Culture is a big, impactful word. It is the atmosphere around each of us through which we move about in the world. More than just geography, nationality or ethnicity, culture is also found in different professions, businesses, organizations, and even departments and teams within organizations.

As globalization has been transpiring, particularly over the last 15 years, there has been greater consideration and evaluation of both the impact of culture and the ability of individuals to be successful in a multi-cultural setting. Companies have since increased their cross-border activity in the form of international transfers and expatriate assignments, and they have seen that the most successful employees working in another culture are those that:

  • can establish rapport and connect easily with others 
  • can communicate, negotiate and collaborate more effectively
  • suffer less from disorientation caused by culture shock; adjust and adapt more easily and quickly, and consequently have a more pleasant and productive time living and working in a cross-cultural environment
  • appreciate multiple perspectives which allow them to establish long-term relationships benefiting themselves, the business and the company

Individuals who are able to effectively function in a different cultural environment (or a multi-cultural environment) would be said to have higher "cultural intelligence" or CQ. These are the individuals that are more able to work effectively across cultures.

 Dr. David Livermore is a thought leader on cultural intelligence and global leadership, and he explains how there are four different areas that drive CQ:

  1. CQ Drive 
  2. CQ Knowledge
  3. CQ Strategy
  4. CQ Action

This four-factor model of cultural intelligence starts with "CQ Drive," which is the motivation to learn about other cultures. It can be looked at as the level of interest, persistence and confidence during multi-cultural interactions. "CQ Knowledge" is an understanding of some of the general cultural differences and similarities. "CQ Strategy" is having an awareness and ability to plan for multi-cultural interactions. It is about how you think about difficult confrontations. "CQ Action" considers your behavioral flexibility or adaptability — this is both non-verbal and verbal behavior that allows you to convey respect, and build trust and rapport. The beauty of CQ is that it can be learned.

In global mobility, we are always looking for program-enhancing initiatives. Studies have shown that CQ might have the biggest impact on overall performance for an employee working in a different culture. These studies are leading many companies to consider testing CQ and find out how they can boost their employees’ scores. In turn, the expectation is that there will be a greater return on investment along with an employee with even greater potential for future assignment success.

According to Dr. Livermore, “In fact, our research finds that individuals who have spent extended time in multiple locations are more likely to have higher CQ Knowledge than those who have lived multiple decades in one overseas setting.”

Additionally, in one sample, expats were able to become fully functional in the new location three times faster with the teaching of key CQ concepts and coaching on potential or real challenges. Whereas before it would take on average 25% of a three-year assignment to become fully functional, with training that was cut to just 8.3%.

For more on the topic try:

What is CQ?

The Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Difference by Dr. David Livermore

CQ Blog

Ultimately, in today's talent environment, statements like the following are being heard more frequently: (from the Cultural Intelligence Center website)

"As a Staffing Manager at Google, I’m focused on driving a rigorous hiring process. CQ must be part of that process."

Nic Weatherhead, Google Recruiter, Singapore