Demonstrating Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Cultural Intelligence (sometimes referred to as CQ, short for cultural quotient) is a relatively new concept which has come to the forefront in business management, stemming from academic research at the start of the 2000s by Professors Christopher Earley and Soon Ang.

CQ refers to an individual’s (and by extension, an organisation’s) ability to work well in a diverse or unfamiliar environment. In this article, we will discuss what Cultural Intelligence means and how it can be used to improve business practices and interactions with diverse groups.

What is Cultural Intelligence?

At the core, Cultural Intelligence is the ability to understand and work effectively in a wide variety of cultures – it’s less about knowing every single thing about a different culture (though awareness is part of it) and more about recognising that whoever you are dealing with does not necessarily view the world in the same way as you do.

Earley and Ang’s research initially focused on international organisations collaborating on global issues, but the same principles apply on any scale, and in fact “culture” in this context is quite broad, covering nationality and locality, but also gender and generational difference, or even the difference between two work cultures.

Individuals with high Cultural Intelligence are able to: adapt how they come across depending on who they are talking to; make informed judgments based on observations and lived experience; cross boundaries while respecting differences; and find common ground to facilitate the aspirations of the project.

That might seem more instinctive than intellectual, and certainly some people may naturally be better than others, however proponents of Cultural Intelligence believe that it can be measured, and once measured, it can be developed. That said, CQ isn’t governed by one overriding metric, and is intended to be improved continuously over time through people opening themselves up to new experiences and thinking critically about their unconscious biases.

The four CQ capabilities

Leading organisations in business, education, and governance are assessing their Cultural Intelligence as a way to enhance professional development in their organisations. CQ Assessments score an individual on four key capabilities to determine areas of strength as well as weaknesses, to help focus that self-improvement. These are:

  1. CQ Drive – refers to your interest and confidence in functioning effectively in culturally diverse settings. This is important because if you aren’t motivated to be inclusive, you won’t get better at it
  2. CQ Knowledge – is the intellectual understanding of how cultures are different, as well as how they are similar. It also involves taking the time to understand your own biases and potential blind spots to other cultures
  3. CQ Strategy – is the assessment of held information about a different culture, the ability to plan ahead to get the most benefit out diverse situations, and adjusting your plans when new information comes in
  4. CQ Action – is putting all the above into practice, taking steps to modify your verbal and non-verbal behaviours to suit the environmental and people you are working with. Effective action conveys respect, builds trust, and minimises the risk of miscommunications

Cultural Intelligence for better businesses

Simply put, businesses who take account of their Cultural Intelligence and take conscious steps to develop it are more effective both in terms of working together and in getting their message across to a wider variety of audiences. A high CQ offers the opportunity for even smaller organisations to break into new markets by taking the time to understand what is important to those demographics, and how to get that across.

Conversely, business who fail to do so run the risk of alienating those outside their immediate demographic, both their target audience and even their employees. They might find themselves losing out on wider markets because their messaging fails to resonate with, or even worse, flat out offends a community they didn’t consider. They may even find it difficult to retain staff, who don’t feel like they share the same values.

From a bidding perspective, talking about Cultural Intelligence can be a good way to distinguish yourself and score points in a response around diversity and inclusion, working with vulnerable groups, or co-ordinating with firms across different countries.

More than this, a bidding team with high CQ: is more responsive to the needs (both spoken and unspoken) of the Buyer; gains an understanding of the reasons behind certain decisions; and is able to zero in on factors that competitors may overlook.

This article is based on an interview with Lucy Butters, founder of Elembee – Cultural Intelligence specialists. For more information, go to: