4 things that are important to know about culture, when we talk about intercultural competence

Cultural intelligence, intercultural competence, diversity competence. They are all definitions of what the Danish Ministry of Education defines as “an individual’s knowledge about and ability to understand the cultural complexity of everyday life, as well as the ability to communicate unprejudiced with people from other cultures”.  But before we start talking about how you build up “intercultural competence”, it’s very important to define what understanding of culture that lies behind this concept.


1: Culture is imagined by people

Culture is not “real” per say. Culture is there because we as human beings believe it’s there, and because we act on it like it’s something of importance. Culture is a social construct, if we have to be really Bourdieu about it. Objects, things and people can of course be symbolic artefacts of a culture, but in this case the chicken came before the egg: Culture is created by humans.


2: Culture is relations

Culture is always created in the relations between people. In that way culture is “patterns of thinking and doing that are passed on within and between generations by learning”, as Anthropologist Donald Brown puts it so well. Groups of people create understandings of culture(s) that are somehow similar (but very importantly not completely similar) because they live in the same country or area and interact under the same set of rules, discourses and environments. This will make their understanding of the world somehow similar.

We come from a country not a culture and in that sense culture is not something we have, but something we do. And we “do culture” in collaboration with other people.


3: Culture is ever changing

Remember that we wrote that culture is something we do? That makes culture an ongoing negotiation between people. And in that way culture is potentially ever changing. In that way culture is also something that you as an individual negotiate with yourself and others every day, and that gives culture a major potential for development.


4: Culture is not only a matter of nationality

If we understand culture as a matter of relations and ongoing negotiations, then culture also becomes based on actions. In that way you can actually say that there are as many cultures, as there are interactions between people, who communicate successfully. Hence culture is not at all matter only of nationality. There is culture in everything: In the way you do things in your family. In your team or study group. Or at a Bruce Springsteen concert.


So to summer up culture can’t be seen as something static that we have, culture is so much more. It’s something that we choose and do in interaction and collaboration with each other – it’s ever changing.


Want to learn more? Then stay tuned when we next week elaborate on the meaning of intercultural competence.  


All the best from,

The Culture Nerds


Millennials want meaning at work. Is your organizational culture ready?

Being able to attract and retain the new generation of “millennials” has a lot to do with knowing the cultural DNA of your organization. And it’s not just a matter of remembering the value statements hanging on the wall.

Right now a new generation is on their way to becoming the main part of the global workforce. “Millennials” is a term used to define the generation of people who are born between 1980 and 2000. This generation is said to account for 75% of the global workforce by 2025.


Organizations have to become aware of how to crack the code of attracting and retaining millennials who are said to be a generation that change their jobs faster than other people change their undergarments. Some believe millennials to be spoiled brats who have low resilience to just the smallest amount of adversity or misfortune. Others think of millennials as a generation of very responsible young people who are raised with an awareness of ethics and have high moral standards – e.g. in relation to the environment and having a sustainable lifestyle. Most notable is it that research shows that 88% of millennials want to work for a company whose values reflect their own. Millennials are more than any generation before them driven by purpose in their work life. Even to the extent where they will choose a great purpose over a high salary.    


“Purpose” – is that not the values stated on every company’s website? Not exactly. Purpose goes deeper than company values. Purpose is at the core of every culture – it is what drives people to get up in the morning. In an organization with a strong and articulated purpose, the purpose will be a part of every activity done in the organization, and every employee will be able to tell how their exact contribution contributes to the overall purpose. A strong purpose goes hand in hand with a strong company culture.


If an organization wants to attract millennials it should be very aware of its purpose, but even more so about its cultural DNA. Cut to the chase, it’s about being clear on:


1: Why are we doing what we are doing?

2: How are we doing it?

3: What is the day-to-day behavior that takes us towards our purpose?


Being crystal clear on those points and the relation between them makes it a lot easier to attract and retain millennials, as it makes it clear whether the purpose of the organization matches the ideals of the millennial, but also if the working styles of the organization fits the working style of the millennial. As culture nerds, we are very aware that there is no easy way for an organization to become crystal clear on all parts of its culture. It will not work if the management team decide what they think identifies the culture of the organization without any employee involvement. To become aware of the cultural DNA of an organizational culture, the organization must first carry out anthropological fieldwork, and employees on all levels of the organization must be involved. Only when this happens will awareness of the culture be rooted in the hearts of all the people making up the organization.


Becoming clear on your cultural DNA is a process of making the unaware aware. The self-awareness that millennials are known to have must therefore be reflected in the organizations as well.


If you want to know more about how to find your cultural DNA, then we will be happy to help.


Please get in touch with us at: nicoline@olskaerqvortrup.com, or: gitte@olskaerqvortrup.com.


Kind regards,

Gitte & Nicoline, The Culture Nerds