An article in the Harvard Business Review once said that the most valuable skill for the 21st century manager is the ability to work across cultures. Around the world, it is increasingly recognized that an understanding of a country's work culture plays a significant part in success at one's job. Every group of people has subtle drivers of behaviour, values and beliefs, an understanding of which could help you navigate your way around the workplace.
Indians are no exception. We have some innate strengths that we seldom take credit for. Like the uncommon capacity to deal with ambiguity and to think on the fly; the emphasis we place on forming and sustaining relationships at work; and the willingness to go beyond the call of duty as we see our jobs as an extension of our personal lives. And then there are traits that may confuse the uninitiated at first and need some getting used to — such as saying 'yes' to an assigned task when we actually mean 'no', our flexible attitude to time, and the famous Indian head wag.
Based on extensive interviews with corporate leaders — Indians as well as expatriates and repatriates, who offer insider and outsider perspectives on the psyche of the Indian in the workplace — How India Works is a guide to the cultural nuances and complexities of working in India. It will make your life in office a little easier.
Aarti Kelshikar is an intercultural consultant and coach with over fifteen years of work experience in India, Singapore and the Philippines.
She is a certified facilitator of Cultural Intelligence from the Cultural Intelligence Center in the US. She is also a certified executive coach from the international Neuro Leadership group. Since 2008, she has been associated with two US-based global mobility companies, for which she has delivered customized intercultural training programmes for professionals relocating worldwide. She has trained senior executives from multinational corporations like Nestle, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Colgate Palmolive, and Texas Instruments. She is also a consultant with a leadership development company in India, for which she has conducted workshops on building a global mindset and enhancing executive presence.
Before discovering the fascinating world of intercultural coaching, she worked for seven years in the area of securities market compliance with the Securities and Exchange Board of India in Mumbai and with a consulting firm in Singapore.
Aarti has a master's in business administration from the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies and a bachelor's in commerce from Sydenham College in Mumbai. She enjoys travelling and reading. She lives in Mumbai with her husband and daughter.
From the sights and sounds to the tastes and textures, the experience of working and living in 'Incredible India' can be both enthralling and mystifying.
But this can be the case, in varying degrees, in any unfamiliar or different place or culture. Let me share a personal anecdote. As a young couple, my wife and I were transported from Mumbai to the cold climes of North Yorkshire in the UK way back in the mid-1980s. You can imagine the culture shock; even the language — supposedly English — was spoken in a very strong Geordie accent, which we could barely decipher. I told my boss at ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) that this was a 'hardship posting' for me — as I have to wash my own dishes, do the laundry and ironing, mow the lawns and hoover the house weekly. Talk of challenges of living in a developed country! We had to grow out of the habit of always having house help, whom we were so used to back home, and decided to do in Rome as the Romans do. Then onwards, we moved from surviving to thriving.
The experience above relates to the personal aspect of life in a different land. One of the biggest challenges when working with a set of different people or in a different country is the cultural variation. All cultures have their own norms, values, beliefs and practices, which are similar to none.
In my professional experience of working with a Swiss company for more than twenty years, I have seen first-hand the importance of having a strong cultural quotient. One of the earliest things I learnt was that while openness towards technology and innovation gave the Swiss an air of daring-do, one should not be misled. The Swiss by nature are conservative, empirical-minded and prefer to stick to rules. Fuzzy logic has no place in their thinking. Meetings cannot be held spontaneously. If you come to the meeting on time, you are late because you should have arrived a few minutes earlier so that the meeting could 'start on time'. Well, this holds true for social occasions too. You can imagine the consternation of a colleague of mine when he arrived half an hour late for a dinner at a Swiss colleague's home and was told he would have to skip the drinks as the roast was ready in the microwave for serving! I am sure a large number of harried housewives in India would love to do the same but the spiritual quotient in them militates against this Swiss norm. Of course, one must not forget that the Swiss are very private people and it is taboo to ask any personal questions — which we tend to do in India at the drop of a hat!
As the world gets better connected and as intercultural interactions increase, one finds that the challenges and complexities also increase. And when one is talking about a country like India, the complexities are manifold. India is not one country but many countries rolled into one. Whichever way you look at it, the prospect of living and working here and dealing with its unmatched diversity and contrasting character is complex at many levels. Like ebony and ivory on a piano, Indians (mostly) live together in harmony and even play a common melody together.
Given the vast numbers of Indians both in India and abroad and the attractiveness of the growing Indian economy, working with Indians is inevitable for many in business the world over. People have questions — asked aloud and wondered privately — about the what, how and why of Indian behaviours and mindsets. Here, 'yes' may mean 'no' and 'no' may mean 'yes' depending on the way one interprets the nod or shake of the head in response to one's questions! This is one of the many nuances that Aarti Kelshikar explores in How India Works: Making Sense of a Complex Corporate Culture.
