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Learning and Training Development Survey

davidlivermore | January 6th, 2012 1 Comment

Learning and Talent Development (L&TD) professionals are crucial allies for assessing and developing cultural intelligence (CQ). The findings of a recent survey of L&TD practices in India, the U.K., and U.S. offer several strategic insights for those of us committed to improving the CQ of working professionals:[1]

1. In-House Programs Ranked Highest by Practitioners
Practitioners from all three countries view in-house customized programs as the most effective way to teach new skills. Canned, generic presentations on CQ, diversity, or cultural differences do little to help practitioners apply intercultural effectiveness to their day-to-day work. And numerous studies indicate that the closer learning occurs to the environment in which it will be used, the more likely people are to retain that learning.

A little effort to conduct a needs assessment beforehand will allow for relevant examples and case studies about CQ. And the more the material can be applied to the specific organizational culture and niche, the better. There’s nothing too surprising about this. But the longer you train CQ, the greater the temptation to rely upon facilitation skills and familiar content, only to end up offering generic sessions that may be “okay” but not so “great”.

2. External Events and Coaching are Best for Leaders
In contrast, the survey suggests that leadership capabilities are better developed through external events. By removing leaders from the constant interruptions at the office and allowing them to learn and interact with peers from different organizations and industries, they expand their understanding of how to effectively lead in a global context. As noted in a previous article, effective, global leadership requires an ability to adapt one’s leadership style to a variety of situations, cultures, and personalities.

In addition, the L&TD leaders strongly affirmed the value of individualized coaching sessions to develop leadership skills. Many organizations have found that coaching is the best way to help leaders develop a personal development plan for improving CQ. Using CQ to lead effectively is best done with the benefit of a coach who offers personalized input and support.

3. Big Potential Seen in High Potential Programs
The top priority in talent management programs across all three contexts (India, U.K., and U.S.) is investing in the up and coming leaders of an organization. There’s no group of individuals with whom it makes more sense to prioritize CQ assessment and development than future executives. It’s often assumed that the younger generation, by default, is better at working across cultures. The research simply doesn’t support this. Emerging leaders may not need as much convincing that CQ is an essential capability for but they still need help to develop it. The high potential programs that most effectively incorporate CQ assessment and development do so by integrating it throughout the program rather than isolating it to one session.

4. Different Takes on e-Learning
It’s no surprise to find that e-learning is prominent across all the L&TD contexts surveyed but there were differences among the approaches used. The U.S. directors plan to place more energy on e-learning programs this next year than their peers in India and the U.K.; but the British organizations report the most extensive offerings currently. And India L&TD leaders are more interested in smart-phone approaches to e-learning than computer-based ones.

All three contexts see a much lower level of completion among employees who participate in e-learning programs compared to live training—not surprising given the self-directed discipline required. This raises some interesting challenges about if and how to use this mode of learning for cultural intelligence. Delivering CQ training to thousands of employees across the globe often requires e-learning approaches but fresh, interactive approaches are needed that truly engage individuals rather than giving them one more, boring, module to plod through on their own.

We should glean all we can from the L&TD field to assist us in how we help working professionals improve and apply CQ. And I’m always a fan of sharing ideas with each other. What’s one of your favorite ways to get people thinking about or applying CQ?

[1] The survey was done by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development(CIPD) and the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Why Cross-Cultural Training Could Be a Waste of Money

davidlivermore | March 3rd, 2011 No Comments

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I’m amazed how often we default to seminars, conferences, and training as if they’re the panacea to all things cross-cultural.

  • Our sales people are struggling with how to negotiate effectively in China: “Let’s hire someone to train them about China.”
  • Our personnel don’t know how to accept people from other faiths: “Let’s offer a workshop about respecting religious differences”
  • Our teachers don’t know how to deal with diverse classrooms: “Our next in-service day should focus on this topic.”
  • Our short-term mission team shouldn’t offend the locals: “Let’s develop a really strong pre-trip orientation program.”

You get the idea. And as one who does a fair amount of this kind of speaking and teaching, I could be shooting myself in the foot here. I see great value in education—both formal and informal. But I’m not convinced one-off training events do a whole lot to change the way we work across borders—at home or abroad.

In fact, the research shows that in some cases, training by itself, even if done well, could actually be counterproductive. Individuals may have had just enough training to think “I’m good to go. I ‘get’ those people.”

I wish I could tell you in good conscience that bringing in an expert for a day is all it takes. I certainly think speakers, workshops, and books can play a part in both enhancing awareness and offering some practical tools for how to respectfully and effectively work with people and organizations from different cultures. But as with any systemic change, improving the way we do so requires a long-term strategic process.

Some of the things to include in a long-term approach to becoming more effective across borders include:

1. Assess the cross-border effectiveness of the organization as a whole.
Some questions to begin with are:

  • What’s our level of success working internationally and/or across different ethnic cultures domestically?
  • What’s the level of satisfaction from personnel and clients/constituents who come from different cultural backgrounds?
  • To what degree do cultural differences inform our strategic decisions?
  • What’s our plan for retaining our core identity/brand while also adapting to various cultures?

