SFU business professor David Thomas

Unique software tool measures cultural IQ

February 20, 2008

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By Diane Luckow

Photo: Eric Leung

A new web-based tool for assessing an individual’s cultural competence could help corporations and government agencies predict whether or not an employee will be effective on an overseas assignment or a good leader or participant on a multicultural work team.

The cultural-intelligence assessment software program is the result of a three-year project led by SFU Business professor David Thomas involving researchers from 12 different countries. The unique program evaluates cultural knowledge and cross-cultural skills such as perceptual acuity, tolerance for ambiguity, relational skills, adaptability, tolerance for uncertainty and empathy. It can also determine how well an individual attends to and adjusts to the cultural aspects of a situation.

The program incorporates a variety of assessment methods to compensate for deficiencies in any single method.

“Failed cross-cultural interactions are costly to both organizations and individuals,” says Thomas. “Effectively being able to integrate people who are culturally different into organizations has tremendous positive benefits.”

Thomas foresees using the tool to predict and explain cross-cultural behaviour, assess competencies and then train for cultural intelligence. This approach could have wide-ranging implications for health care, law enforcement, peace-keeping and multinational corporations. “We’ve already had a fair amount of interest from both business and government agencies who have recognized the benefits in more effectively managing people from different cultures,” notes Thomas.

Members of the research project met with government and corporate representatives in Vancouver in mid-February to discuss prospects for further development and commercialization of the tool.
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