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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | August 19, 2017

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Structure eats culture for breakfast

Structure eats culture for breakfast
Outsource Magazine

We humans love the blame game.

Really, why do we have to hold us accountable when there are more than a billion others to blame?

We don’t. At least, it’s tempting not to.

When it comes to case studies on outsourcing gone bad, respective managements are quick to blame it on the destination country and the culture it comes with.

Outsourcing has potential. It holds value. How much value you get out of it as a business depends on the company and not on the country, the company, a group of people, or an individual you outsource work to.

Why are Cultural Differences a Bad Excuse for Outsourcing Failing?

Consider this: your business is in Denmark, your vendors are in India, and you export services or products to more than 74 countries all over the world. As such, you also have local offices in at many of the markets you cater to.

Sounds like a global business with diverse operations, doesn’t it?

Today, it’s easy to set up a business with operations just as far reaching and catering to markets just as far spread, all thanks to outsourcing.

Borderless businesses, technological innovations, mobile devices, the internet, and the fact that there’s talent anywhere on the human cloud makes the future of work a possibility.

But are all businesses operating that way? Do businesses that have the potential to break barriers spread out and tap talent anywhere? Or are businesses falling into the generalisation trap and focusing on sourcing only local talent?

How Everyone Falls into the Generalisation Trap

You already know the usual generalisations, perpetuated by “anonymous” sources and also popular blogs and media. For instance, in India, they say yes to everything (if you were talking to someone real, you’d also see extreme tendency to be affable, accommodating, and the great Indian bobbing head mystery).

Then, you cannot trust the Chinese. Plus, the Chinese are rude, prone to tantrums, and not easy to get along (notwithstanding the language barrier)

Finally, people from Eastern Europe are irresponsible.

So, when outsourcing fails, the easiest thing in the world is to blame cultural differences.

It’s also easy to paint vivid (albeit funny) pictures (or infographics like this and this).

It’s also easy to think, “We are oh so different, and it will never work”.

I believe that this extreme generalisation, prejudiced thoughts about an entire country or race, and shortsightedness is costing you lots of dollars in lost opportunity.

On the other hand, the solution is so simple that you’d go home to cry today.

The solution, you ask?

Document. Communicate. Set Right Expectations.

For instance, I have not yet seen an outsourcing project fail if:

  • You are in control of how to initiate tasks (What is the requirement? What exactly needs to be done? ).
  • There is a clear agreement on what should be returned, when and in what quality (Milestones, timeframes, delivery, dates, times, and expected results?)
  • The technical infrastructure is established, so it’s easy to begin work. (Does the Internet work? Do you use project collaboration software? Have you setup everything you need for the project?)

Think about this: when we make generalisations and point out cultural differences as an excuse, then it’s wonderfully easy to say that over 2 billion people are equal (using both China and India as a combination) and you are claiming that they work the same way.

They don’t.

If that were true, you’d hire countries and not individuals.

Every Individual is Different

What you get is what you give. The output of work expected depends on the inputs, support, infrastructure, communication, and expectations you were to set up before initiating projects.

You get lazy and you get crap. That’s not outsourcing; that’s just a reflection of poor delegation and failing leadership.

Next time you fall into the “generalisation trap” try to compare it with that once you’ve worked with someone local, let’s say from London. If it was a good experience, does this mean that all people from London work the same way?

I believe in the human potential. I believe in the future of work. I know that economies like India and Chine are rising because there’s value at lower costs.

When you lead right, people work the same whether they are in New York, Montreal, Copenhagen, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai or Mumbai.

Did you fall into the trap? Do you agree or disagree?

About the Author

Martin Dommerby 150Martin Dommerby Kristiansen is the Managing Director at KalpaVruksh Technologies, Denmark. He loves to see his clients grow their business by harnessing the power of human talent across the world. He has experience helping clients stretching across a span of domains and technologies such as KMD, Alfapeople, Spar Nord, Ramboll Informatik, along with product development startups, and from helping clients expand both nearshore (Ukraine) and offshore to popular hubs such as India and Vietnam. Martin has tried to summarise his experience the past decade in the eBooks “Your Lucky Number – 13 Ways To Help You Source” and “My 5 Best Outsourcing Hacks”. Both eBooks are available for free download at  and

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