Assessments and Coaching for Intercultural Competence
A Fortune 500 company had recently moved an executive from a series of Eastern and Western Europe management assignments to the U.S. Midwest as VP in charge of a production plant. The executive, a multi-lingual Western European from an aristocratic family, had a British university education and an American technical Ph.D. He was married, with children, to an American professional, and had previously worked for the company in the U.S., responsible for directing their research center. He had been very successful in his European management positions as well as with direct reports in Asia and South America. However, after 7 years outside the U.S., his return was to a much-altered corporate climate of political correctness with great sensitivity to the growing diversity of the workforce. Within months, despite his familiarity with American culture, he was experiencing difficulties with management, with staff, and with Human Resources.
Plan of Action
Hoping to retain their employee, HR implemented a developmental plan which included a thorough briefing on U.S. diversity issues from a legal perspective and a leadership coaching plan. Additionally, IOR was retained to facilitate intercultural coaching sessions. In our conversations with HR we introduced the concept of intercultural competence and the use of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) to measure intercultural competence. We suggested that, despite significant intercultural experience, it is quite possible to misinterpret a new cultural climate, especially if one thinks he or she already understands it. We proposed administering the IDI and using the resulting profile to challenge the executive’s sensitivity to the nuances of his new cultural environment. We would then use a cultural profiles tool, Country Navigator, to differentiate discreet elements of the diverse workforce in order to make the executive more culturally aware and allow for more effective interactions.
IOR organized a series of six two-hour coaching sessions over 6 months with the first two meetings devoted to the debriefing of the IDI and Country Navigator. Each of the remaining four sessions focused on the cultural attributes of a significant American minority group, namely women, African-Americans, Latin Americans, and Asian Americans. The executive himself identified his goal as becoming aware of the sensitive edges between the cultures. As indicated by the IDI score, the executive’s intercultural competence was considerably lower than he had expected. This surprise brought out a new perspective and an increasing curiosity about cultural differences which made the remaining sessions very productive.
The executive implemented the new interaction strategies with considerable success, which encouraged him to further develop his understanding. The problematic workplace situations soon disappeared, and within 18 months he was promoted to a considerably higher level of corporate responsibility.