The Development of Cultural Agility (A Literature Review)

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Introduction

Advancing globalization requires new workplace competencies [1]. Among Global Talent Managers, there is the sobering realization that people working in an increasingly global environment find themselves challenged in acquiring the necessary cultural agility [2] In today’s world Global talent management, mobility, and cultural agility belong together [3]. “Bridging the global skills gap” through international assignments was rated as a priority for more than 1,200 globally surveyed CEO’s ([4]. p. 19).

The term “cultural agility” was already used before as, for example, by Freedman (2003) who saw cultural agility to be needed in teams working around the world [5]. In Caligiuri’s (2012) book, the same is more specifically defined as a mega “Mega-competency that enables professionals to perform successfully in cross-cultural situations . . . [it is] a combination of natural abilities, motivation to succeed, guided training, coaching, and development over time” ([6] pp. 4–5). In Caligiuri’s work, one can find a later leaner version that goes as follows: “Cultural agility is the ability to quickly, comfortably and effectively work in different cultures and with people from different cultures” [7]. Other researchers accepted cultural agility to play a role in cross-cultural professional contexts [8].

Theoretical background

As per the analysis of Gibbs and Boyraz (2015), cultural intelligence (CQ), global mindset, and cultural agility are sometimes used interchangeably, and most scholars might agree that these concepts are in minimum inter-related [9]. In the form the cultural agility mega-competency is broken down into four categories that are behavioral, psychological, cross-cultural interactions and decisions, and comprising of a dozen more specific components, cultural agility seems to contain all that is needed to perform successfully in cross-cultural settings [10]. The so-called “jangle fallacy” (Kelley, 1927, as cited in Brenneman, Klafehn, Burrus, Roberts, & Kochert, 2016) exists when a construct is conceptualized differently and, therefore, also named otherwise [11]. This is roughly what was found when analyzing four frameworks related to the field of cross-cultural competency (C3) [11]. A generally agreed-upon definition of C3 is that it is the “knowledge, skills, and affect/motivation that enable individuals to adapt effectively in cross-cultural environments” [12].

Multinational enterprises (MNEs) today often use the term “cultural agility” to describe their expectations regarding employees’ “flexibility.” The ability to adapt culturally intelligent to local situations, from such a usage perspective, addresses the need to be responsive in a global marketplace [13]. Cognitive complexity refers to the ability to switch between distinct cultural demands [14] and strikingly illustrates how agility suggests “movement” as an organizing principle [15]. “Cultural adaptiveness” in that sense is only one out of three possible “responding moves” that define cultural agility. The second is “cultural minimization” that is required from an employee when putting a supervisor’s command above a cultural norm, and third, there is “cultural integration” that is the consideration of concurrent cultures as, for example, in a multi-cultural team [16].

Some authors also distinguish cultural learning and cultural agility as two aspects of 3C ([10]; [17]), matching the discrimination between “understanding about” and “knowing to use knowledge” as pointed to in Hounsell (2016) [18]. It is the notion of cultural agility that is meant to be required to integrate cultural inclusion respectively to use the knowledge of inclusion to manifest it in a behavior that is producing inclusive organizational results [19]. Therefore, for the further course of this systematic review, the following short definition is used: Cultural agility is “related to the ability … to use your cross-cultural learning effectively” [20]. Training and development are significant for International Human Resources Management (IHRM) [9]. The question to be investigated by this research aims to shed light on how much focus exists in the literature on the “usage” aspect of cultural knowledge. A systematic review shall provide for the answer by analyzing the relative emphasis put on training (i.e., specific knowledge/skills acquisition) as compared to development (i.e., a longer-term gathering of experiences and lessons learned as applicable fur improved cultural agility). Furthermore, developmental approaches shall be studied and reported to potentially support GTM practices in their challenge to extend their repertoire of available approaches and measures.

For Methodology and Results details, see Appendix A.

Discussion

Similar to this systematic review’s finding that only 20% of the analyzed articles did specify cultural agility in connection with training and development, others found that only one out of four companies do assess cultural intelligence or agility in their international assignment candidates [22]. Although in Lundby and Caligiuri’s (2013) survey cultural agility was rated as the third most important senior leader quality, the results of this review tendentially lean to support existing gaps in delivering brand success in GTM and a related need for not only training technical skills but developing cultural agility competencies [19], [23]. Foreign culture on-site programs like the Cultural Agility Leadership Lab (CALL) [24] may be effective solutions to narrow the gap. Interactional experiences with peers from other cultures seem to be an effective path to develop cultural agility [25].

