that way. Rob, I've got quite an amusing book on a shelf at home, which is all about famous blunders in international business. I mean, the one that springs to mind is the launch of a new car model called Nova, which, in Spanish is, you're probably ahead of me here already, that means doesn't go. Not a great name for a car. A more recent example that springs to mind is the US beer company Budweiser's multimillion dollar sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup. That in a teetotal Muslim country that subsequently told them, you'll remember to take the beer tents away from the venues. Is that about cultural awareness or is that just poor business research? I mean, a bad business decision? I mean, would CQ have helped there?
RN: Well, it, firstly, it's both. Would cultural intelligence and the effective level of cultural intelligence have spotted that? Yes, it would. And I can give you another example. I not too long ago worked with one of our high street banks. Let's put it that way, so as not to embarrass them. They'll know who they are if they're --
NC: Let's hope so.
RN: Listening to the podcast. And we were talking about how to potentially incentivise an under represented group of people in that organisation to go out and speak with their family members, and indeed their friends from the same community, to apply, the talented members of their family, the talented friends amongst their group to apply to join this high street bank. And we're talking about members of what's previously known as the BAME, Black Asian Minority Ethnic, I think, but the black community. Now, they had drafted, this high street bank, a scheme to incentivise those individuals, and they wanted to call the scheme a bounty bonus. Now, what some people may not know is that word, bounty, in that same community is a derogatory term for someone who appears to be, black coloured skin on the outside, but is acting in a white way, whatever that --
NC: It's --
RN: Means, Nigel.
NC: It's --
RN: And so --
NC: Another show there.
RN: And so to incentivise a group of people with a derogatory term. Now, I was quite quick. I'm quite, I'm an extrovert by nature. I know that about myself. So I try and, you know, manage that. A little bit of Rob goes a long way. But I also know that this would be a real flaw in their strategy. This would be a major loss of money well spent if they were to introduce a bounty bonus, because many of our, members of our black, Asian and minority ethnic community would not sign up to such a scheme. So we were able to change the name of the scheme. We were able to get the branding right around the scheme, and that scheme went on to be embraced and a success in delivering not just more applicants, but more successful applicants into that high street bank in less than 12 months' later. And it seems like a very simple thing, doesn't it? But going back to my point about language, we can just be one degree out at the beginning of our journey, but it puts us in a completely different place by the time we complete the journey if we don't pay attention to it. Hence, your Budweiser example.
NC: So Ritika, making a plan. I mean, you've already mentioned your framework, but I mean, where do you start and with whom?
RW: So the first thing to do would be to get your employees to take an assessment, tweak their interest on where their CQ scores lie, because everybody wants to know where we are at on that spectrum. It's about you. So it takes 20 minutes to do the assessment, you get your scores, and that straight away will tell you where the interventions are needed. And then there is various ways to go about. You could e-learnings, webinars, blogs on various websites. Yes, a plethora of options on how you can develop a plan for an individual and a team and an organisation.
NC: And Rob Neil, you've got to tailor that plan fairly carefully, haven't you? It is a bit hard to know what works. I mean, should you offer courses? Should you sponsor a, I don't know, multinational lunch? Get guest speakers in? Have team building exercises?
RN: Those all tickle, Nigel. They're all great ideas. And part of what I would say is, look at the platforms, look at the spaces in your organisation where the exchange of cultural knowledge, the exchange of cultural norms and know how and ways of doing things actually occur, and increase those. So if you haven't already, think about introducing a reverse mentoring scheme, where people who typically sit higher up the organisation are encouraged and motivated to spend time with those lower down the organisation. This will begin to erode some of the significance around power distance. It will increase the exchange of cultural knowledge. It will inspire sponsorship activity, where people identify talent from elsewhere and help them navigate the otherwise labyrinth of organisations. When starting team meetings, put the agenda, the work agenda to one side, just for a moment, and ask, invite people to check in. How are you feeling at the moment? You know, what's work like outside of work? Hear from people and their heart about how it is to work in this space. These are moments that become precious exchanges, that feed into the cultural intelligence, the residual cultural intelligence that occur. If what's waiting for people on the other side of those exchanges is a bright light on where they may sit on their capabilities, their drive, their knowledge, their strategy and their action, what they can then do is set about prescribing for themself the journey ahead. What do I need to work on? Do I need to increase my appetite and curiosity? Do I need to mix up those that I'm linked in with? Or those that I follow on Twitter? Or the books I read? The podcasts I listen to? This is a good one. Or looking at other things that they might be doing. How can I open the ears and the eyes, the gateways to my soul, to increase the amount of difference that I'm enjoying in life, in order to inform my journey ahead in improving my culture intelligence? These are things that all organisations can do.
RW: To Rob's point there, it's that whole why, isn't it? If, as an individual and an organisation, I understand my key driver and what are my challenges, then it's very easy to understand what is it that I need to gain more knowledge on and how I can then plan. So it's the why that needs to unravel before the planning comes into place, because that will fall in naturally.
NC: And Ritika you describe cultural intelligence as a critical part of setting yourself apart in today's globalised world. You mentioned artificial intelligence, machine learning and innovation. So as we, sort of, try and bring this to a close, I mean, what are you really saying there about the importance of cultural intelligence for all our futures at work?
RW: The importance is immense because there is a piece of research around, you can understand the research basis on why cultural intelligence is needed, but it needs humans to change that behaviour. It's humans that will bring the behaviour change into the interactions. And so humans need cultural intelligence from a digital perspective in that digital world, because we do interact with each other. There is the fact that it is a divided world. It's more polarised than it's ever been. So how can we have those conversations that bring us together as a humanity to make the world a better place? And the fact that it is, you know, it is a diverse world. It is a multicultural world. The fact that it should go beyond nationalities and identities. We are living in a place where people are precious about who they are and what their identity is. How can we respect those identities and meet them at a place where they want to be met?
NC: And the thing that struck me is that this is a lot more practical than I thought. It's about, you know, what you do yourself once you've got your score and once you understand yourself a bit more. And I know, Rob, you wrote on a civil service blog that it enables people to consciously identify their biases and find strategies for managing --
NC: Them. So this really --
NC: Is as much about self discovery as it is about fitting in with others.
RN: It absolutely is. And it's worth mentioning that CQ in its growing form, in its acceptance and the way in which people are now engaging with it. It's worth noting, Nigel, that it's not, it hasn't arrived to replace IQ. It's not instead of EQ. It's an additional quotient that, if anything, marries those two things and works in addition to. I like to refer to it, by the way, as the secret sauce, but that's the wording I choose, because for me, having spent over two decades in the learning and development space, having worked as a trainer across all the sectors, when I first bumped into CQ, it struck me that this was joining the dots. This was a way in which we could absolutely continue to engage and embrace IQ, work with continuing to develop our EQ, what the heart has to say about these issues, but then we can start looking at how we actually work with difference. How do we work across those cultural contexts? And so whether it is through the employee engagement surveys, whether it's by looking at our workforce and delivering on those targets, one to ones, the raft of tools available through CQC centre and other places that offer this learning. I think there is an opportunity for us now to marry those quotients and to say how they work together to have us operate more effectively is a powerful way forward, and is what I'm full of hope and excitement for as I work with teams and organisations across the UK.
NC: Brilliant. Well, great stuff from both of you. Our thanks to Ritika Wadhwa, chief operating officer of Cultural Intelligence Centre, and Rob Neil, director of Krystal Alliance. If you're new to our podcast, please seek out our rich back catalogue on the CIPD website. Last month, for instance, saw our handy annual look ahead of what may be in store for the workplace this year. So do subscribe where you get your podcast, so you never miss an edition. In our next episode, we jump back into the world of L&D, exploring how to design learning experiences which have impact and are effective, that's for both the learner and the organisation. Until then, from me, Nigel Cassidy, and all of us at CIPD, until next time, it's goodbye.
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