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Cultural Agility – It’s a Process


In survey after survey, business leaders (CEO’s, CHRO’s, and Directors of Mobility) identify that there is an urgency to search aggressively for competent cross-cultural business professionals. Why is it that some leaders seem to be so much more effective working cross-culturally than others?

Paula Caliguiri helps us understand that cultural agility Cultural Agilityis a key indicator of performance. “Culturally agile 
professionals succeed in contexts where the successful outcome of their jobs, roles, positions, or tasks depends on dealing with an unfamiliar set or multiple sets of cultural norms.” Caligiuri further notes, “Cultural agility is a practice, not an achievement, and building it is a process, not an event.” To take this one step further, we may never know all there is to know about a culture, because cultures are dynamic, fluid, and changing. Thus a Process Approach is helpful to learning and leveraging performance across fluid cultural boundaries.

Process Approach experts, Nicholas Rescher and Alfred Whitehead, identify a difference between the “physics of being” versus the “physics of becoming.” Cultural learning can never be a static arrival point that is mastered and completely understood; rather a continual process. In a process approach, it is beneficial to listen and notice the world around us. It is important to avoid assigning known meaning to behaviors we see in others. Often the underlying meaning ascribed to the same behaviors in different cultures is opposite. For example, a thirty-second silence — a pause in a conversation — in some cultures can be understood as disinterest or boredom, yet it is a sign of great respect for the speaker in other cultures.

Caligiuri identifies a helpful roadmap of cultural competencies that we can develop over time to improve success as global business professionals:

  • Global professionals can manage their own response set in order to quickly, comfortably and effectively work in different cultures and with people from different cultures.
  • Global professionals can connect with others from different cultures –to communicate appropriately, build trust, and gain the necessary credibility to work effectively in cross-cultural jobs, tasks, and roles.
  • Global professionals can make appropriate decisions by accurately reading and responding while accounting for the business strategy and key elements in the cultural context.

Culturally agile global professionals create multi-directional pathways (bridges of understanding and performance) that benefit both the decision-makers in the home and host culture. Let us consider adopting a process approach when working cross-culturally.

Take one hour a week to capture observations in a journal. Jot down the perceptions and assumptions ascribed to the behaviors. Review the journal every three months taking time to review the assumptions about the host culture. By embracing curiosity, observation, a process approach as well as times of reflection, you will hold the keys to living and working more effectively cross-culturally.



Caligiuri, Paula. 2012. Cultural Agility. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (pp. 5-7).

Rescher, Nicholas. 1996. Process Metaphysics. NY: State University of New York.

Reschler, Nicholas. 2006. Metaphysics: The key issues from a realistic perspective. Amherst, NY: Prometheus

On a Process Approach and Process Organizational Studies 2015-PROS, see further: http://www.alba.edu.gr/sites/pros/ & http://www.process-symposium.com

Whitehead, Alfred N. Process and Reality: Corrected Edition. NY, NY: The Free Press.