This month SAGE launched a new online library product for business students and practitioners: SAGE Business Researcher. More thorough than a newspaper article and more timely than a scholarly journal, SAGE Business Researcher publishes bi-weekly reports written by experienced journalists on the most pressing issues in business and management.
The following is excerpted from the issue “Doing Business in India.”
Cultural Differences Confront Foreigners
By Madhusmita Bora
“You will always be offered at least a cup of tea”
In a country as diverse and as big as India, navigating bureaucracy, red tape and infrastructure hurdles aren’t the only challenges foreign investors and businesses face. To thrive in the country, outsiders must acquaint themselves with India’s cultural quirks.
Unlike in the West, getting down to business right away is not the Indian way. Indians take pride in their hospitality. In business dealings, it’s best to reciprocate the goodwill.
“You will always be offered at least a cup of tea before a discussion or a meeting takes place,” Kugelman says. “My advice is to take up the offer.”
A cup of tea often serves as the best icebreaker, he adds. Somewhere down the line you will most certainly get invited to homes of colleagues for a meal with the family; fostering such personal interaction can be key to long-lasting business relationships.
One of India’s quirks is the notion of time. The day always starts late.
Ranjini Manian—author of “Doing Business in India for Dummies”—says Indian employees are hardworking, but they don’t necessarily show up at work on time and are not efficient with time management. “You have to come to terms with India’s flexible working hours,” she says. “Unlike the West, there’s no rush or hurry to get things done. We are human ‘beings,’ not human ‘doings.’”
But, despite the late arrivals, work always gets done, Manian says.
Indians maintain a strong sense of hierarchy at the workplace, just as they do at home.
The top bosses are often looked upon as father figures. Most Indian employees require hand-holding and cajoling when on the job. Emotion is a huge factor in business, Manian says.
Bosses in India are viewed more as benevolent dictators looking out for their employees and teams than as colleagues, Manian says. She says it is important for managers to set goals, remove hurdles through discussions and take an interest in employees inside and outside of work in order to get the best out of them.
Most Westerners expect immediate feedback in business dealings and negotiations and find that they often get frustrated dealing with their Indian counterparts, wrote Eugene M. Makar in his book “An American’s Guide to Doing Business in India.”
“Be patient,” Makar counseled. “Traditional Indians are reluctant to say no and can be polite and courteous to a fault.”