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Inter-Cultural Intelligence: Key to Operating in a Globalized World

Updated: May 18, 2023

Part 2 of 3

HR Headaches: traumatic transitions, recruiting failures, and retention wrecks.

Previously in this series, we looked at the areas where "not knowing what you don’t know" is most dangerous.

Traumatic Transitions

One of our colleagues shares his story of returning to his home country after years of working abroad. When he went with his wife to a counseling session to work through the re-entry shock, the counsellor looked at self worth, identity, marriage – everything but the re-entry. Our colleague knew the symptoms of re-entry shock, he said “I know where this is coming from, I want you to help me work through it!” but the counsellor had no clue.

Without the Inter-Cultural Intelligence to create a decent re-entry plan, the decrease in well-being and productivity from culture shock in an employee’s first transition will happen again when they transition back to their original setting.

HR Headaches: why certain practices don’t work in expanding markets

Many companies who go international do not revisit their HR policy and strategy to make sure they are appropriate for their new context. Most of them do not have the inter-cultural intelligence to make such a review effective in the first place.

The ability to explain why something is expected not to work in a new situation is the starting point for the conversation of what actually does work and leads to effective changes. As the practice of HR becomes more global, practitioners need to change the way they think about things in response to their knowledge of the inter-cultural environment, and develop different ways of operating that can be applied (or not be applied) in specific markets.

The favorite outcome of one regional HR director who attended our Inter-Cultural Intelligence program was that he could finally explain why certain HR practices that come from the Western world did not work in the expanding market economies that were his responsibility. Now he is on the path to finding processes that work.

Recruiting Failures

When inter-cultural intelligence is not used in the hiring process, the chance of failure goes up significantly. Hiring that looks for specific behaviors that are related to Inter-Cultural Intelligence allows the organization to succeed in inter-culturally challenging situations. Unfortunately, most recruiters have never heard of it – and that is a dangerous situation for organizations to be in.

Retention Wrecks

When inter-cultural transitions are not managed properly, retention is difficult. In one Gulf country a large academic institution loses a third of their internationally hired educators every year, with enormous costs to their bottom line and effectiveness. This is the industry norm. However, the interview process for academic institutions in the region typically looks at how well educators function in their home culture: If they have the right credentials, and the right experience, they get hired. And then they get plugged into a context that is so foreign that they don't make it.

What the institutions don’t realize is that this turnover has nothing to do with lack of quality in their applicants’ credentials or experience, and everything to do with a lack of Inter-Cultural Intelligence. They also don’t realize that inter-cultural intelligence on the part of the individuals they hire is not enough: they need to embed inter-cultural intelligence into the institution at an organizational level in order to effectively plug hires into new contexts and teams. This situation is mirrored in the government, NGO, and business sectors wherever the person being hired is working across cultures.

A lack of Inter-Cultural Intelligence in the global workspace can have serious repercussions, but by developing Inter-Cultural Intelligence, individuals and organizations can turn dangerous situations into success stories.

To learn more about how KnowledgeWorkx can help your organization navigate the global workspace, join an upcoming certification program, get our Inter-Cultural Intelligence Book or Contact Us.



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