Firms succeed offshore by cultivating cultural intelligence at home

A 19th century engraving showing Australian &q...
Offshoring without cultural intelligence–A 19th century engraving showing Australian “natives” opposing the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1770 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently read an article (Ang & Inkpen 2008) that discussed success among companies that off-shore services; companies that already display high cultural intelligence firm-wide will succeed more in their off-shore ventures. Cultural intelligence includes four aspects: 1) challenging one’s cultural assumptions consciously (metacognitive), 2) knowledge of other cultures (cognitive), 3) staying motivated in becoming cultural intelligent (motivational), and 4) performing culturally correct speech and non-speech acts (behavioral).  When a firm already excels in these areas–especially on the executive level–the authors of the article call this firm-wide cultural intelligence.  When firms possess this level of cultural intelligence, they succeed more in offshore ventures.  Cultural intelligence brings success in challenging intercultural situations like off-shoring.

If we assume that offshore ventures will become more common as the global marketplace dominates more of the economy, then firm-wide cultural intelligence will determine companies’ success.  The most important question that remains is how do firms increase firm-wide cultural intelligence?  Firm-wide cultural intelligence requires fostering cultural intelligence among its individuals.  I will now focus on the work necessary to raise individual cultural intelligence through teaching languages.

Learning languages naturally leads to higher overall cultural intelligence based on the four criteria above.  Speaking and listening to a language force one to think in a different way.  One has to move out of an intuitive mode of communication to a highly self-conscious one (metacognitive).  As a result, one gains knowledge about the language and the culture in which it is found (cognitive).  Since no language exists in a vacuum, learning the language keeps one in constant contact with the culture.  Staying motivated to learn a language keeps one learning about the culture (motivational).  Learning about the language heightens interest in the culture the language comes from.  Finally, the language becomes the most essential feature in speaking and acting correctly in the culture (behavioral).

Cultural intelligence in one area offers advantages for another.  Even if I begin my language/cultural study with Mexico, the increased cultural intelligence transfers to, for example, India.  I already know that I have to challenge my cultural assumptions, and that I have to learn aspects of Indian culture.  I’ve demonstrated that I’m motivated, and I’m ready to discover the particular speech and actions that are appropriate for various Indian cultural situations.  After India I can move into another language/culture, such as the Philippines or China.  Cultural intelligence begets more cultural intelligence quickly and easily.  Additionally, the skills I use to learn one language transfer to another language.

Firms would find themselves more successful if they hire and foster culturally intelligent individuals.  Those knowledgeable in another language–any other language–would stand out as the best candidates.  Moreover, by offering ways for workers to increase cultural intelligence–especially through language-study–the firm has more in-house cultural intelligence to draw from for future leadership positions.  Firms will enjoy more long-term success in the global marketplace if they invest time and money in language-learning for employees.

If you’re in favor of firms investing more in language and culture training, please “like” this post.  Since language and culture study do not offer short-term gains for a firm, what are ways to convince firms to invest in this long-term project of increasing cultural intelligence?  Employees already don’t have enough time–where would that time come from?  Please let me know your thoughts, below.

3 thoughts on “Firms succeed offshore by cultivating cultural intelligence at home

  1. Pingback: Page not found | Loving Language

  2. Pingback: How to Develop Cultural Intelligence? Intercultural Dimensions | Anne Egros, Intercultural Executive Coach

  3. Pingback: Justice requires learning languages | Loving Language

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