Last week I was giving a presentation at the Rajagiri School of Management in Cochin, India for a group of 150 MBA students. The two central themes were Outsourcing and Entrepreneurship. One of the questions that came up was ‘What are the cultural differences that you experienced between India and Europe?’. I find it always extremely hard to answer this question, because it tends to always imply huge generalizations (can we make a generalizing remark about a country with more than a billion inhabitants or a complete continent with many very different cultures in it?). But I always try.
I tried to make two points about what occurs to me as different in the Indian behavior from what I am used to.
Indian society is very hierarchically organized. I can see that already from the way parents raise their kids. The parents are the boss and the kids follow the instructions from the parents. When I visited some daycares to find one for my own kids, I often saw kids obediently sitting on chairs waiting for the teachers to give them some instructions. This is strikingly different from the daycare that my kids go to in Holland, where there is an ‘organized chaos’ and kids are left free to do whatever they want.
In organizations, hierarchy is the central way of managing. If you work with a software company, even a small one, you’ll find a project manager, who is managing the team leader, who is managing the programmers, even in the smallest projects. And the programmer will need his superior for anything that he does.
In Europe (at least in the Netherlands) most companies give people responsibility + freedom and measure people on their performance within those boundaries.
One of the core values of myself and also my company Bridge is ‘openness’. I believe it’s important that you give another person exactly the same image about something as the image you have in your mind (ok, some exceptions might be appropriate). In Kerala (it might be true for the rest of India too), the general spirit is not openness. People are always trying to be very polite and won’t share anything negative or offending (which also makes for a very positive cultural experience). It is sometimes hard to really get the truth or the person’s vision on a subject.
In Europe (especially in the Netherlands), people are very open. Sometimes even too open, which results in being blunt or offending people.
From an outsourcing perspective it’s valuable to know and recognize these cultural characteristics. By understanding them, it is easier to develop a succesful cooperation. I hope that you will share some of your findings so we can elaborate the list of differences.
Ah yes, a last difference: women don’t shake hands (which they also don’t do in Eastern Europe).