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A competence is ability, commitment, knowledge, and skills that enable a person or an organisation to act effectively in a job or situation. Competence indicates sufficiency of knowledge and skills that enable someone to act in a wide variety of situations. A competence can occur in any period of a person's life or at any stage of his or her career.
A competence enables to manage actions and situations, as we have the necessary knowledge and the capacity to use it at the right time, but also to identify and solve a problem.
In his writings on the competence, Guy Le Boterf judges a person's competence according to its capacity to combine the disposed resources at a given moment, in order to reach a goal.
Resources of competence
Resources are what we know (theory) and what we know doing (practice). They are incorporated (personal) or objective (influenced by the environment).
ï¶ Personal resources are:
Knowledge of general learning (concepts, disciplinary knowledgeâ€¦), knowledge of specific professional environment (organisational culture, management rulesâ€¦), procedural knowledge (methods, rules, proceduresâ€¦).
Knowledge thanks to the experience of work: operational, relational, cognitive skills.
Personal qualities and attitudes.
Physiological resources which enable us to stock up on our energy.
Emotional resources which enable us to focus this energy in the right way.
ï¶ Environmental resources are mainly networks: relational network, documentary network, informational network, expertise networkâ€¦
Deardorff's pyramid model of intercultural competence (2009) reveal other skills and attitudes:
In this model we can recognize (in the first two lower levels) the three main components of intercultural competence: cognitive capabilities would be "Knowledge and Comprehension", emotional abilities are in the level "Requisite Attitudes" and last but not least behavioural skills belong to the level "skills".
The two upper levels are the consequence, the "outcome" of the three below.
Fundamental resources of intercultural competence
Knowledge helps to understand and thus no wonder that all authors of intercultural competence underline the importance of the cognitive aspect. As we already mentioned in part II), most famous components of this knowledge are: the knowledge of the concept of culture generally speaking, the knowledge of its own culture and the knowledge of a specific culture with which we are going to be in interaction.
Companies often organise intercultural trainings for their employees in order to develop cultural knowledge. That was the case with "Exxon Chemical" company which concern was to value the cultural diversity of its employees, improving therefore their well-being within the firm but also the image of Exxon. To put it in a nutshell, Exxon Chemical made a survey of its employees all over Europe by interviewing them on themes as monoculture, conformity, labelling, gender and internationality.
The results of this survey showed that changes had to be made if the company wanted to make the most of its employees' diversity. Indeed, the employees felt a certain stress because of the dominance of their companies' culture. Furthermore, half of interviewed employees told that the conformity of Exxon prevent the firm of recognising their individuality and to underestimate the value of their difference. As regards the three other themes of evaluation, employees clearly confess that Exxon's policy is gender, nationality and age oriented. There were few women in senior management position and even if people felt belonging to an international firm, they did not see a real attention paid to different cultures within the firm.
For all these reasons and thanks to this survey, Exxon took some measures after having realised the loss of potential competitive advantage- employees' creativity and innovation- but also the risk to demotivate its working staff. Thus the company set recruiting and career goals especially for women and other people of different cultural background, and decided to make the most of cultural diversity of its employees.
Know-how is an actualised knowledge of lessons we learn by experience. Some know-how skills come from a classic managerial competence, yet intercultural competence remain a competence a manager or a leader should add to their managerial competences in the context of globalisation and internationalisation.
These know-how skills are:
Communicative and linguistic capability: give a message (verbal or not) through mimics, attitudes, gesturesâ€¦ It enables to share a common "communicative code" with another person speaking a foreign language. The communicative capability is actually more than a linguistic competence: it integrates the latter one and takes into account the whole communicative process.
Capability to solve conflicts coming from misunderstandings
Relational capability: aptitude to establish and maintain sustainable relations
Negotiation capability: guide an exchange to mutual interests, use arguments to convince and reach goals.
Permanent effort of comprehension
Attitudes and qualities: dominant personality features
If an intercultural teamwork has difficulties or even tensions that is because some personality features dominate more than others. Many of them refer to Deardorff's pyramid model of intercultural competence:
Cosmopolitism: openness towards other people which implies a certain suppleness and flexibility of mind and an adaptation capacity. The contrary of cosmopolitism is ethnocentric behaviour which means that one consider their own values as universal and as a reference to judge the behaviour of the other.
Open-mindedness: often put forward in the acquisition of global competences (capacity to dominate organisation's resources and to orient your activities to a worldwide perspective) or in the perspective of the management of diversity. People who have this capacity usually already have a capacity of intercultural adjustment for they do not have negative attitudes towards foreign people.
Flexibility: the ability to change, to bend, or to persuade
Empathy: to put yourself on the place of another person
Tolerance: respect opinions and ways of doing of others
Take initiative: go forward
Sense of humour: relax the atmosphere, however being aware that one cannot laugh about everything and with everyone!
This long list can be followed also with motivation and the pleasure of taking risk.