2. Assess the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) of Key Personnel
Begin with strategic leaders in the organization and associates who have the most interaction with culturally diverse contexts. Then eventually develop CQ assessment into the regular HR processes. Effective assessment requires attending to the four research-based capabilities of cultural intelligence:

  • CQ Drive: What’s my level of motivation for cross-cultural assignments?
  • CQ Knowledge: What’s my level of cultural understanding?
  • CQ Strategy: How well can I plan for doing the same task in different cultural contexts?
  • CQ Action: Can I effectively adapt to various cultural situations and still be myself?

3. Create a Developmental Plan for Improving Cultural Intelligence
Don’t put everyone through the same one-size fits all cross-cultural training plan. Some have plenty of knowledge but not a lot of motivation. Others are very motivated but aren’t quite sure how to translate that into effective behavior. Empower your team to develop personalized plans for developing their CQ based upon their CQ strengths and weaknesses.

Bringing in speakers, offering workshops, and distributing books to offer a common language and vision can be very helpful within this context. But now the education and training fits within a larger plan. And whenever possible, provide personnel with individualized coaching to help them in this process.

4. Integrate global effectiveness into the Strategic Plan
Rather than simply relegating cross-border effectiveness to the “international sales” division or to the “diversity and inclusion officer”, make it part of the overall strategic plan for the organization.

  • How does culture need to inform the way R&D do their work?
  • How does a globally dispersed workforce and/or clientele need to shape the way IS develop their processes?
  • How will the targets identified at the C-suite level be informed by cross-border issues?

I’m only scratching the surface here. More often than not, training should be part of the mix in improving the way we work and relate across borders. I’m simply cautioning us against seeing training as the panacea to all things cross-cultural.

Increase the return on investment you get from your training dollars by using it within a more holistic, sustainable plan. Then know that your lecture series, pre-trip training or lunch n’ learn sessions are not the end-all but simply another important piece of how you can effectively embark on the challenges and opportunities of today’s globalized world!

Moving Beyond the Fluff in Intercultural Training

davidlivermore | February 7th, 2011 No Comments


The other day, a friend said to me, “The economy is coming back but most businesses still aren’t going to invest in soft skills like cross-cultural training and coaching. There’s not much market for that.”

Full disclosure: I lead an organization devoted to the assessment and development of cultural intelligence so I own my biases here. And I admit that training budgets are still tight for many companies. But the idea that intercultural capabilities are simply intangible, soft skills is a misnomer.

Research demonstrates that higher levels of cultural intelligence (CQ)—a globally recognized way of measuring and improving cross-cultural effectiveness—results in:

Improved Cross-Cultural Effectiveness
Prior to the evidence gathered from the cultural intelligence research, it was difficult to prove that “cultural sensitivity” or having a “global mindset” actually led to a change in performance. But dozens of studies conducted by academic scholars across more than 30 countries have consistently found that individuals and organizations with high levels of CQ more effectively fulfill their objectives in cross-border contexts than individuals and companies with lower levels of CQ.

• Job Performance
The research on cultural intelligence also demonstrates that employees with higher levels of CQ are better able to meet the challenges of serving a diverse customer base at home and abroad and they do better effectively working with diverse colleagues. More specifically, the higher the CQ, the better the employees were at negotiating, networking, innovating, and leading multicultural teams.

• Personal Well Being
Individuals with higher levels of CQ are less likely to experience fatigue, stress and burn out from the constant demands of working in multicultural situations. Higher levels of CQ both enhance an employee’s own personal well being while simultaneously making them more productive and engaged in their work.

• Efficiency and Profitability
In light of these other findings, it’s no surprise that individuals and organizations that more successfully adjust cross-culturally, do their jobs better, and have a better level of personal well being, save and earn more money. One study found that 92 percent of 100 companies that assessed and developed cultural intelligence saw an increase in their profit margins. All the companies credited the attention upon CQ as a significant correlating factor to increased revenues, cost-savings and efficiencies.

Meanwhile, a recent study found that 85% of U.S. companies doing business in China are losing money. That calls for something more than a fluffy day of cross-cultural training for everybody in the company. A much more sustained, strategic approach is needed.

I actually place the primary responsibility for intercultural training being perceived as a “fluffy, touchy-feely” topic upon those of us who research, write, and talk about the topic. I talk to countless individuals who tell me how they endured the diversity training that was forced upon them so their companies could demonstrate compliance to anti-discrimination laws. And I hear from just as many who say the training they went through before working in another country had little relevance to the work they actually did there.

One guy said, “They spent an hour telling me why I should never touch a Thai person on the head before I went to Bangkok. Meanwhile I’m thinking, Um…I never touch any professional colleague on the head! This is a waste of time!”

I don’t think that all these training programs are flawed. Calling people to respect each other and teaching employees to learn the practices of various cultures is important. But we have to do a better job of making the business case for why assessing and developing intercultural effectiveness is a bottom-line issue. The case can easily be made through the empirical research that led to the findings above. And the daily news and frequent conversations will provide countless anecdotes of the money lost when companies attempt to do “business as usual” when working across borders—at home and abroad.

The globalized world offers a sea of opportunities and challenges. Organizations that strategically use cultural intelligence to inform the way they move in and out of lots of varied cultures daily experience success. When we begin to see global understanding and skills that way, we more easily see why its well worth making it a priority personally and corporately. That’s something we can bank on!

[Additional description of the research findings cited in this article cited and explained in the upcoming book, The Cultural Intelligence Difference: Master the One Skill You Can’t Do Without in Today’s Global Economy (AMACOM, May 2010 release).]