For strategic talent movement decisions and identifying and developing the right people to be sent overseas, intercultural competence remains a crucial criteria
Global organizations employ people from multifarious backgrounds and require them to be inter-culturally competent. Now, that is a developmental process as no one is born interculturally competent and it can’t simply be acquired by living in a multicultural environment. In this regard, the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) which was first defined by Dr. Milton Bennet in the 1980s encouraged one of his colleagues Dr. Mitch Hammer to create a psychometric assessment, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), to enable people to assess their own level of intercultural sensitivity. As for most psychometrics, there is no ideal profile. It all depends where you want to be. According to the IDI® the natural development of an individual begins from an ethnocentric (also called Monocultural) mindset – where one perceives the world through one’s own cultural lens–moving to a more ethnorelative (also called intercultural) mindset as one gets more exposure and creates new strategies to deal with the cultural differences. The 5 stages of intercultural development are:
Denial: Denial is usually characterized by a lack of awareness or a lack of interest in other cultures. “My culture is my reality and I don’t really care/believe that there could be another way to experience the world”. Even though we live in the ‘global village’, everyone doesn’t yet feel like they belong to it and, more importantly, they don’t really need to care.
Polarization: Polarization is divided into two stages – Defence and Reversal – which are both characterized by an ‘us’ and ‘them’ vision of cultural differences. When people start interacting with other cultures, they often can judge other mental models as less valuable than theirs. That is Defence. Reversal is the opposite of Defence. This is when people perceive their own culture as inferior to others.
Minimization: Minimization is when we level differences between different cultures. “We’re all human after all and things like respect and hard work mean the same thing for everybody, wherever they come from”. Minimization shows the desire to move beyond judgement and is a very comfortable place to be for people working in a global environment and trying to create and/or implement global processes. However, it still negates the value of diversity.
Acceptance: In Acceptance, people are aware of their own cultural identity and also accept that there are other valuable ways of perceiving the world. People see value in different mental models but don’t yet know how to adapt their behaviour when confronted with these differences. Acceptance is a very critical step of developmental process as without acceptance there can be no adaptation.
Adaptation: Adaptation is when one understands and sees value in other mental models and can adapt his/her behaviour according to the situation. With exposure and mindfulness, this becomes unconscious for a lot of people. People who still have an ethnocentric mindset, very often define adaptation as cultural schizophrenia as they don’t understand how others can genuinely adapt their behaviour without losing their identity.
No stage among the five is good or bad. It all depends where one wants to be. However, for professionals working in global companies or NGOs, intercultural competence is the key to becoming an effective leader and/or global employee. On the other hand, for strategic talent movement decisions and identifying and developing the right people to be sent overseas for international assignments, intercultural competence remains a crucial criteria. This is where organizations can leverage online tools like the Intercultural Development Inventory that provide meaningful insights helping global organizations streamline talent movements and coaching & training interventions to make those movements efficient and convenient.
Organizations need to be very careful of the outcome they are trying to achieve through an assessment before selecting one. Sometimes organizations are lured into choosing an assessment over another just because it provides a company-wide licence or is comparatively cheap. However, what’s most important for an assessment to be meaningful and effective is understanding its need and link it to the desired outcome. It is also crucial for individuals to understand the purpose of the assessment while HR needs to facilitate the execution along with the line managers. Last but not the least, being proactive in leveraging a successful assessment and intervention before sending people abroad can save organizations a huge unforeseen cost.