Follow us on:   
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in comments
Filter by Content Type
Resource Listings

The ROI of Cultural Intelligence for the Career Professional

by Rhonda Singer

Culturally Intelligent Career Professionals achieve greater client results


Cultural Intelligence (CI) makes diversity and inclusion a positive force for enhancing client performance and economic growth.


Diversity of perspective supports innovation which, in turn, supports competitiveness and economic development.


This article outline a case for valuing diversity, explains what CI is and shows how career professionals can use CI to benefit their clients.


Diversity can enhance productivity and growth


The Conference Board of Canada’s Immigrants as Innovators asserts that:


… immigrants are a source of diverse knowledge and  experience that can increase innovation. Hiring immigrants is also another way in which businesses can diversify their workforce. Workplace diversity is, in turn, linked to innovation. By having a healthy mix of employees—newcomers and Canadian-born, men and women, able bodied and disabled—businesses can better meet the needs of their increasingly diverse clientele.



Philippe Legrain explains that innovation comes not from individuals but from groups of talented people sparring off each other. Foreigners with different ideas, perspectives and experiences add something extra.


This can be summed up as:


Diversity=difference= innovation


In early 2002, it appeared to me that immigrants’ skills and experience were being negated and underutilized and that there was a need for Toronto stakeholders to better appreciate the many benefits of this rich talent pool. Believing that this was an opportunity for economic development, dialogue and collaboration, I along with partners founded a conference specifically created for Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs). The purpose was to provide information, resources and new networking skills IEPs needed to integrate into the Toronto/Canadian world of work. This annual conference provides, among other benefits, the opportunity for stakeholders such as employers, licensing bodies, associations, educational facilities and IEPs themselves, to understand the positive impact that the richness of Toronto’s global talent could have on performance and productivity… and this potential was realizable when cultural Intelligence methods were used to underpin integration.



CI and how it is acquired


Cultural Intelligence (CI) is an overall learned capability that enables career professionals and other individuals to practice effectively in a broad array of cultures spanning countries and ethnicities.


Differing national views of the world can pose both challenges and opportunities for career professionals to learn how to work more effectively with their clients  to achieve ‘fit’ and career success in Canadian  environments. The ‘intelligence’ approach is as much individualistic and personal to the career professional as it is about their having specific knowledge of countries such as India and China.


CI provides a framework and language to understand and capitalize on differences rather than tolerate or ignore the (potentially creative) friction caused by difference.


For career professionals to make use of CI they first need to understand their own personal motivation to adapt in a multicultural society; rate their level of knowledge about clients’ cultures; plan development steps accordingly; and finally, estimate their adaptability in multicultural exchanges.


Career professionals can translate this reflection into three specific steps:


1. Develop knowledge of the perspectives fostered by their own culture and others.


2. Rather than mindlessly being unaware of cultural characteristics for individual countries, practice mindfulness by paying detailed attention to the behaviours of others and the context of those behaviors..


3. Start developing a repertoire of personal behaviour that is adaptive and works across varying cultures.


Keeping in mind that each person is shaped by many factors and is more complicated than any cultural norm could suggest, here are three useful starting points when working with multicultural clients or employees:



1. Concept of self, whether individualistic or collectivistic: Most of the world is considered collectivistic. The first group is the immediate family rippling out to an extended family as the ‘In Group’. Here it is important that harmony is maintained, saving face is key and the use of the pronoun I is mostly non-existent.


A collectivist perspective exists for example where typically an IEP refers to tasks the group accomplished in their résumés.


2. Power Distance or the extent a society expects and accepts the unequal distribution of power among the members of its population.


Hofstede’s IBM database reveals a high power distance for most Asian countries while the US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand show low values.The kernel of understanding here rests on dependence. Power status and privilege go together. For example, in low power distance countries, initiative is valued by managers and consultation is often the norm. In contrast, in high power distance countries, managers or bosses tend to be more autocratic or paternalistic and respect is shown with lack of eye contact, doing as told, speaking when spoken to…all in deference to the father or master figure, the boss or the teacher.


3. Communication low and high context.  Interaction styles differ culturally. The poles range from high context with its emphasis on the non verbal behaviour and context. Here little has to be said or written because most of the information is either in the physical environment or assumed to be known; this is typical of collectivistic societies and their ‘In-Groups’.


At the low context pole, the mass of information is in the explicit code typical for individualistic Western cultures. Since the Western assumption is verbal delivery seems less intimidating, feedback is often immediate. Appreciating not all clients prefer feedback the same way, a written note  an another option for example can save face in some cultural contexts.


These are only initial points to demonstrate that it is important to decode cultural lenses. Each person is shaped by many factors and is more complicated than any cultural norm could suggest.


Googling “Hofstede” along with a client’s country of origin to get a just-in-time overview is a simple step in addition to the career professional’s traditional competency of active listening. Key is exploring cultural differences and then building on the similarities between each other and the interpretation of any situation.


This script is one proven method to facilitate an educational process for both parties:


1. What do you call this (situation, issue, challenge)?

1. Help me understand what it might look like in your country (or in your world of work)?

3. What do you think has caused this?

4. In this country of business, as an example, this is what is expected…\

5. Next steps can be…



Research has shown that CI can anticipate and clarify cultural behaviours and demonstrate a mutuality of respect. This insight supports better decisions and performance.


The bottom line is simply this: as the global marketplace continues to be influenced by cultural complexity, those who successfully navigate global cultural difference will be more successful.


Career professionals, when they gain knowledge, are mindful and grow their Cultural Intelligence will achieve a return on their CI investment for their client, themselves and the profession.




Michelle Downie Immigrants as Innovator: Boosting Canada’s Global Competitiveness Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada, October 2010.

Philippe Legrain, “Cosmopolitan Masala: Diversity Enriches us All” Yale Global Online, 16 November 2007

David Livermore with his CQ method is a leading International practitioner.

Elisabeth Plum in cooperation with Benedicte Achen, Inger Dræby and Iben Jensen, Kulturel Intelligens, Copenhagen: Børsens Forlag, 2007.

Adapted from: David C Thomas and Kerr Inkson Cultural Intelligence: People Skills for Global Business. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004.

Geert Hofstede, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, New York: McGraw-Hill USA, 1997

Geert Hofstede and Gert Jan Hofstede:  Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind.  revised and expanded 2nd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill USA, 2005.

Edward Hall, Beyond Culture. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1976

Michelle Lebaron and Venashsri Pillay eds. Conflict Across Cultures. A Unique Experience of Bridging Differences.  Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 2006.

Adapted from Rani Srivastava: Guide to Clinical Cultural Competence, Toronto: Elsevier Canada, 2007.

David C. Thomas & Kerr Inkson, Cultural intelligence: people skills for global business, San Francisco, CA : Berrett-Koehler, c2004.




Rhonda Singer, M. Sc. C.H.R.D. CMF President, Culture Chemistry – a division of Noanda Enterprises Ltd.


Rhonda works with private, educational, and non-profit sector organizations on the myriad implications of the ‘chemistry of culture’: notably, how to optimize productivity, performance and profitability in a global economy .She conceived and produced the first in a series of highly acclaimed IEP Conferences, and is a frequent speaker on Cultural Intelligence and its implications for Canada’s business community.




Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar