The modern business environment is ever more ethnically and culturally diverse. In the workplace, it is no longer unusual to work side by side with associates and employees who come from varied backgrounds. In addition, with globalization, there is growing interaction with different cultures across large geographies. This unprecedented level of diversity comes with a host of opportunities and challenges for business.
In a global market that is increasingly direct, interactive and culturally diverse, one would expect that understanding culture, and applying cultural empathy should be a recognized business skill, offering potential benefits to business, not only in the workplace, but also in the marketplace.
So far, though, formal initiatives to deliver greater cultural empathy are generally under-prioritised. Perhaps it’s because, for many in leadership positions, empathy is intangible – a soft skill that is hard to define, hard to quantify, and hard to measure. It’s viewed as a feel good catchphrase, rather than as a potentially powerful business tool.
If empathy is about understanding, then Cultural Competence is about the level of ability to take that understanding in order to interact effectively with people from different cultures.
In his discussions on the subject, R.T. Alpert mentions that at its core Cultural Competence is awareness of one’s own cultural worldview, knowledge of other cultural practices and worldviews, tolerant attitudes towards cultural differences, and development of cross-cultural skills.
Abstract though it is, there seems to be progress towards quantifying the concept. Publications like the Global Empathy Index are works in progress, but are gaining relevance. If the commentators are to be believed, some of the benefits include raised levels of productivity, improved creativity, better employee and stakeholder engagement, improved reputation, enhanced communication with the market, and so on.
Here’s an interesting insight: many of the world’s recognised companies that are rated “best to work for” assert that they have in place formal initiatives around workplace empathy and Cultural Competence to provide enhanced corporate performance through creating strong human relationships with their people. By the way, most of these same companies are also placed very high in the financial performance rankings. [ref Fortune’s best 100 companies to work for, et al]. While that doesn’t necessarily prove a direct correlation, it’s certainly food for thought.
And consider this: “In choosing where to invest their time and money, companies might be sceptical about investing in empathy as a skill to improve commercial success. But to remain competitive in global business that’s exactly what they should do.”
[Nod: Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fortune, Google]
By Kevin Abraham