Keywords: 360° feedback, Cultural competence, diversity & inclusion, performance appraisal.
The racial and gender identity politics depicted in the 2008 American Presidential race indicate that Americans can no longer afford leaders who lack cultural competence. Observing presumably “enlightened” leaders, such as Jeremiah Wright, Bill Clinton, and Geraldine Ferraro, “playing the race card” demonstrates that American leadership skills lag behind social progress. Wright’s lack of sophistication hardly needs further discussion. Bill Clinton is a great orator who typically mesmerizes African Americans with his ability to connect with their lives. He inadvertently sacrificed his standing in their community and a significant number of votes for Hillary Clinton in an overzealous attempt to defeat Obama. His linking Obama’s South Carolina win with Jesse Jackson’s (‘84 and ‘88) success in the state was a costly foible—especially given that it ignored the successes of fellow democrats Al Gore’s (2000) and John Edwards’ (‘04). Pointing out that he has an office in Harlem and listing his black friends in defending himself against critics of his remark made former President Clinton look more prejudice than most of us could have imagined.[i]
Geraldine Ferraro’s attempt to use the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama competition to raise America’s consciousness about gender inequity and the glass ceiling was ill conceived. Her claim that Obama’s race protected him from media attacks in comparison to his white female competitor was a colossal error for a democratic leader with a history of liberal social policy achievements. Barack Obama may be perceived as the most culturally competent of the lot,[ii] but he is not without his own shortcomings. For example, he either intentionally downplayed his bi-racial identity or simply could not figure out how to exploit it in the interest of getting off the race card train wreck. The result is that he played into the shallowness of categorizing people as black or white racially on the basis of skin color alone. CNN analyst David Gergen[iii] challenged Hillary Clinton to vigorously take issue with white Americans who voted for her in reaction to Obama’s race as much as she voiced opposition to gender prejudice. Senator Clinton appears to have completed avoided Gergen’s challenge. She probably could not figure out how to do respond without losing further ground in her campaign.
In the end, everyone was playing race and gender cards because they do not have the competence to get beyond it—especially with competition at stake. The race for the presidency between an African American male and white American “liberal” female brought the lack of cultural competence among the leadership to our attention. This is substance for a national debate.
In contrast, leaders of high performing modern for-profit corporations understand that they cannot afford to suffer from poor competence. In fact, an increasing number of organizations use performance appraisal to hold managers and supervisors accountable for promoting diversity and inclusion. The use of appraisal in this manner assesses a manager’s productivity and potential. It also serves the additional goal of business alignment. The manager’s ability to develop direct reports and promote strong relationships is essential for managing an increasingly team-oriented and culturally diverse workplace. Managers in these organizations have their compensation directly tied to how well they manage diversity and promote inclusion.
While the accountability strategy makes it clear that cultural competence is an organizational value, important questions are raised about appraising this type of performance. What is cultural competence? How do you measure it? Is cultural competence something that be taught? This article addresses these questions.
What is cultural competence?
Cultural competence refers to an ability to navigate the treacherous terrain of cultural diversity with ease. It is comprised of four components (a) Awareness, (b) Attitude, (c) knowledge, and (d) skills.[iv] Training leaders to implement diversity practices is critical to achieve the best business results.[v] Unfortunately, most diversity training and education programs limited training to raising awareness about cultural differences and attitude change. The result is that diversity management knowledge and skills lag behind valuing diversity. Managers need to learn about cultural differences in productivity, such as performance appraisal, teamwork, and competitiveness, to harness diversity.
The diversity professional can benefit from additional knowledge and skills, according to Damon Williams and Katrina Wade.[vi] The more successful diversity resource professionals are characterized by the following:
- Technical mastery of diversity issues
- Political savvy
- Ability to cultivate a common vision
- In-depth perspective on organizational change
- Sophisticated relational abilities
- Understanding of the [organization’s] culture
The early influence of healthcare professionals in defining and measuring cultural competence has led to an emphasis on language skills and knowledge of different cultures in most cultural competence definitions.[vii] Assessment tools tend to concentrate on these areas as a result. A broader view of cultural competence assessment is needed to serve the purposes of other sectors.
HCI is comprehensive in that it measures beyond awareness of and attitude towards cultural diversity. In addition, the Personal Experience section and the 360° feedback format control for the tendency to provide favorable self appraisals in order to be viewed as liberal-minded.
Is Cultural Competence Something That Can Be Taught?
Yes. While there are a few people who come into the world with the gift of getting along well with people across cultures, most of us are not so lucky. We must unlearn the prejudice and stereotypes about other cultural groups that have been engrained in us since birth. Once we get past our biases, we need knowledge and skills to manage differences. One of the most effective ways is to experience an immersion program that requires you to learn how to successfully navigate an unfamiliar culture without customary privileges, such as speaking your first language. Learning about a culture’s conception of time, how members manage conflict, how they relate to superiors and other cultural differences are examples of diversity management skills that must be trained.
The National Training Laboratory[ix] has a long history of training diversity professionals. The program’s strength is in developing the individual’s sense of who he or she is as a diversity professional and cultural being in a diverse world. Diversity leaders need this personal growth to fully appreciate cultural differences. One shortcoming is that the program does not sufficiently emphasize developing organizational strategy and leadership skills. One or two weekend long certification programs exist, but a review of the content and interviews with graduates indicate that there is insufficient expertise among facilitators to benefit significantly. Cornell University[x] offered the first diversity professional certification course. The program appears to be struggling with a history of human resource compliance and equal employment opportunity content that the law school trained faculty knows a lot about and the current emphasis on strategy and leadership skills.
DTUI.com’s certified diversity profession program has been offered for ten years. The program combines organizational development, diversity leadership, assessment, and training skill to offer a comprehensive program. Diversity recruitment and retention have also been recently added as content. One of the challenges prospective participants consistently note is that the program requires two 3-4 day sessions to complete before certification is designated. DTUI.com has recently made changes that offer certification upon completion of each of the two training levels.
Experts can train cultural competence. Diversity expertise is comprised of a set of strategies, facilitation skills, and political savvy. The best training programs have facilitators who assist in developing this competence.
People tend to learn at different rates and have different learning styles. Training thirty managers in a group is cost effective and even suits the learning style of many participants, but at the end of the day some learn more than others. Training increases with individualized management cultural competence training. One way that the HCI is used as an assessment tool is for manager cultural competence training. If the results show that a manager’s attitude towards cultural differences is limiting, then the coaching targets that component. Another manager may need skills training based on her HCI score. In this way, the manager who makes a social foible even after group training has an opportunity to fill gap between what he did and did not learn.
Leaders of modern organizations cannot afford to stumble over cultural differences. This is one reason more and more managers have diversity manager goals as part of their performance evaluation. A thoughtfully conceived manager cultural competence performance appraisal system is a critical talent management component. If your organization holds managers accountable for meeting cultural diversity goals, look closely at the appraisal system to make certain that it adequately assesses cultural competence. The organization that does not have this type of performance evaluation must consider carefully how it can reach diversity goals without it. A manager is only accountable for performing at the level of expectation that supervisors and the human resource office have specified. Knowing what cultural competence is and how it relates to productivity are critical.