In multi-cultural work settings, confusion, misunderstandings, embarrassment, a sense of being insulted, or a breakdown in relationships often occur, resulting in workplace problems. This happens especially when employees do not possess Cultural Intelligence, an emergent competence for successful management in the 21st century. Extensive exposure to another culture may lead to a deeper understanding of that culture’s values and norms. Given South Africa’s demographic profile and multi-cultural work environment, South African managers can be assumed to have a higher Cultural Intelligence because they have been exposed to multiple cultures for decades. Against this background the question arises: What is managerial Cultural Intelligence? Is it more than being exposed to another culture? If so, what should managers do to enhance their Cultural Intelligence competence in the multi-cultural work environment? The purpose of this paper is to describe Cultural Intelligence as an important managerial competence, and provide guidelines for South African managers working in multi-cultural and multi-national organisations or work settings to develop their Cultural Intelligence.
A purposive sample group of 353 South African managers participated in this quantitative and qualitative study, using a Cultural Intelligence questionnaire developed by Du Plessis, Van den Bergh and O’Neil (2007) and six open-ended questions reflecting on Cultural Intelligence in practice. The results indicate that managerial Cultural Intelligence is a complex combination of at least three key constructs which can form the base of a managerial Cultural Intelligence competency framework: (1) understanding cultural identity; (2) willingness to engage with and learn about other cultures; and (3) the ability to adapt to a multi-cultural setting. This framework and subsequent challenges could enable managers to use their multi-cultural opportunities fully to build their Cultural Intelligence competence, which is in demand globally.