Become the Change

A four-step model to cultivate cultural intelligence

by Jesse Stevenson

As a quality director for a small, nonprofit organization, I noticed a general lack of understanding about quality, as well as an inability to use it to address problems and processes throughout the organization. To change this, I became the change I sought.

Change can be large or small, evolutionary or revolutionary, sought after or resisted. I chose sought after.

Between 50 and 75% of change programs fail because of their approach. Some are too large and too wide.1 I wanted to focus my changes on quality and giving the organization an understanding of quality—what it meant and how to use it to move the organization forward.

My approach actually followed a four-step model of cultural intelligence (cultural quotient or CQ) (see Figure 1). CQ is the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic and organizational cultures.2

Figure 1

1. CQ drive: the motivational dimension of CQ that shows interest and confidence. There are three subdimensions of CQ drive:

  • Intrinsic motivation—the degree to which you derive enjoyment from culturally diverse situations.
  • Extrinsic motivation—the tangible benefits you gain from culturally diverse experiences.
  • Self-efficacy—the confidence that you will be effective in cross-cultural encounters.3

I had the drive and motivation to become the change I sought. I knew I pursued something that was near and dear to me, and if given the chance, this opportunity would benefit the organization.

2. CQ knowledge: understanding cross-cultural issues and differences—the cognitive dimension of the CQ research—referring to the leader’s knowledge about culture and its role in shaping how business is done.4 I realized that the culture needed to change for quality to resonate throughout the organization.

At that time, the culture believed quality was the sole job of the quality director, and anything having to do with quality was addressed by that position. This meant that small things, such as inefficient processes, were not addressed unless the quality director addressed them.

To improve performance, you need a new culture—one that consistently produces go-to people.5 At this nonprofit organization, there was only one go-to person when it came to quality.

3. CQ strategy: strategizing and making sense of culturally diverse experiences, referring to the leader’s ability to strategize when crossing cultures. The three subdimensions of CQ strategy include:

  • Awareness—being in tune with what’s going on in ourselves and others.
  • Planning—taking time to prepare for a cross-cultural encounter by anticipating how to approach the people, topic and situation.
  • Checking—monitoring our interactions to see whether our plans and expectations were appropriate.6

I understood this, and that’s when I decided to create Brown Bag University: During the lunch hour, basic quality tools were taught to anyone who wanted to attend. By making it voluntary, I gained attendance of a cross-organizational culture of workers, supervisors and managers. 

4. CQ action: changing verbal and nonverbal actions appropriately when interacting cross-culturally—the behavioral dimension of CQ—refers to the leader’s ability to act appropriately in a range of cross-cultural situations.7

The sessions were interactive. More than 160 employees during a six-month period were taught quality tools such as flowcharts, cause and effect diagrams, scatter diagrams, Pareto analysis, histograms, check sheets and control charts.

In addition, employees were introduced to concepts such as specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, time-bound goals and plan-do-check-act cycles. By doing this, employees learned how to use tools to solve problems and help understand processes—the culture began to change.

People were now thinking of quality, and there was no longer just one go-to person. Many employees knew how to use quality tools to address problems and set goals. The culture change was slowly taking place, and I became the change.  

I wasn’t alone in making this happen. It may have been my idea and vision, but it wasn’t possible without support from upper management. For any change to be successful, or have a chance at success, you must mobilize commitment, and it’s the difference between success and failure.8

Quality should not be the sole responsibility of one individual—it must be a culture. Quality gurus such as W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran understood this. In one of his 14 points (point No. 6, "Institute training on the job")9, Deming shows how important he believes this to be.

Juran felt that managing for quality required equal attention to other functions, developing the Juran trilogy of quality planning, quality control and quality improvement.10

We must get to a place where quality is a norm, a belief that the quality of a product or process is at least of equal or greater importance than the mere quantity produced.

This belief results in decisions favoring quality: defective items do not get passed down the line or out the door, and chronic errors and delays are corrected.11


  1. Marcella Bremer, Organizational Culture Change: Unleashing Your Organization’s Potential in Circles of 10, Kikker Groep, 2012.
  2. David Livermore, Leading With Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success, AMACOM, 2009.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Roger Connors and Tom Smith, Change the Culture, Change the Game: The Breakthrough Strategy for Energizing Your Organization and Creating Accountability for Results, Portfolio, 2011.
  6. Livermore, Leading With Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success, see reference 2.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Brien Palmer, Making Change Work: Practical Tools for Overcoming Human Resistance to Change, ASQ Quality Press, 2004.
  9. W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1982.
  10. Bill Wortman, Certified Six Sigma Green Belt Primer, second edition, Quality Council of Indiana, 2012.
  11. Joseph A. DeFeo and William W. Barnard, Juran Institute’s Six Sigma Breakthrough and Beyond: Quality Performance Breakthrough Methods, McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Jesse Stevenson is currently a doctoral student in business administration in quality systems management at the National Graduate School in Falmouth, MA, where he earned a master’s degree in quality systems management. He is an ASQ senior member and ASQ-certified quality improvement associate, Six Sigma Black Belt and manager of quality/organizational excellence.

--guru shankar, 06-01-2017

This is a good article; I particularly like the phrase 'quality in the fisrt person'. It would be great, through, if Mr. Stevenson could show us a roadmap of his trainings; what topic goes first then what activities are to be done to assure of buy-in from his organization.
--Ana Mariano, 08-20-2015

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