• Clare Burlingham

In conversation with... Mark Davis, Culture Navigator

We are very excited and privileged to be working with Mark Davis. Mark is the founder and leader of a specialist consultancy dedicated to helping people work together brilliantly. In particular, he has spent many years focused on identifying and developing ways to enable people with cultural differences to work successfully together.


Mark brings to New Beginnings a wealth of knowledge and experience at working with companies to maximise the benefits of cultural difference. His work with individuals and teams at improving culture awareness and skills development, has helped many businesses move in leaps and bounds towards achieving their goal of a successful diverse and inclusive company culture.


We sat down with Mark to talk to him in depth about both his work and his own personal motivations behind what he does.


New Beginnings: Can you tell us about your career and how you came to be involved with culture awareness?


Mark: Sure thing. Cutting to the chase, I had a short-lived career as a trainee barrister after my law degree; it did not agree with me and I was average at applying myself to it. Skipping a few chapters and a recession, I arrived at a consultancy that specialised in negotiation. Over time, it gradually became clear to me that many clients were looking for something more than just the mechanics of constructing strategic partnerships. Increasingly, clients would ask specifically about how to successfully deal with other cultures (note that at the time, culture usually meant an individual or organisation from another country).


It was anecdotal insight, but it stuck with me. I left that organisation wanting to offer clients more. The culture of how we negotiate - especially commercially – has, I think, remained unchanged and unchallenged for generations. So, I decided to try to help make that change. I began to develop a ubiquitous concept that would innovate what it means to negotiate, and to forge trusted partnerships.


While I was working through my ideas, serendipitously, a connection on LinkedIn invited me to attend an introductory course on cultural intelligence, and that was my lightbulb moment. It changed everything.


New Beginnings: Most people are familiar with emotional intelligence, but less so with cultural intelligence. Can you tell us some more about it?


Mark: Cultural Intelligence is the capability to work effectively and relate to others in culturally diverse situations. Put more simply, it is the measure of one’s ability to authentically treat someone as they wish to be treated. It is a measurable skill that can be improved over time, and it has the same scientific credibility as IQ and EQ. To fully round out the meaning of cultural intelligence one must also consider what we mean by the term ‘culture’. I make it clear to my clients that culture is two journeys taking place at once. One is a voyage of introspection - how do I behave towards others? - the other is raising awareness that culture is also something external, and in organisational terms it often manifests as ‘the way things are done around here’.

New Beginnings: Why is cultural intelligence such a hot topic at the moment?


Mark: It is a hot topic and I can’t see it going away any time soon! Whether we realise it or not, culture pervades every decision we make. The world and therefore business continues to become ever more connected and so difference is meeting difference at a relentless pace.


This brings with it fantastic new possibilities and innovations, but only if companies are prepared to embrace all that goes with it. Businesses that continue to hire in their own image and build a team of people who all think in the same way and reinforce each other’s decisions, simply won’t survive.


Think about what the former execs at Nokia and Blockbuster Video might say today if you asked them if they wish they’d been more willing to be inclusive? Or how about the guys at GM who ignored Elon Musk for a little too long?


But if your employees are equipped to adapt and actively seek divergent perspectives, and can do so within an authentically inclusive organisational culture, then the world really is your oyster, and the possibilities are limitless.

New Beginnings: Cultural intelligence seems like a difficult thing to quantify - can you really measure it?


Mark: Yes, you absolutely can measure it. By using a suite of psychometric-type tools which can enable individuals to introspectively identify their natural skills in working with others, and also the areas they can work on to develop. I think it’s important to note however, that people also need to have the will and determination to want to change.

New Beginnings: Can you tell us about a real example of a company you’ve worked with to help raise cultural awareness?

Mark: Currently, by the time companies come to me, they tend to be in the situation where they have realised they have a low cultural intelligence/dysfunctional culture already baked in. And they are noticing it because the culture isn’t working to the point where it is hurting productivity in some form or another. Basically, they are losing money and/or talent because of it.


In this instance, I work with them to understand the current state, connect it to the pain point in question and then, using tools and metrics and increasing understanding and agency, develop their people so they have the confidence to authentically and pragmatically face in to that challenge.


This worked well for a global client who was seeing their competition outstrip them in product innovation, year-on-year. They simply couldn’t get their products to market as quickly and their market share was shrinking. Together, we uncovered that the bottle neck was an internal communication struggle between two business units (R&D and Project Management). And the root of this communication struggle was cultural difference.


Once we had identified this and worked to raise their collective cultural intelligence, their teams had the skills and techniques to be able to capitalise on their differences, not be held back by them. They improved their NPD rollout efficiency by 25% compared to the previous year, helping to stem the market share decline.

New Beginnings: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today Mark. Final question - what are you most looking forward to in 2022?


Mark: I assume you mean as well as an end to the pandemic and Aston Villa Football Club finally making it to Europe?! I’d like to see less talk about diverse cultures and much more action and agency around living and breathing inclusive ones.


We’re pretty confident that Mark will be ensuring there’s plenty of action in building diverse and inclusive cultures this year.


If you’d like to talk to Mark or any of the team at New Beginnings about our work around navigating cultural differences, do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you – hello@newbeginningsconsultation.com