The Importance of Developing One’s Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Different Cultures Together, n.d.

America is a beautiful melting plot filled with different cultures; especially from a business perspective. Let’s take New York City for example…Chinatown, Little Italy and Koreatown are three areas in New York City that are embedded with different cultures (Chinese, Italian and Korean). Furthermore, each area has difference types of food, clothing and merchandise sold that aligns with the cultures previously listed.

More than that, executives of businesses are witnessing the increased amount of diversity within America both in and outside the workplace and the need to accept and understand other cultures in order to be successful. Differently stated, cultural intelligence is an important tool that managers need to be successful in a diverse society. According to Peter Cardon (2016) in Business Communication: Developing Leaders For a Networked World, cultural intelligence is “—the measure of your ability to work with and adapt to members of other cultures” (p. 99).

Developing cultural intelligence is important because of the presence of diversity in businesses / workplaces and interactions among people from different cultures that occur. In order to effectively manage employees or a business, managers must be understand, interact and work with members of different cultures. In this link, a contributor from the IESE Business School (2015) in Why You Need Cultural Intelligence (And How To Develop It) stated, “As globalization has rendered the business environment more complex, dynamic, and competitive, the ability to function effectively in different cultural contexts, called Cultural Intelligence (CQ), has never been more important for organizations” (p.1).

Therefore, this blog post will explain ways to develop cultural intelligence, discuss its importance and provide a real life example discussing a company’s success based on the presence or lack of culturally intelligent managers.


How to develop cultural intelligence? 

Fortunately, cultural intelligence is not a skill that you must be born with in order to have. Robert Mitchell (2014) in “Cultural intelligence: Everybody needs it, stated that cultural intelligence can be learned through experiences, knowledge and training (p. 1).

While many business executives understand that it is possible to know more about different cultures, they aren’t always sure how to learn more. Glenn Llopis (2011) in The Lack of Cultural Intelligence is Damaging Our Enterprises and Our Economy stated, “In today’s global marketplace, you must be culturally intelligent.  It’s a business imperative.  America’s corporations are becoming more aware of this need.  However, they still don’t know what to do and how to do it” (p. 1).

Here is a list of ways that students can develop their cultural intelligence:

  1. —Study abroad
  2. Learn a language
  3. —Becomes friends with international students on campus
  4. Pick a culture and learn as much as possible about it (Cardon, 2016, p. 100 & 101).

Studying abroad is a great way to learn about other cultures because you’re adapting to another culture. If a student from America decides to study abroad in India, the student will learn how members of the Indian culture communicate, interact, and behave. They will also learn about the norms, customs and values of that culture by residing and interacting the members of that culture.

Learning another language besides your native language is a great way to get inside the minds of others and learn how they conceptualize things. Not only does it help you to communicate with members of different cultures easily, but it allows you to understand how members of other cultures think based on their linguistics and thoughts.

Becoming friends with an international student on campus gives you insight to another’s culture as well. You are able to observe his/her social habits, understand his / her thought processes and gain insights about his / her way of life without having to leave the country!

Lastly, picking a culture and learning as much as possible about it also helps to develop one’s cultural intelligence. If any particular culture interests you, pick up a few books about it, do research using credible sources, watch documentaries and keep up with the news. This is another easy way to truly learn and understand another’s culture without having to leave the country.


Why is it important to develop one’s cultural intelligence?

For one, the world is becoming more diverse. These diverse individuals will be populating consumer markets and workplace settings. Therefore, managers need to understand different cultures to manage employees and /or relate to consumers in order to be successful.”The rapid rise of Asian, Hispanic and African-American populations in America is forcing companies to change their business models and their entire business approach” (Llopis, 2011, p. 1).

Here is a list of reasons why it is important for managers to have cultural intelligence. Business managers with high cultural intelligence are able to:

  1. —Work and succeed on joint projects
  2. Resolve differences
  3. Understand new markets and develop global plans for marketing
  4. —Educate peers about cultural differences
  5. —Foster innovation and creativity (IESE Business School Contributor, 2015, p. 1).
  6. —Help create a more productive work force
  7. —Help to improve job performance (Mitchell, 2014, p. 1)

If a manager is knowledgeable of another’s culture, he/she is able to work on projects with individuals of others cultures effectively because he/she understands how the other individual thinks and communicates as well as what the other individual values. Similarly, a manager is able to resolve differences between two employees who had an altercation because of cultural differences because this manager is aware of the thought processes and habits of various cultures. Also, culturally intelligent managers understand cultures enough to know what members of different cultures value. In this way, this manager is  able to provide new products or services to help satisfy the needs of those individuals.

