Managing in India
Achieving Success in a New Culture
Your organization has reassigned you to the new Mumbai office.
You'll be in charge of a large team, and after your previous success managing in the U.S. and U.K., your manager expects to see positive results within the first six months.
At the first meeting with your new team, you describe your plan for the coming months. You want everyone working independently and innovating on their own, and you've promised bonuses to your team if they perform well.
However, within the first month, you see that you're not going to get the results you expected. Your team doesn't seem very motivated, and, instead of taking the initiative and innovating, they continue to depend on you for instructions. They also spend a great deal of time discussing the smaller details of each stage of your plan, instead of getting on with tasks like your previous team did.
What went wrong? Your strategy was a proven success previously – but here, it's not working. You and your team are frustrated. And you're not sure how to fix things...
In today's global market, managers often work with culturally diverse teams. Without any prior understanding of other cultures, this can be challenging. Managers can quickly fail when they try to apply Western management practices in an Eastern team, and vice-versa.
In this article, we'll look at what you need to know when managing in India. We'll examine culture and religion, and we'll share ideas on motivating and inspiring your new team. Whether you're moving to the country, returning to manage there after a break, or simply managing an Indian team from your home office, this article will help you get the best results from your people in India.
Bear in mind that India has a diverse workforce, and the approach you use will depend on where your team are based, and the type of industry they work in – for example, rural workers may think and behave in very different ways from those working for multinational companies in major cities. So you'll need to treat every situation on a case by case basis.
So, be flexible in your approach, and don't assume that the ideas we’ve highlighted will work in every situation.
Although religion is unlikely to affect a person's work, it is a major part of Indian life. To avoid any misunderstanding, it's best to learn a little about the major religions, holy days, and holidays.
According to India's 2001 census, over 80 percent of the country's people practice Hinduism. Islam accounts for 14 percent, while the rest of the population practice Christianity, Buddhism, and other religions.
India is a country that's tolerant of its many religions. However, holidays, dress codes, and customs differ widely between the states and regions so it's best to learn a bit about your region's specific religious requirements and practices as soon as you can.
India is a diverse country.
It's important to understand the significance of India's religious holidays. This will help you to avoid planning mistakes (like setting a project deadline on a day when no one will be in the office), and help with your understanding of the culture.
One of the biggest Hindu festivals is Diwali (also known as the Festival of Lights). This is generally held in October and November, though the dates change slightly each year. In 2018, the celebration begins on November 6 for five days (in 2019 it will begin on October 27; in 2020 it will begin on November 14). There are five smaller festivals during this time, so make sure you include these holidays in your planning.
Most organizations are also closed on three nonreligious national holidays. These are:
- Republic Day – January 26.
- Independence Day – August 15.
- Mahatma Gandhi's birthday – October 2.
Some holidays are celebrated regionally. India has 29 states, and some states observe different holidays and festivals in addition to the national holidays. Make sure you're aware of these holidays before scheduling projects and deadlines.
It's also common for Indian organizations to take a more flexible approach to holidays if they work closely with departments or organizations in other countries. For example, an organization that provides the bulk of its services to customers in the UK may observe the same holidays as the UK to provide the most effective service.
You can get an up-to-date list of all holidays in India on the Indian Government web site’s Government Holiday Calendar.
India has a social system, known as the caste system. It was originally based in Hinduism, but it has developed into a more complicated, multilayered classing system.
The caste system, in ranked order, is as follows:
- Brahmans – priests.
- Kshatriya – rulers, warriors, landowners.
- Vaishya – merchants.
- Shudra – artisans, agriculturalists.
- Harijan – "untouchables."
The caste system is unlikely to affect working relationships, especially in the larger cities (where people may not even be aware which caste their co-workers come from). However, it's possible that it could directly influence how your team members relate to, and work with, one another. Therefore, it's important to be aware of it.
Managing a team in India sometimes requires a different approach from managing a Western team. In "The India Way" – written by Peter Cappelli, Harbir Singh, Jitendra Singh, and Michael Useem – the authors state that motivation is key to managing a successful team.
In many Western Organizations, managers often motivate their teams with pay incentives or flexible working hours. But in India, these methods may not be as effective. Instead, many Indian people are inspired by their task significance – in other words, by how their efforts contribute to a larger goal. Understanding their task significance empowers them, and gives them a sense of purpose.
Also, in many Western organizations, customers come first, profits second, and employees third. But in India, organizations may put employees first, customers second, and profits third, so their employees are their top priority.
"The India Way" also states that human resources are a major part of many Indian organizations' business strategies. People are often much less concerned about labor costs such as recruitment, training and development, and benefits, than Western organizations. This is partly due to the "employees first" idea.
With this in mind, you should spend time ensuring that everyone knows what they should be doing, and that they're properly trained to do it. The more you educate and train your team, especially on skills that may help them with career advancement, the more effective they will be.
It's also important to remember that some Indian people are sometimes reluctant to say "no," especially to their manager. This is because organizational hierarchy is often very strong in India. People respect their managers, and they don't want to offend or cause disappointment by refusing to do something or by offering a negative opinion.
As a manager, you should look for signs of "no." For instance, if people say "we'll see," "I'll try," or "possibly," this might be their way of saying "no" politely.
You can sometimes avoid this issue by creating an open environment that's emotionally safe and comfortable for your team members. Explain that you want their honest opinions, no matter what those opinions are. This can encourage them to open up. One tip from "The India Way" is that you should not go to your team with fixed views on a solution. Instead, present the issue to them. Then let them think about it and offer solutions. This empowers the team and gives them ownership, while also solving the problem.
Further Tips for Managing in India
- Recognize family commitments – Understand the deep commitment that Indian people have with their families. If you want to get to know your new team members, ask about their families. And be flexible whenever there's a family emergency.
- Learn about Indian values and cultural norms – This will further help you understand your new team. You can learn more about how to identify and rate these values and norms with our article on Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions.
- Ask for feedback – Many effective managers in India go out of their way to get feedback from team members. Create a survey for your team to use on a monthly basis so they can let you know how you're doing. Make sure it's anonymous, so that everyone feels comfortable giving their honest opinions. This allows you to address issues as they occur. It also lets your team know that you truly care what they think.
Different cultures have different values and motivators. This is why, as a manager, you should spend time learning about your new team members, their culture, and what will motivate them to perform effectively.
People in India are more likely to be motivated by knowing that what they are doing is contributing to your organization's overall goals. Also, empower them to share their opinions and feedback with you, and remember that religion and family can play an important role in Indian culture.
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