A Model of Culture-General Competence for Education and Training: Validation Across Services and Key Specialties

How do we ensure that U. S. personnel are ready to work with people from any culture?

Global partnerships play a critical role in national military strategy. Personnel on the front end make or break such partnerships. They must be able to develop professional relationships with people who have a different culture than they do.

Preparing people for the cultural aspect of their jobs is a challenge for leaders. A key difficulty is that their people may ultimately go anywhere. U. S. personnel have to be ready to engage and work with people from countless cultures. And to get up to speed quickly in new areas of operation. They need a set of cultural skills that apply no matter where they hit the ground. We refer to this set of skills as culture-general competence.

The aim of the current study was to further test a model of culture-general competence. We call the model Adaptive Readiness for Culture (ARC). It is general in that it applies across all regions of interest. The skills that comprise ARC were identified in an earlier study of 20 Marine Corps and Army service members who had worked in multiple cultures. This unique aspect of the study was essential to tease out general skills from specific area knowledge.

The current study extended the sample to determine how well the model applies across the DoD and Total Force. We conducted a field study of 95 members of the DoD who have successfully engaged across cultures as part of their jobs. They served overseas in high contact roles in at least two different regions. 75% had worked in four or more regions. On average they spent 8.2 years overseas in 6.6 unique countries.

The sample included Officers and enlisted members of the four services. Foreign Area Officers, intelligence professionals, Special Operations Forces, and DoD civilians were also included. The sample ensures the relevance of the model to the work demands and language of DoD.

The study focused on relevant job experience rather than opinions about culture. We used critical incident interviews to uncover knowledge and skills in the context of lived situations. The SMEs reported 182 incidents from all over the world. We analyzed the set of incidents to elaborate and test ARC.

ARC includes twelve competencies that are organized in four broad domains. It is fully described in Appendix 1. A brief summary follows.

Diplomatic Mindset

The ability to put the mission first. To build relationships with people from other cultures to help the mission. To understand how the U.S. and one’s self are viewed by members of other cultures. To manage one’s own attitudes towards the culture to accomplish mission-relevant tasks.

Cultural Learning

The ability to direct one’s own cultural learning. To learn about cultures as an ongoing activity. To seek out relationships that build cultural knowledge while deployed. To judge the reliability of sources. To reflect on and learn from intercultural experiences after they occur.

Cultural Reasoning

The ability to make sense of situations across cultures. To cope with cultural surprises. To consider the point of view of people who are raised in a different culture.

Intercultural Interaction

The ability to engage with others. To cope with one’s uncertainty about the culture. To communicate with a plan. To present oneself in a way to achieve intended effects.

The study provided empirical validation of ARC, as well as insights into the ways culture-general competence is applied by experienced professionals in the DoD. The results yielded evidence that ARC generalizes across the services, ranks and across a broad range of communities.

The ARC competencies were pervasive across this diverse sample of seasoned professionals. All of the competencies were found in the majority of cases. Eight of the 12 were identified in over 90% of the interviews. In addition, each of the groups represented in the sample applied all 12 of the competencies. Yet, they did not all apply them in the same way. For example, language proficiency affected how cultural skills were used.

Section 4.2 illustrates these differences with specific examples from the interviews.

ARC defines the core skills, knowledge, and behaviors that contribute to mission success in a wide range of DoD jobs that require cross-cultural interaction. ARC informs policy, education, training, and assessment across the DoD.