MELBOURNE, FLA.—Cultural mistakes in a business environment may lead to embarrassment, or loss of a customer. In the military, though, a lack of cultural understanding can lead to a loss of life and weakened national security. The Institute for Cross Cultural Management (ICCM) at the Florida Institute of Technology’s School of Psychology is working to make sure these mistakes happen less frequently by improving the cross-cultural competence of U.S. military personnel.
The ICCM is currently conducting research funded by the Department of Defense to develop measures of cross-cultural competence and evaluate existing cultural training. In addition, the institute is developing region-specific cultural databases to help the military create more realistic and culturally relevant training. The institute has worked closely with the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute at Patrick Air Force Base to ensure the cultural training of the military accurately reflects the targeted culture and doesn’t reinforce inaccurate stereotypes.
“In Iraq we learned that the use of dogs in some contexts can start a riot and that speaking to an Iraqi woman in a culturally inappropriate way can fuel an insurgency,” said ICCM Director Richard Griffith. “Providing cross-cultural competence training to our men and women in uniform isn’t a soft skill. It is often a critical competency that may determine if they come home alive.”
Recently, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta released a memorandum detailing the importance of cultural skills for global mission readiness. Secretary Panetta said, "Our forces must have the ability to effectively communicate with and understand the cultures of coalition forces, international partners, and local populations."
To that end, the ICCM also recently developed a cross-cultural training assessment for the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). The institute designed measures to assess the cultural competence of cadets before they leave for an international assignment with a multinational corporation. In addition, ICCM staff advised the USAFA on developmental experiences for cadets overseas and how to measure their cultural competence when they return. Griffith will address the cadets at the Air Force Academy April 23-24 and meet with the senior executives of several multinational firms there, including IBM, Wal-Mart, Ingersoll Rand, and Chindex. He will discuss best practices in training and assessing cross cultural competence.
The mission of the Institute for Cross Cultural Management is to develop leaders and organizations to succeed in the global environment through evidence-based research and programs. The ICCM conducts research and develops professional development programs for both military and civilian clients.