Management February 12, 2018 Last updated September 18th, 2018 1,786 Reads share

Why Developing Cultural Competence Is Your Best Productivity Strategy

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Productivity is said to have a direct influence on sales, but upon further examination, this assertion starts to fray. Sales depend only on one thing: the customer’s decision to buy. Does productivity directly affect the customer’s decision to buy? Not exactly.

The truth about productivity

Productivity is a nebulous term rarely used in a meaningful context. People talk about “being productive” and “measuring productivity,” but what are they really saying? Mostly, these phrases are used to reference employees who met their KPIs, their goals, and completed their assigned tasks for the day. Yet, even that explanation is too general to extract real meaning from.


As most people discover sooner or later, productivity is overrated. What really drives results is efficiency. As this blogger laments, “Your productivity is zero if you’re producing the wrong ‘output.’”

Although they’d both be considered productive, completing a to-do list isn’t as efficient as resolving a bug in the delivery of your digital goods.

Rather than seeing productivity as the achievement of daily business goals, a more useful view of productivity is aiming for goals that create efficiency within your business structure. This includes setting goals that align your team. When all your gears are going in the same direction and you have a cohesive team, you’ll be unstoppable.

The goals you set in your business will be unique to you, though there is one goal that every business can benefit from; a goal directly connected to your ability to expand your business to reach a global market. It’s a goal that, when achieved, automatically increases your efficiency at the core of your operations. That goal is developing cultural competence.

What is cultural competence?

Cultural competence is the ability to effectively communicate with people across a diverse set of cultural backgrounds. It’s the ability to understand and integrate these differences into your daily business operations so people feel respected and want to collaborate. It’s the skill you need to master if you want to achieve global success in your business, and create a high performance multicultural team.

Cultural competence helps your team shine

You probably already have people on your team from diverse cultural backgrounds. They may have specific ways of doing things that you don’t understand. Perhaps some of their habits might seem strange, or maybe they feel distanced by interacting with you. Developing cultural competence allows you to understand these circumstances without taking them personally.

The ability to communicate and interact through cultural barriers supports your employees by making them feel accepted and understood. Once there’s no resistance, they’ll be more confident around you, and it will shine through their work. In this sense, developing cultural competence as your company culture is a highly effective strategy to increase productivity.

Cultural competence reframes how you view problems

While your college-aged interns might jump to fill out your 30-page “new hire packet,” signing and initialing every page corner, your employees who grew up in India may not prioritize your packet on their own. In India, paperwork is not a priority like in the West; there’s less emphasis on documentation.

Cultural competence is what provides you with a different view of situations like the one described above. Rather than seeing a problem, being aware of cultural differences empowers you to create resolution. For example, you can be more effective by giving them a specific date to complete the packet by. Give them a little more time, and put the due date on a yellow sticky note to help them remember.

Developing cultural competence doesn’t mean you need to change your business policies. It’s a tool that lets you into someone else’s worldview, helping you navigate through unfamiliar territory in order to support them better.

It’s not about tolerance

Global Cognition explains that it’s not enough to just accept and be tolerant of differences. Tolerance carries an air of superiority, and cultural competence is about establishing the neutrality necessary to foster effective collaboration. They state, “With practice, you’ll find that you can regularly take the point of view of diverse folks you’re working with. You can more readily consider their beliefs and desires in the moment, and use that perspective to work together more effectively.”

The more cultural competence you develop, the better you’ll be able to bring your team together, and expand your business into a global market.

The global market is in your backyard

Discussing the importance of reaching a global market makes it sound like the global market is somewhere “out there,” perhaps overseas or in another country. The reality is the global market is probably right where you are. If you’re in the US, you’re right in the heart of the global market. You may not know it, but even your vendors and suppliers might be from all over the world.

Remember that you have a worldview, too

Don’t forget that when working with others from varying cultural backgrounds, they’re going to see you differently, too. Part of developing cultural competence is identifying when your own programming might be getting in the way of your communications.

The understanding that comes from developing cultural competence allows you to be more flexible in your business interactions. There may be times when your negotiations won’t budge because you want something fundamentally different than the other person. However, having the skills to know when cultural programming is getting in the way will give you the ability to steer the interaction toward resolution rather than dissent.

If a cohesive, happy team, and moving into a global market are part of your business goals, then developing cultural competence will be your biggest asset.

Anna Johansson

Anna Johansson

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