Appreciating Cultural Competence Is Crucial for Success

This second blog will explain what cultural competence is and provide a couple of glaring examples of its lack. Cultural competence is knowing how to adapt to the diverse rules of the game, in life and business around the world, for personal and professional enlightenment and success.

Exposure to new cultures and to multicultural social networks and teams are far more likely to have positive consequences if those involved have been properly trained to understand and appreciate fundamental cultural differences and values that impact workplace relationships.  Such training enhances the cultural dexterity of those who work together across cultures. There are many training programs available, but far too many are being led by people with little or no background in the specialized field of intercultural relations.

There are numerous cases where a lack of understanding about cultural norms resulted in mistrust and failed business opportunities. For example, high sales of Mattel’s Barbie doll in China did not materialize as expected. Part of the problem was that the Chinese prefer cute dolls like Hello Kitty rather than the sexier Barbie. In Japan, eBay did not generate expected sales because leaders did not take into account that the Japanese prefer to pay with cash.

Cultural competence can be a critical piece of a diversity and inclusion platform because employees, suppliers and markets are more global than in the past. Cultural competence can help employees from different cultures see scenarios from multiple perspectives and encourages them to ask the right questions. The rewards are increased productivity, innovation and sales.

The recent re-election of President Obama is largely being credited to the increased inclusiveness and cultural competence of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party is now trying to build its cultural competence, but is doing so from a predominately white, male, older and heterosexual base. How can any organization succeed in the global/multicultural world without a deep appreciation of cultural competence?