Cultural Intelligence at Work

Published on September 1st, 2021

Cultural intelligence is at the heart of everything we do at Country Navigator. It is the central theme that informs the value we add to organizations. And that is because the invisible impact of culture permeates every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Professor Ron Scollon, an applied linguist specializing in intercultural communication, argues that all communication – and therefore all human interaction – is intercultural.   

Communication – or even a lack of communication – between two or more people succeeds or fails on the basis of their shared resources and assumptions. In turn, those assumptions and resources are built up over the entire experience of each individual. This means that we all have our own unique cultural perspective. Cultural intelligence is fundamental to functioning in any collective context.  

If you prefer video over text, we made a short under 3 min video for you:

Defining Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

So, what is cultural intelligence? Fundamentally, cultural intelligence (CQ) is a package of skills, competencies and behaviors that determine your effectiveness in building inclusivity and leveraging cognitive diversity. Developing CQ is an essential part of working in a globalized world turning cultural difference from a problem into a benefit. Teams characterized by high CQ are more effective, have greater impact and bring greater returns.  

CQ is one of those rare skills that not only makes business sense, but it is also the right thing ethically and morally. CQ is the foundation of building inclusive and equitable organizations. It helps us to overcome our default unconscious thinking and decision making and creates conscious, intentional habits. 

This article starts a series of blogs on taking a CQ perspective on the real-world challenges facing all of us at work. From the day you start at a new organization through to the day you leave for your next adventure, you are learning about the culture of those around you. And those cultural lessons impact on your employee experience. CQ can help you perform at a higher level in your work life. This series will take a range of interactions at work using a CQ lens to evaluate what you might be missing and how you and your organization can harness the benefits of a collaborative, adaptive and inclusive culture. 

The importance of culture 

Peter Drucker, the renowned management consultant, is famous for having claimed, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While frequently taken out of context, his claim is that if you ignore the cultural perspective, your carefully thought-out and planned strategy is likely to fail to deliver your objectives.  

One of the classic examples was in 2001, when the British Royal Mail decided to rebrand. The Royal Mail brand was felt to be old fashioned and holding the organization back, and at a cost of £1.5 million the brand Consignia was launched. It reverted to Royal Mail within 12 months. The problem was that the culture of the Royal Mail was built on a tradition of excellent service, with staff taking pride in the association with the word “Royal.” Consignia was anonymous, impersonal and seemed to reject the years of history associated with the Royal Mail. 

As the world struggles to redefine normal after the COVID pandemic, organizational culture and inclusion are increasingly a central part of discussions. How does culture impact the employee experience at each stage? How does culture affect how our clients perceive us? How does culture inform our sales strategy?

Culture and inclusion

Despite the pandemic lay-offs, we are once again talking about skills gaps and shrinking talent pools. Ignoring culture and inclusion risks the retention of internal talent and acquisition of external talent. Glassdoor, the employer rating site, introduced inclusion ratings for organizations, making it absolutely clear which organizations are focusing on increasing diversity and engaging with all their staff.  

One of the key tools we have in increasing inclusion, belonging and engagement is CQ – cultural intelligence increases awareness of other people’s perspectives, encourages effective listening and informs adaptive strategies that make real progress. We have known from quantitative data for years that diversity increases performance. In the post-George Floyd era, more researchers have focused on looking at quantitative data – initial research by the Economist into the film industry has drawn a direct link between studio profitability and diversity in race and gender of talent.  

Sign up to follow our posts or follow us on LinkedIn as we explore in more detail how growing your CQ resource pool can have a bottom-line impact in your organization and solve some of your real-world challenges.


Matthew MacLachlan is a well published, leading expert in the field of cultural intelligence, global leadership and organisational development.

We’ve got over 28 years of experience supporting over 1 million people worldwide. We’re passionate about delivering change; how can we help you?