IN OUR parents’ generation, boosting intelligence quotient (IQ) by way of higher paper qualifications was a key determinant of workplace success.
As society evolved, the value of possessing high emotional intelligence (EQ) began taking precedence in the climb up the corporate ladder, and especially in leadership positions.
These days, however, the game has changed. The term “global workforce” has become a part or the modern lexicon, as workers criss-cross oceans seeking employment opportunities like never before.
There were around 1.3 million foreigners in Singapore’s labour force in 2013, according to statistics from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Diverse nationalities working together side by side has indeed become a familiar sight not just in multinational corporations but in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) too these days.
To be sure, this trend is not exclusive to Singapore but is one that is growing with unprecedented force in the international marketplace.
Workers should not only get used to this new norm. The wise ones should aim to cultivate cultural intelligence, as this is set to become an attribute that will be highly sought after in the global economy of the future.
Case for diversity
In essence, cultural intelligence, or CQ, refers to a person’s ability to function effectively in situations characterised by cultural diversity.
This applies when interacting with people from different countries and different backgrounds while on home turf or overseas.
Having a high CQ means that you understand, and use to your advantage, the knowledge of how and why you should (or shouldn’t) behave around people of different cultures.
This brings to mind a fairly recent Yahoo article that illustrated 10 hand gestures that may be totally innocuous in one culture but may be downright offensive in another.
For example, using a curled index finger to beckon someone may be a common occurrence in the west but in our local context and in Japan, that motion signifies death.
Your Filipino colleagues won’t appreciate it either, as that gesture is used for summoning dogs and thus is considered very rude.
So you can just imagine how a workplace comprising multiple nationalities can be a potential breeding ground for much confusion and misunderstanding.
That’s the thing about CQ — it is incredibly difficult to master, as there are so many nuances to both verbal and non-verbal communication across various cultures.
Not only are we required to have a heightened sense of awareness of these differences, but we also have to know how to apply them effectively in real-life situations.
David Livermore, author of The Cultural Intelligence Difference, notes that people with high CQ have a natural ability to cope with unfamiliar environments and settings.
Such individuals may not necessarily know the finer details of every culture, but they understand and possess the crucial skills needed to be both effective and polite in all situations.
At the same time, high CQ individuals are proactive — and, fittingly, this is where both IQ and EQ also play a part.
Say you have a meeting with a Japanese businessman next week. The CQ-driven individual would find a way to gain knowledge about Japanese culture in a business context.
What should one do or not do in such a situation? Does the decorum differ between individuals of different gender? Are there any taboo things that you should take note of and be sure to avoid? During the meeting, the CQ-driven individual would be socially aware of the present situation and adapt as such.
The ability to understand all these cultural differences in attitudes and behaviours will empower the global employee to react appropriately in a given situation, and adjust to the needs of the environment.
It also lays a solid foundation for great working relationships with colleagues of different cultural backgrounds.
Simply put, when people get along better, there is more cohesiveness in the team and this can lead to higher productivity. CQ can thus have a positive impact on your company’s bottomline, too.
Now how do you go about boosting the CQ levels in your workforce? For starters, when hiring, employers should look for individuals who are naturally predisposed to CQ.
Incorporate CQ metrics into your assessment of potential hires or, at the very least, evaluate individuals based on their openness to adapt to, and thrive in, an increasingly culturally diverse workplace. Staff training programmes, of course, can help do the rest.
As individuals, we also need to take the initiative to develop our own cultural intelligence. Good employers will seek out workers with high CQ, so it would be wise to position yourself favourably and enjoy a competitive advantage over your peers.
The world is changing. Don’t get left behind.
Article by Ronald Lee, managing director of PrimeStaff Management Services, a leading human resource consultancy based in Singapore with a growing regional reach. It provides a comprehensive suite of recruitment services in the Asia-Pacific region. For more information, call 6222-3310, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.primestaff.com.sg