Being able to educate peers about different cultures will help to reduce alterations between employees regarding cultural differences. Managers that have high cultural intelligence are able to do this effectively. As previously stated, having high cultural intelligence allows an individual to be creative with the development of new products and services in order to satisfy different markets because he /she knows the values and interests of individuals from other cultures. He/she has a broadened view of product development and market opportunities based on that.

Also, managers that are culturally intelligent can better interact with and motivate a diverse workforce that includes employees from different cultural backgrounds because mangers with cultural intelligence will understand these employees better. This can lead to high levels of satisfaction with can improve employee job performance and create a more productive workforce.

To further show how important cultural intelligence is, here is a video discussing ten things that offend people in other countries. Culturally intelligent people may be knowledgeable of these facts and be able to prevent miscommunication as a result of cultural differences.

Different Cultural Elements, n.d.

A real life example?

Does having cultural intelligence really make a difference? Let’s use the case of McDonald’s as an example to answer this question. In order to adapt to its consumer diversity, McDonald’s provides a variety food menu options for different cultures. Also, the company has a cultural training program for managers who will be living in other countries (for job assignments) in order to help them become culturally acclimated.

According to Cameron Bilger (2013) in Silicon Valley Secret to Success: Cultural Intelligence, “In addition to adapting its product offerings (lamb burgers in India, Miso soup in Japan, and wine as part of the menu in Europe), management has incorporated an extensive cultural training program for its employees both before and after they move to a new country. Once relocated, expatriate (“ex-pat”) managers are each assigned a cultural coach to help them acclimate effectively” (p. 1).

McDonald’s employees receive cultural training to improve their cultural intelligence by learning about the wants, needs, customs and cuisines of different cultures. By becoming more culturally intelligent, executives at McDonald’s are able to understand new markets, and develop products and services for these markets using innovation and creativity. This has helped McDonald’s to become successful globally. Executives at the company used their cultural intelligence to introduce cuisine that different cultures value and enjoy.

However, the implementation of cultural training was not as effective among corporate America managers. ” Only 30% of ex-pat managers receive some type of cultural sensitivity training before moving, and an even smaller percentage receive continued training once abroad” (Bilger, 2013, p. 1).

Unfortunately, this causes expatriate managers (managers who temporarily reside in another country) to be sent home because they aren’t performing optimally. This is partially due to the inability to understand, interact and work with members of different cultures because of a lack of cultural intelligence. “The consequence is a failure rate of up to 40% in developed countries and as high as 70% in developing countries which costs companies anywhere from $40,000 to $1 million dollars plus lost time and missed opportunities” (Bliger, 2013, p. 1). In this way, one can see how having cultural intelligence can be beneficial and how lacking cultural intelligence can be detrimental.  Having cultural intelligence does make a difference.

What’s the takeaway from all of this?

In a world filled with individuals from many different cultural backgrounds, managers need cultural intelligence in order to be successful.  It requires individuals to be open to learning about and understanding other cultures in order to interact and work with individuals effectively. Still not convinced? Here’s Ted Talk video with Nicole Brandes that discusses the importance of cultural intelligence.

So… take a language class in Mandarin, grab a plane ticket to Brazil, start learning about Russian culture through documentaries and become friends with a Japanese international student! The time to become culturally intelligent is now!


Cultural Differences, 2013


—[Alltime 10’s]. (2012, June 6). 10 Surprising Ways To Offend People In Other Countries. [Video File]. Retrieved from

—Bilger, C. (2013, November 12). Silicon Valley Secret to Success: Cultural Intelligence. Examiner. Retrieved from

—Cardon, P.W. (2016). Business Communication: Developing Leaders For a Networked World. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Hardie, J. (2013, March 31). Understanding Cultural Differences. Jennifer Hardie. Retrieved from

—IESE Business School Contributor. (2014, March 25). Why You Need Cultural Intelligence (And How To Develop It). Forbes. Retrieved from

—Llopis, G. (2011, May 3). The Lack of Cultural Intelligence is Damaging Our Enterprises and Our Economy. Forbes. Retrieved from—

Mitchell, R. (2014, November 3). Cultural intelligence: Everybody needs it. Harvard Gazette.  Retrieved from

N.d. American Culture. Trendpak. Retrieved from

N.d. Different Cultures Together. Galleryhip. Retrieved from

[Tedx Talks]. (2015, November 4).Why we need to develop cultural intelligence | Nicole Brandes | TEDxKoeln. [Video File]. Retrieved from


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