Different Worlds, Different Ways (Part 2)
To read the first part of this article, click here…
In all three patterns the people involved need to be approached based on their professional, mental and emotional standing with regards to the outsourcing programme. Those who have fears and reservations need to be informed about potential problems and failures. In my experience, it pays off to be totally honest. This is particularly important in the case of India because there is much confusion in the West about certain cultural characteristics in India (e.g. human rights, inequality of the sexes, caste system, etc.). This is the basis to show that you can solve problems which typically arise when outsourcing, and that it is realistically possible to develop a successful cooperation. Fearful pessimism must be paired with realistic optimism.
Those, on the other hand, who only see a fantastic opportunity in outsourcing to a faraway country and deny any cultural difficulties need to be informed of possible problems. They also need to know how to address such problems. This is especially important in the case of India due to the fact that many people from the West easily become enchanted by this country. I have often seen that people actually project many inner desires on India and thus romanticise it – even in a professional context. Euphoric optimism must be paired with informed realism.
And, finally, it must be made clear to both groups that neither active nor passive sabotage of the project will be tolerated.
The case being presented above belongs to the third pattern: fire in the roof. I was called by the pharma company to develop a curriculum for intercultural competence. I trained hundreds of employees in Germany, the United States and India, and supported the change management team at various levels.
It is a truism that many outsourcing projects nowadays are spread across multiple geographies and are virtually organised. But regardless of whether a project team is globally distributed or sits in a building just around the corner, it has become rare that all team members belong to the same ethnic, national or cultural group. Multiculturalism has become the norm, and so has the demand for intercultural competence.
Although outsourcing and offshoring have matured over the past 20 years or so, programme and project managers from North America and Western Europe still struggle to appreciate their Indian colleagues’ approach to work. Reciprocally, Indian team members often feel disengaged when working with their counterparts in the West.
When, on the one hand, companies and people from India and, on the other, Europe or the United States cooperate, there will usually be intercultural conflicts. In most cases that has to do with one of the following five dimensions:
One of the first things that Western Europeans and North Americans experience when cooperating with teams in India is the importance that seniority, status, and hierarchical order enjoy in India. A manager’s door is not always open, Indian employees stand up when a boss or client enters the room, and a team member without leadership role refrains from expressing contradiction to a leader’s statements. Still today, the heritage of the caste system subliminally influences thought and behaviour.
Many people from the West learn the hard way that the leadership style common in Europe and North America (such as involving the team in decision-making), is not shared by all cultures around the world. In Germany and the USA you apply a participative style to managing employees. The individual is expected and expects to assume far-reaching autonomy. In India, however, many managers and employees alike prefer a more authoritarian style.
In most cases, I know the person from the West feels that he or she communicates sufficiently with colleagues in India. Anything more detailed would be leading up to cumbersome micro-management! The person from India, however, gets a creeping feeling that important information is being withheld. He or she feels as if they were at the bottom of the “food chain of communication”.
4. Time management
In Indian mythology there is a concept which suggests that your soul has a time budget of 311 trillion years to realise what it has been destined for. Also, there is the widespread notion that every soul lives through numerous incarnations on Earth. Even though individuals in India might not remind themselves of this concept in everyday life, its mythological power has an impact on the way work is approached. Depending on a situation’s context the individual may award spiritual fulfilment more importance than schedules and technical perfection. In most industrialised countries in the West, on the other hand, behaviour is moulded by Abrahamic mythology. An individual has limited time at hand (one incarnation), and time is perceived by many to be a limited resource. Depending on a situation’s context, adherence to deadlines and delivery of perfect work may be valued more than oneness with creation!
5. Quality assurance
There is no absolute measurement for quality. Rather, it always refers to a given context and certain conditions therein. The benchmark for quality is set rather high in Western industrialised nations. People and corporations live in a largely well-functioning and at times luxurious environment thanks to rich financial means. Countries, however, which are only at the beginning or in the middle of their industrialisation refer to a standard of quality that is subjectively good, but poor from an industrialised or economically almost saturated viewpoint. These different perspectives have a deep impact on what kind of results engineers strive for.
Of course, everyday life in big metropolitan cities located in India is becoming increasingly more modern and progressive. More and more highly educated and far-travelled Indian citizens share values characterized by openness to the world and critical distance to traditional social norms. However, the majority of the approximately 1.2 billion Indians continue to adhere to traditional values and customs. With good reason: their cultural identity is based on a history of civilisation reaching as far back as at least 5,000 years.
This article was first published in Outsource #36 (Summer 2014).
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