Why measuring people on ‘cultural intelligence’ is a hiring challenge

As per HR leaders, there are psychometric tests to measure CQ, but these are not accurate


When we look at the colleges and universities of today, students come from various backgrounds and diverse sets of cultures within India at the campus. At first, it may be difficult to adjust to such a diverse culture, but slowly we start accepting each other. We become more sensitive to each other’s differences. Not only is everyone sensitive about these differences, they also possess deep knowledge of these differences. Such deep knowledge of differences is known as cultural intelligence or cultural quotient (CQ) of a person.

Our article is not restricted to these cultural differences alone, but goes beyond to cover differences in terms of gender, socio-economic status, age, location and so on.

One of the HR heads that HRKatha spoke to, has travelled to different parts of India during the initial days of his career as he was working for a PSU, and was transferred to various places away from his hometown in Orissa.

He shares that as a person, with such experiences, he is aware of the different cultures that exist across India and understands these differences better than the people he has worked with. This certainly helps him deliver good results in different geographies. Why? Because he has a high cultural quotient and understands the pulse of people from different regions and cultures.

Evaluating people on cultural intelligence can help the organisation foster greater inclusivity. This is a bonus when it comes to key leadership roles, where one wants someone who can understand different cultures. For instance, certain roles require the individual to travel and engage with different stakeholders from various ethnicities within India itself.

“Candidates may not be willing to take CQ assessments. It may not be advisable for the organisations themselves to conduct those assessments. The hiring consultants can be asked to do that instead”

SV Nathan, chief talent officer, Deloitte

Many organisations are talking about having a diverse workforce. Although for many years, in India, diversity was only about gender diversity, many organisations are expressing their desire to move beyond gender diversity and hire people from other cultural groups, such as the LGBTQ community or differently-abled people.

When there is so much diversity in the workforce, one would also want them to work as a team and not carry out their roles in silos. To make that happen, measuring people on cultural intelligence can of great help in boosting inclusivity and diversity practices in the organisation.

Given the global social cross-cultural environment that we live in today, employees are required to partner with people from other geographies. This is especially true for the IT industry, where one is required to interact with people across geographies.

SV Nathan, chief talent officer, Deloitte, reveals that when he is evaluating someone for a global role, he gives equal importance to the person’s cultural quotient as well as to his skills, abilities and the past performance.

Most HR leaders will agree that measuring people on cultural intelligence is important. However, there are some challenges in doing so.

No fixed method: In the absence of fixed ways to test the cultural intelligence of candidates, the process can be challenging. “It is very difficult to analyse the cultural intelligence of a candidate while hiring,” says Sailesh Menezes, CHRO, HPE India.

Unreliable psychometric assessments: On the other hand, there are psychometric assessments available, which can indicate how culturally aware a person is, but these are not accurate enough to analyse cultural intelligence. They only serve as indicators. For instance, one of the global research papers analysed why cultural intelligence assessments are not reliable.

The research compared the CQ with the IQ test. On a self-measurement parameter, in an IQ test, answers are pretty definite. For instance, if one asks oneself what 2+2 is, either one knows this, or does not. However, in a CQ measurement, if people are rated on ‘familarity with the customs of ‘x’ state in India or a different country’ people will have subjective opinion. They may even lie to get a certain job or promotion for which CQ is necessary.

“I believe inclusivity can be built. If one can make people aware of their biases, they can be more inclusive and be able to increase their cultural quotient”

Sailesh Menezes, CHRO, HPE India

Unwillingness to be assessed: “Another challenge in taking psychometric tests is that candidates may not be willing to take those assessments. It may not be advisable for the organisations themselves to conduct those assessments. The hiring consultants can be asked to do that instead,” suggests Nathan.

Exposure/ experience: One of the HR leaders shares that one method often used to measure the cultural intelligence of a person is to analyse where the person has worked and studied in his past careers. If the person has worked in a cosmopolitan city such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and others, one can expect that candidate to be well exposed to and fairly aware of the different cultures of India.

In case of freshers, who come from colleges or universities where people from all over India come and study, the exposure to different cultures is rather strong.

While evaluating a person for a global role, Nathan personally gives more importance to the person’s past experience. “If the person has the experience to work in different locations and geographies, he/she would be a good match for the role,” asserts Nathan.

Does the experience of working in different geographies necessarily mean that the person would be high on CQ?

“It may differ from person to person. Being high on CQ would mean high awareness of biases and high level of empathy, which do not come only by working in that location,” says Menezes.

As per Menezes, at HPE, indicators such as pulse surveys are an ideal way “to measure people on their inclusivity”.

Menezes further explains that while evaluating internal candidates for a global role, the evaluation has to be done holistically. He strongly believes that if someone is not high on CQ but possesses the skill, knowledge and capabilities relevant to the role, a chance can certainly be taken with that person. “I believe inclusivity can be built. If one can make people aware of their biases, they can be more inclusive and be able to increase their cultural quotient,” asserts Menezes.

There is no doubt that measurement of a person’s CQ lends just another data point for evaluation and helps foster inclusivity. However, how this can be measured with accuracy, is yet to be figured out.

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