Implications and future research

The findings and discussion in this article imply that experiential development opportunities should be sought by GTM practices to supplement a learning system towards increased effectiveness in developing cultural agility [1]. A stronger link between organizations GTM function and their international assignee selection should be established. Psychological measures like the Cultural Agility Climate Index (CACI) could be used to support candidate and assignment effectiveness assessments [22]. Measuring the current state would provide for the basis justifying the sustainable investment into cultural agility competencies [19]. Watson (2014) found that diversity and inclusiveness training is standard practice, while the long-term building of cultural agility was found to be a less usual investment [19].

A facet of cultural agility this study came across too is the motivational component of the construct. While “willingness” had been included already in earlier conceptualizations of cultural agility [10], the term “agility” does not naturally imply such a component. Interestingly, Caligiuri, Baytalskaya, and Lazarova (2016) came later up with a construct of “cultural humility” and found evidence for its effectiveness in enhancing leadership skills, performance, and engagement [26]. It would be interesting to see how the concepts of cultural agility and cultural humility could be integrated as some scholars still see cultural agility and the will for cultural adaptation as complementary rather than inclusive concepts [27].

Limitations

More research should have been done to evaluate the precision of the use of the terms “training” and “development” in the analysis of this systematic review. It can be that the inclusion of synonyms or the more in-depth study and interpretation of the literature analyzed would have led to different results. Also, relying on Google scholar search and only processing around 30% of the results does not represent an as complete study as possible. Also, the result interpretation may be biased as it was not benchmarked against any further industry standards than mentioned in the article.

Conclusions

This study identifies components and evaluates the focus on training and development in the cultural agility literature. This paper found introductory that cultural agility potentially surpasses the scope of cross-cultural competency (C3) as it entails a behaviorally consequential nature that makes it especially practical for GTM considerations [11]. On the other side, possible motivational aspects of cultural agility need to be further clarified.

In any case, for various sectors in a continuously globalizing world, the development of cultural agility through experiential means such as mobility programs [8] could gain even more popularity as a promising success factor for MNEs’ search and development of talents.

 


 

Appendix A

Methods

Research design

This study assumed a descriptive, quantitative analysis-based approach of a systematic literature review. Systematic reviews help the creation of a scientifically derived summary of available evidence [21]. It is not known to the author of this review that another study did systematically review the research question related to training and development focus on promoting cultural agility.

Data collection

The systematic review as designed in this article first selected from the University of Liverpool (UOL) discovery database books, e-journals, and theses with the search term “cultural agility.” Second, the Google Scholar search widget on the same (UOL) portal with the same search term was used to retrieve more documents. The UOL discovery database search found 13 documents published in 2012 or later, whose checking resulted in the exclusion of 2 irrelevant and one non-accessible (commercially protected) file, leaving 11 documents for analysis. The Google Scholar search found 424 results, of which 130 were books, e-articles, or theses. Out of the 130, 63 sources were accessible for download. The check for the inclusion criteria of equal or higher than the year 2012 further reduced the population to 47 documents that have been downloaded then and analyzed. The publication date 2012 as an inclusion criterion seemed appropriate considering this is the year of the publication of Paula Caligiuri’s book “Cultural Agility: Building a Pipeline of Successful Global Professionals.”

Data extraction and analysis

The analysis of the available documents included an in-document search for “agility” and “agile” to get to the section where a potential definition or description of cultural agility could be found; the according passages have been examined and studied for finding answers to the research question. In this process, additional 8 documents have been excluded due to irrelevance. The total number of included texts, therefore, was 50 and represents a significant amount of relevant and recent data sources across a broad range of scientific journals and other scholarly resources. The analysis report table documents copied text snippets from pertinent passages of the analyzed files. Due to space limitations, these were kept rather short without providing much further context.

Results

Among the 50 documents derived from the databases and Google Scholar, nine were found to contain a mentioning or elaboration related to “training,” and six instances were found that include developmental aspects. Consequently, only 32% of the analyzed document did prominently refer to training and development in their section about cultural agility. A simultaneous presence of “training” and “development” appeared in five papers. In table 1, the 11 reportable results are outlined. The results indicate that more research articles do mention “training” as compared to “development” with regards to the concept of cultural agility. A couple of interesting operationalizations of cultural agility development were found as will be shown in the discussion section.

