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Does your company have what it takes to do business in this rapidly expanding global economy? The importance of cultural competence and your team’s ability to work across cultures cannot be overstated in today’s global marketplace. Determining your organization’s level of cultural competency is essential–but, simply utilizing the available tools may not provide you with the information you really need.

“The world felt larger when the internet was small,” writes Hal Conick, “Twenty years ago, 33 percent of internet users were in the U.S. while less than 1.5 percent of the world’s population was online.”

Well, that was then. This is now.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “With financial conditions still supportive, global growth is expected to tick up to a 3.9 percent rate in both 2018 and 2019.” As reported in the Global Mindset Index Study, published by Culture Wizard, almost 24 percent of respondents report spending more than 75 percent of their work time on global endeavors. The data shows that globally-minded businesses have a competitive advantage over companies with a more narrow focus.

Nationally, shifting demographics are changing the composition of the American workforce. According to the Pew Research Center, immigration is projected to drive growth in the U.S. working-age population through 2035. The increasing numbers of immigrants joining American businesses make understanding cultural differences an economic necessity.

“In an increasingly globalized world economy, workforces that are culturally diverse can help companies expand their business in worldwide markets,” writes Haley Smith. “Being able to communicate effectively in different parts of the world is a key benefit, as well as knowing how to create relationships and understand the cultural nuances and differences in doing business in foreign countries. With a workforce that understands these concepts, you create the opportunity to effectively develop your business in a global market.”

And, in addition to global expansion, as more and more American companies employ workers from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, evaluating the degree to which employees operate with cultural competency is essential.

Assessing your company’s cultural competence.

“What is cultural diversity in the workplace?” asks Dr. Richard T. Alpert, Ph.D. “Culture refers to the 7 Essentials of Workplace Cultural Competence: The values, norms, and traditions that affect the way a member of a group typically perceives, thinks, interacts, behaves, and makes judgments. It even affects perceptions of time, which can impact day-to-day scheduling and deadlines.

“Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures, and work with varying cultural beliefs and schedules,” he states.

I agree with Dr. Alpert. In my work, I often describe cultural competence as the ability to communicate and work well with people from other cultures. Being able to do this effectively takes a combination of self-awareness and understanding of one’s own biases and cultural worldview. It also takes having a global mindset, knowledge of other cultural attitudes, a cross-cultural skillset and being tolerant of cultural differences.

Assessment is a multi-step process.

Cultures are complex and fluid, not static. So determining your organization’s cultural competence requires understanding nuanced interactions and behaviors. The challenge is, you aren’t just determining your employees’ abilities to work with people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups or religious tradition, you’re also evaluating the depth of knowledge and experience within the company as a whole to identify any gaps.

Assessing knowledge levels is only one part of the cultural competency equation. Evaluating the degree to which an individual or a team can step outside their own cultural boundaries and become comfortable with new and unfamiliar customs and practices is imperative. Next, determining whether the individual or group has both the ability and the motivation to employ this understanding in a cross-cultural environment is key. In global settings, business people are confronted not only with different cultural expectations but with the complexities of a particular country’s business environments including legal, economic, technological, political and social considerations.

Conducting an accurate assessment of an organization’s cultural competence is a multi-faceted process, calling for executive interviews with a cultural expert, workshops, and facilitated discussions with your team. Often, in conjunction with these steps, I recommend the use of tools like the Global Mindset Inventory (GMI) assessment, which measures intellectual, psychological, and social capital to reveal both strengths and areas to develop.

Building cultural competency in a business or team is an ongoing exercise, one that is, of necessity, responsive and fluid in nature. Beginning with the assessment process, it morphs into the development of training and coaching programs, HR policies, and constant monitoring and evaluation. Taking steps to create an atmosphere of cultural competence builds one of the most valuable assets your organization will have–one that will yield tremendous benefits over the years to come.

10 tips for developing your firm’s cultural competency:

  1. Conduct executive interviews with a cultural expert to evaluate your team.
  2. Identify the gaps and create a strategy for developing cultural competence.
  3. Develop and implement training and coaching with a true cross-cultural expert.
  4. Emphasize communication and relationship building across geographic barriers.
  5. Practice active listening.
  6. Be sensitive to language barriers and bridge any linguistic divides.
  7. Encourage sensitivity to issues like time, local customs, religious matters, and etiquette.
  8. Practice effective cross-cultural team-building.
  9. Solicit feedback from your team as they put training to use in the workplace.
  10. Conduct a review and reassessment of your team’s performance and modify your training and coaching as needed.

Do you need help in assessing your team’s level of cultural competency? Contact me. I have more than 20 years of experience in international leadership development, coaching, and team-building. I have helped countless individuals and organizations to be more equitable, productive, and happy.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

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