Leveraging Organizational Climate to Understand Cultural Agility and Foster Effective Global Leadership

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In this increasingly global and interconnected world, leaders of multinational and aspiring Multinationals must possess more than just job-critical competencies, technical skills and Leadership characteristics (communication, vision, etc.). In order to be successful in a global Environment, leaders need to be effective in a multicultural and cross-cultural context (Lundby, Lee & Macey, 2012). They must be culturally agile.

Cultural agility is the ability to quickly, comfortably and effectively work in different cultures and with people from different cultures (Caligiuri, 2013). Culturally agile leaders are able to correctly read the cross-cultural or multicultural context and respond appropriately--whether to adapt to a cultural difference and comport one's behaviors to the host nationals' expectations, to override cultural differences and behave in a manner that is consistent with an organizational standard, or to integrate multiple cultural differences and create a new approach. As more organizations seek to derive a greater proportion of revenue from beyond their own national borders, it makes sense that they are paying closer attention to the selection and development of culturally agile leaders.

However, leaders do not operate in isolation. In today's global marketplace, it is increasingly important for all employees--not just leaders--to be culturally agile. As one senior HR member of a U.S. headquartered global medical manufacturing firm recently stated, "We don't just need agile leaders, we need everyone--from top to bottom--to be aware of differences and able to operate effectively in a global environment--even if they never leave the United States." Similarly, PWC's annual survey of global CEOs revealed that the ability to manage within diverse cultures is one of their top concerns (PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2007). They also cited the need for a greater number of employees to be capable of managing the complexity of foreign environments, negotiate cultural challenges, and understand unique and culturally-specific stakeholder needs.

If all employees--not just leaders--must be culturally agile, how can this be accomplished when you consider that many leading global firms, HSBC, Bank of America, Starwood Hotels, etc., employ in excess of 100,000 individuals across the globe? In those cases, the sheer number of employees can pose a serious challenge to promoting cultural agility across the entire workforce. Even smaller global firms or those that are still aspiring to "go global" may struggle not so much because of the number of employees but rather because of limited resources--both human and financial --to promote culturally agility.

Short of sending everyone abroad on international assignments, which is clearly not practical, we would suggest that one possible solution is to create an environment--an organizational climate--that lives, breathes and promotes cultural agility. It is important to note, climate is not quite the same as organizational culture, though there is certainly some overlap. Organizational cultures and organizational climates, for example, drive behavior. Culture, however, is something that develops over time, is relatively stable, and is evident in shared values, stories and artifacts (Ashkanasy, Wilderom & Peterson, 2011). Culture is often attributed to organizational founders whereas climate is variable and can differ from one unit to another, largely as a function of individual managers. And that is a key point for organizations that wish to promote cultural agility at all levels. Leaders play an important role here.

Cultural Agility Climate

Recognizing that organizational climate can promote desired behavior and that global and aspiring global organizations stand to benefit from having a culturally agile workforce (not just leaders), we recently set out to create a measure of cultural agility climate. …