Table 1. Training and development in cultural agility related articles

# Text Training Develop-ment
1 Mukerjee (2014). As universities become increasingly global in their reach and operations, cultural agility is likely to be a competency that will be sought after and reflected in the recruitment, training and development processes [8] x x
2 Dinwoodie, Quinn, and McGuire (2014) Strategic Drivers for Leadership for expansion into international markets: Cultural agility—promote the predisposition to appreciate diversity and develop cultural intelligence to operate successfully in unfamiliar territories. [28]   x
3 Gibbs and Boyraz (2015) These concepts – cultural intelligence, global mindset and cultural agility – have each been extensively studied in terms of leadership, but they have yet to be applied to team level processes. For instance, Caligiuri (2012) regards cultural agility as a necessary skill of global business professionals. These professionals are usually CEOs and top managers responsible for more strategic organizational functions, who generally get more customized training, coaching, and development, rather than lower level virtual team members. / Attracting global team leaders and team members with the important skills needed to manage cultural diversity – cultural agility, global mindset, and CQ – is an issue with significant implications for IHRM, not only for training and development but also for selection of team members. [9] x x
4 Hounsell (2016). The development in students of a global outlook or global mindset generally focuses on the internationalisation of curriculum content within and across disciplines or subject areas. The knowledge gained takes two main forms. The first is a fuller understanding about other nations and cultures, or the use of knowledge and perspectives derived in or from other nations and cultures, leading to what has sometimes been called ‘cultural versatility’ or ‘cultural agility’. In HKU’s overarching goals for four-year degrees, this is referred to as intercultural understanding. [18]   x
5 Vega (2012). The creation of an informative guide that addressed cultural agility in emergency medicine would benefit both the EMS and Vietnamese-American communities. [29] x  
6 [30] Honnor (2013). Explains how the learning and development function at Infosys supports its global activities by developing competences that offer the organization global and cultural agility.   x
7 Synoground (2013). Cross-Cultural Competency (C3) has surfaced as the term to describe cultural ability and adaptability in personnel. Cultural Agility, a term coined by Dr. Paula Caligiuri, is used here to describe a degree of talent that surpasses C3. Using these concepts as a framework, the analysis herein will make suggestions designed to improve cross-cultural talent recognition and recruiting practices and introduce a potential training paradigm to fit the traditional GPF and SOF/IW framework of the services. [31] x  
8 McKinley (2016). Internationalizing the curriculum: explicitly pugng in assessments or program requirements that relate to cultural agility [32] x  
9 Jameson and Goshit (2017). program participants (domestic and international) to develop the intercultural skills, knowledge, and mindsets to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries. For the IPDF this typically includes cultural agility, open mindedness, respect, patience, empathy, leadership, an understanding of intercultural communication styles, willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone, as well as a basic understand- ing of the impact of power and privilege. [33] x  
10 Martin and Zhang (2017). The main goal of the course is to further students’ understanding and knowledge of education and business leaders’ best practices and how they can apply these best practices to their current career, as well as their future career within the education arena. The course objectives are consistent for both the domestic and international trips and are as follows: – Researching emerging global paradigms, best practices, and structures in education and business. – Analyzing international   assessment measures -implement, understand drivers, improvement. – Building learning partnerships with global school and business leaders. – Increasing students’ global awareness, perspectives, and cultural agility. – Understanding the transferability of global educational and business systems. – Understanding the external environmental impact on education and business. [34] x  
11 Pace, A. (2012). After detailing each of these competencies, Caligiuri shares how readers can attract, recruit, assess, select, train, and develop culturally agile employees. / As far as workplace learning and development, Caligiuri notes: “A learning system to develop cultural agility needs to include two parts, cross-cultural training and experiential development opportunities.” [1] x x
Total 11 9 6

 

References

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About mathias sager

Independent researcher, artist, social entrepreneur, and leadership and strategy advisor I was born in Zurich in 1975 and grew up in Switzerland. Currently, I’m living in Tokyo. I love open-minded people everywhere and the passion to working relentlessly for developing human potential, which is an overarching theme throughout all his work. I have extensive experience in leadership and management, organizational psychology research, and learning & development practice. I have worked as a teacher, a leadership trainer, as well as a senior manager responsible for client relationships, counseling, and virtual teams around the world. Also, I’m a social entrepreneur and serving as a strategy and leadership advisor in different ways. My goal is to inspire with interdisciplinary, innovative, and cross-cultural approaches to personal and professional development for the people’s individual well-being and common good alike. Continuously learning himself and keen to help, I appreciate any questions or feedback you may have at any time. Please connect here on any social media, as well as per direct email goodthings@mathias-sager.com.
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