What’s the difference between CQ, cultural competency, cultural awareness and what does your organization actually need?

Cultural intelligence (CQ)
“Cultural intelligence is the ability to adapt to various cultural contexts and function in different cultural settings or with those of a different culture in one’s setting … Cultural intelligence is a combination of emotional and social intelligence that is acquired through the maturation process of observing and analyzing how people function in different societal situations. Further, the application of culture on the emotional and social intelligence generates human understanding and culturally informed solutions within the cultural context” (Kannan, 2018).

Cultural intelligence (CQ) at an organizational level, strategically assesses diverse cultural situations, is sensitive to different ways of thinking and problem solving, and generally improves work effectiveness in multicultural contexts. Not only does CQ enable flexibility in thinking, it denotes adaptability in the work place, it also enhances team trust and leadership effectiveness, ultimately optimizing overall profitability, productivity and cost-savings.

In the workplace, CQ could effectively be a crucial element is targeting and addressing the growing globalized market. Aspects of CQ includes paying attention to cross-cultural situations, cross-cultural training which improves isomorphic (similar group think) attributions and organizational practices. (Triandis HC, 2006).

Recent studies have revealed that cultural intelligence could significantly enhance innovative problem solving through intercultural engagement and, therefore, interpersonal trust in the workplace. Cultural intelligence is becoming a significant and necessary skill also in governments, public sectors and NGOs, facilitating cross-cultural communication within and outside the work space, and promoting inclusiveness of underrepresented groups in the community. The Diversity Atlas program is an ideal tool for assessing the cultural diversity in your organization, to assist in implementing CQ aptitude in the workforce at every level, including leadership.

cultural awareness
For example, in a South African study on the contribution CQ aptitude gives to leadership roles by Solomon and Steyn (2017) it was found that:

Where the cultural profiles of subordinates dictate a preference for empowerment, human resource practitioners should concentrate on selecting those leaders evidencing higher levels of CQ in general and, especially, metacognitive and motivational CQ. Similarly, because these two dimensions act as important antecedents of empowering leadership, they should form an integral component of leadership development programmes.

Equally, an Indonesian study by Agung Nugraha (2019) found:

“Based on the view of sociology and organization, [the research] leads to the understanding that cultural intelligence is a mediator of harmony toward collectivism and cultural encapsulation. Low understanding of collectivism and cultural encapsulation has an impact on a limited worldview so that it triggers a negative cultural reaction with indicators of lack of appreciation, respect and recognition of the worth of an individual.” (p 98)

And finally, from an Indian/New Zealand study of organizational CQ by Sharma (2019), the findings were:

“Managers operating in institutionally different environments face challenges of misunderstandings and legitimacy caused by the lack of shared cognitive and regulatory frameworks … A conscious approach of enhancing ‘Head’ and Heart’ CQ facets of the concerned managers and investing in building relationships is likely to help them to operate effectively in institutionally different environments.”

The recent pandemic in 2020 transformed many institutions to operate their work in a globally dispersed environment, primarily rely on information technologies and virtual communications. In this global virtual work context, CQ had significant in eliminating the negative effect of language and communication barriers during the mediation process in global virtual teams. (Presbitero, 2020)

Cultural competence

Cultural competence on an individual level is the ability to understand individual’s view is shaped with complex cultural background and personal experiences; as well as the awareness of one’s cultural assumptions during communications in cross-cultural contexts. (Danso, 2016) Developing intercultural competence consisted of four building components (knowledge, awareness, attitudes and skills), two supporting skills (critical reflection and emotional intelligence, and three capabilities (intercultural teamwork, conflict management and relationship building) that applies to broad spheres such as academic, professional and private.

(Ferreira-Lopes and Van Rompay-Bartels, 2020) Regarding cultural competence in an organizational aspect, it involves creating policies and systematic processes that consider the cultural difference in all aspects of work and facilitate cultural diversity in the organization. With a high level of cultural competence in an organization, the capacity of an organization to come together to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.

(Jyoti and Kour, 2016) Recent research also places emphasis on the importance of cultural competence of candidates in enhancing the cultural diversity through recruitment. Cultural competence and its associated working skills in cross-cultural settings have been a core employability attribute which has been valued as cultural capital by many organizations. (Nguyen T & Hartz D, 2020)

Cultural awareness

Cultural awareness is sensitivity to the similarities and differences in situations among various cultures, and the awareness of the sensitivity in active communication with other cultural communities. Although cultural awareness and cultural competence are commonly referenced interchangeably, cultural awareness is specifically indicating the acknowledgements of cultural diversity among individuals. Public and private organizations should prioritize in developing cultural awareness to a higher status in today’s multicultural world where diversity is becoming more prevalent.

(Bell, Connerley, and Cocchiara, 2009) Research in the field of business, psychology and sociology had indicated that cultural awareness had a significant effect on the inclusiveness of work environment and team collaboration; thus, cultivating cultural awareness should be an organizational-wide priority. (Garrido et.al., 2017) As these studies indicate, developing respects for cultural diversity is the foundation for building cultural competence as increasing cultural awareness is vital in developing cultural competence which is the practical ability to communicate and work effectively in cross-cultural contexts.

What does your organization actually need?

Understanding the importance of cultural diversity is vital when attempting to increase cultural awareness; either on a personal enrichment level or an organizational policy level. Cultural inclusion can only be cultivated when organizational-wide understanding is focused upon, embedded into human resource policy, and under constant review ensuring targets are achieved.

Cultural diversity enriches teams and has demonstrated the potential to facilitate work innovation and productivity in the workplace in the globalized world. What your organization requires are members with high cultural awareness to improve cultural competence in a culturally diverse team. Cultural diversity and cultural competence are closely related as an organization that reflects the society’s diverse culture leads to a higher level of cultural competency within the team.

Meanwhile, organizations also had to maintain a high cultural competency to recruit and support a high culturally diverse workplace. (FECCA, 2019) Incorporating cultural intelligence in organizational policy-making is essential in assessing the current cultural competence in the team and provide solutions in improving the work effectiveness in multicultural teams.

Organizations need to understand employees on a cultural level to better identify how the current organizational culture is being received and develop strategic adjustments to create a more inclusive workplace where different cultures are embraced, their world views encompassed, and problem solving is seen from many angles. Like a well-cut gem, when the many angled facets let in light, the whole jewel shines brighter with an internal light.

As a concluding thought, Patrick and Haselrig (2020) point out in their paper on CQ in the era of the Covid-19 pandemic:

“[W]e should not fear the collision of cultures. Whether recognize it or not, we have been interconnected at the speed of light in this modern society … We should have learned just how small our global community is from the Internet, weather, and other phenomena that confirm close proximity amongst humanity.

The danger is not the collision, the mixture of environments, social mores, and traditions that inform a global community. The mistake our leaders have made, and many continue to make, is that humanity is not manifest in neatly individually wrapped societies, where one never influences the other; we are all interconnected and mutually dependent … The cultural collision, if embraced without fear and prejudice, would prevent existential threats, a realty first felt by the most vulnerable among us.” (pp 62-3)

 Co author: Christine Hale

About the Author

Hilary Kwan

Hilary Kwan is currently a researcher for Diversity Atlas and assisted research in education curriculum for Cultural Infusion. She is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and History at the University of Melbourne.