Drawing on her experience of and exposure to intercultural understanding, she takes us on a journey that navigates the landscape of cultural complexities in India. Aarti has lucidly woven her views and experiences along with those of sixty professionals — both Indians and expats who have lived and worked in India. It is a treat to read all their stories, unique in their own way, and to see their journeys through their eyes.
While expats stand to benefit from reading this book, it is particularly relevant for Indian readers. In his book Cultural DNA: The Psychology of Globalization, Gurnek Bains highlights how, as per research conducted, 34 per cent of Indians had a development need around self-awareness, the highest percentage of all global regions. An area that this is often manifested in is the manner in which Indians accept feedback (which is also discussed later in the book). How India Works provides an opportunity for Indians to be more cognizant of their behaviours, their strengths and their idiosyncrasies.
Everything in India happens in the richness and fullness of time, and as Sonny in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tells a disappointed tourist, 'In India we have a saying: "Everything will be all right in the end." So if it's not all right, it is not yet the end.' For those willing to immerse themselves in the paradox that is India and be patient to explore the layers of cultural complexity, the 'end' will be a rich and rewarding journey — both on the professional and personal fronts. How India Works can be a good guide on this journey; do savour and enjoy it!
'Have you lost your mind?!'
Andy was amazed that his wife Sarah would even consider leaving their comfortable (for the most part) suburban life in Boston for an overseas assignment.
And to India, of all places!
For many companies, a posting to India is now fairly de rigueur in order to give their executives exposure and experience of working in an emerging market that has the numbers in terms of size of population, steady economic growth, a burgeoning middle class and one of the largest under-the-age-of-35 populace. (To digress slightly, as per the HSBC Expat Explorer 2016 report,* `Three in five or 60 per cent of expats believe their experience in India will improve their future job prospects, compared with 43 per cent of expats across the Asia Pacific region.')
The above notwithstanding, when people announce to their family and friends that they are moving to India on work for a couple of years, they are, often times, not met with the reaction
They were looking for. The reasons are hardly surprising Traditionally, an India move has been considered a ’hardship’ posting , what with day-to –day living challenges like pollution, poor infrastructure and a paucity of good recreational options.
To put things in perspective, it’s not just non-Indians who have overseas, my Indian friends were to amazed to hear that couldn’t fathom why, after the comfort and ease of expatriate life in Asia, we wanted to come home- the operative word here being ‘wanted’.
One reason for this amazement is the chaotic and complex nature of things in India.
But while living in India can be complicated, working in India doesn't have to be.
That said, the expatriate's expertise and talent coupled with the favourable market factors here do not automatically ensure success. Often, people who come here for a couple of years only skim the surface of what India is or has to offer, resisting greater interaction, involvement and understanding. The approach is: `I'm here for three or four years. I don't need to look beyond the obvious. Let me focus on meeting my targets and whatever it takes to get there.'
While this approach is adopted by many, I found that the people who succeeded and enjoyed their stint in India all had one thing in common: they genuinely embraced India, the good and the bad. Needless to say, this translated into their professional success. It also gave a big upward boost to their post-India career trajectory.
However, this involves navigating some landmines. Tim Hume writes in a February 2012 article titled 'The secrets of doing business in India' for CNN: 'For foreign executives, doing business for the first time in India can be a bewildering experience. There's the new...but also the familiar.' The article goes on to quote a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School thus: 'You can get lulled into a false sense of security — "but for people dressing a little different and talking a little different, they are just like me". That's a completely false premise. There are all kinds of nuances in the culture, implicit cultural norms that we don't know about until we run afoul of them.'
Every culture has its underlying drivers of behaviours, values and beliefs and India is no exception. Embracing a culture entails going beneath the surface and figuring out the 'flows' and the `whys'. And understanding these plays a significant part in success at one's job or assignment when working across cultures.
This book is a step in that direction. It aims to delineate the cultural nuances and complexities of working in professional organizations in India.
There is immense diversity in India — in terms of food, languages, celebrations, customs, dress and many more aspects. Across the country, people may talk, behave and think differently but, beneath the exterior, there are some values and beliefs that are common. These are explored and fleshed out here.
How India Works: Making Sense of a Complex Corporate Culture delves into the Indian's psyche and puts in perspective aspects like his hierarchical mindset and relationship- or people-focused approach. It attempts to answer questions like: What explains an Indian's readiness to come to work on holidays? Why does a person say 'yes' when in fact he means the opposite? It examines the implications of these nuances and how they get manifested at work.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend