Cultural Intelligence Is A Competitive Advantage

Cultural faux pas happen to all of us, ranging from the minor misstep on holiday all the way up to the scandalous - like when President Nixon gave the finger to Brazil by waving the “a-ok” sign from the steps of Air Force One. Whilst your red face might reasonably be disguised as holiday sunburn, in business, such blunders are long-lasting and could be detrimental to the global prospects of your organisation.


President Trump committed the faux pas of walking in front of Queen Elizabeth on a recent trip to the UK.


The ability to relate and work effectively across different cultures, as measured by the cultural quotient or ‘CQ’, has been boldly branded as the new workplace EQ due to its elevated importance in our globalised working environment. Introduced by Christopher Early and Soon Ang in 2003, it has since evolved from an academic construct to a critical business asset that is key to effective conduct with global partners, clients, and team members.

Corporate HR managers and Learning and Development leads should take note that employees who perform well in their home culture struggle the most when forced to adapt to foreign best practices and customs. Your star employee might thrive in their native environment but studies suggest that they are most likely to have low CQ. Perhaps unsurprisingly, cultural ‘outsiders’ like refugees and migrants are more likely to possess skills related to CQ because they are "used to being observers and making a conscious effort to fit in".

There are many forward-thinking organisations that are already maximising on this cultural capital offered by minority groups, and the benefits are being felt widely around the world. Starbucks is among the growing number of large multinationals announcing pledges to hire people from marginalised backgrounds, with their 2017 commitment to integrate 10,000 refugees into their workforce by 2022. On a smaller but more focused scale, social impact organisations like Chatterbox utilise the rich range of diverse skills that refugees import to the UK by employing them as coaches to share their expert language and culture skills.

Syrian Architect & Chatterbox Arabic conversation partner Muna conducting a conversation class with a SOAS student _ by Gregoire Mariault © Chatterbox 2016 (1) copy.jpg

Chatterbox language coach Muna is a trained architect with extensive teaching experience in Arabic.


Nixon wasn’t the first or last person to jeopardise his business agenda by accidentally offending partners overseas. Plenty of cheek-burning examples can be taken of late. Dolce & Gabbana, Burger King and Pepsi are some of the latest companies to become embroiled in international scandals that endure in public memory. In the age of social and digital media, cultural intelligence is no longer optional. Businesses depending on global growth and hiring strategies can safeguard themselves against the risk of such scandals by improving their CQ.

How To Improve Your Organisation's Cultural Fluency:

Improving the CQ of your organisation should not just be a preventive measure to avoid reputation–damaging scandals. It is a means to enhance your workforce’s valuable cultural capital, which in turn positively impacts the company bottom line; widening horizons for trade, improving employee happiness and ensuring customers are treated well. The good news is that CQ is measurable and you can act to improve it immediately. Get started with a free CQ test and share it with your team to find out where your organisation stands, then discover 5 easy ways to develop your CQ.