But how can a global manger develop an international competence?
In 1998 Gregersen, Morrison and Black tried to figure out the main strategies for a global and interculturally skilled leader. Among them are the travel experience of each individual, the different trainings at school or university and the business travel of an employee abroad.
The first strategy consists in going abroad generally speaking. All information we can have today about foreign countries come mostly from different media or books, and this is often stereotypes. But we learn really something about a foreign culture only if we leave our home country. This learning process is all the more amazing when we travel alone, facing the new culture and the cultural shock by ourselves. "If you want to know if a fish knows what water is, you have to take it out of water". So to really understand another culture we have to make the experience of the life in a foreign country.
The second point insists on the importance of education. Schools and universities should build skilled "interculturals" by inciting students to study a year abroad for instance. Indeed, live, study and work in a foreign country enables to meet people with different cultural backgrounds not only of this country. Then a student become aware of the importance of cultural knowledge gains on autonomy and learns even more about himself and his own culture when they are abroad.
This same strategy can be applied in the business world. Companies should introduce international assignments, abroad or in the home country, giving the possibility for their employees to take advantage of their business trips (playing the tourist) but above all enable them to pass time with other team members having different cultural backgrounds, speak to them and thus better understand their culture. The social aspect is really important when talking about intercultural competence.
All these attitudes, skills and capabilities can of course have a positive impact on the intercultural teamwork.
The benefits of cultural differences in team work: making the most of diversity!
Diversity deals with value of each culture and of each difference, finding some commonalities between differences. Diversity is almost a value in itself which companies should not neglect and which should be provided. The reasons of such an initiative are multiple, but we are going to quote and explain the most important ones.
ï¶ Improve company's image:
An organisation with culturally diverse employees shows its recognition and acceptance of these precious differences. It becomes a real wealth when a company realises the value of all people and what worthy contributions each individual can bring to the workplace.
ï¶ Productivity and profitability:
Of course there are also business reasons to include diversity in management field like increasing productivity and profitability. Such a long term investment in diversity can motivate employees to achieve more thanks to their cultural difference showing their creativity. This will allow an organisation to gain on a competitive advantage compared to its competitors who do not see cultural diversity as a real potential and who do not make any use of it.
ï¶ Boost innovation
Being different implies being innovative and thus distinctive. Employees with varying cultural backgrounds have their own vision of things, different from others. Thus more innovative and creative ideas emerge and bring benefits for a company. People who have different life experiences would be able to give other solutions to problems which may not be considered by people of the same cultural origin. The dynamic exchanges, debates between people with different views are often lead to creative results.
ï¶ Better marketing, as part of company's strategy
A group of members of different cultures brings a deeper knowledge of prospective product markets. As regards the increase in purchasing power of Asians, South-Americans or East-Europeans, it is important to remember that a marketing team with members of these cultural minorities is able to come up with brand promotional and advertising ideas that are familiar to them. Even if an organisation sells its products in other countries, the importance of this cultural difference is even more significant for these employees are already aware of culture's impacts. Otherwise, ignoring cultural symbols can lead to taking decisions that damage the company.
ï¶ Better customer service
Having employees with different cultures is a real resource to any organisation. Indeed, customers with the same cultural background will be able to identify with these employees and this can even increase the customer number. Similar culture facilitates the understanding between customers and employees and thus avoids misunderstandings due to cultural stereotypes and damage customer service. To take an example of an American hospital, an American nurse may find it irritating when whole families of non-American patients visit a relative at the hospital. If another nurse, who sees in this behaviour a cultural explanation, shows the nurse that this is because of the culture of patient's family, which favour family values such as solidarity and mutual support, this will help her to better understand the situation and change her behaviour.
ï¶ Better understand the competitors
Relationships with competitors are another aspect to take into account. When making a business on the international level, many different views and approaches are used. With a culturally diverse group of employees, organisations can better achieve their goals as they will better understand how other cultures do business. This cultural benefit is core when doing business in today's globalised world.
ï¶ Creative solutions
Different cultures have different ways to solve problems. When the whole group of people with different culture takes part in a decision making, managers get a variety of perspectives that contributes to choose the best solution. Furthermore, this enables to have a more objective view on a problem.
ï¶ Happy employees
Last but not least, members from diverse cultures give the great opportunity for a team to different celebrations and festivities. Planning and organising them brings people closer and enables to show the wealth and the value of the culture of each member. All these experiences increase employee's motivation, their sense of belonging to the team and to the company, and build mutual understanding inside the team.
Investing in cultural diversity for a company is as valuable as investing in other fields such as research and development or marketing. Organisations which consider the benefits of its employees with different cultures automatically increase their business growth, innovation, and solve easier and better their problems.
Yet, it is also important to realise that managing successfully diversity requires skills and competences and that diversity have to become a fundamental value of an organisation.
If this can be achieved, cultural diversity will bring only benefits to the business!