Indians Working with Americans
Posted by Rossina
India loses over $2 billion a year because of the emigration of physicians, computer experts, and other college-educated professionals to the U.S. This is where Supply (i.e. Talent) meets Demand (i.e. Science expertise). Since this trend can be viewed as a (cultural) Merger & (talent) Acquisition, let’s examine the some of the generalized differences between the two nationalities by way of metaphor.
Metaphor for American* Workstyle: (American) Football
Football is America’s most popular sport, rendering journalist George Will to declare it represents two of the worst aspects of the country: violence and committee meetings. Social critic Camille Paglia suggested that women would be better off studying American football than attending feminist meetings, in order to compete effectively in the board room. The elements involved in football represent how corporate leaders expect work to be carried out:
- Speed (Beat the clock / 2-minute warning = Time is Money / Billable hours)
- Agility / High Specialization (League = Specialists)
- Constant Aggression / Competition (Linebackers / tackling = Dog eat dog / Merit increase)
- Individualism (MVP/Most Valuable Player = CEO/Chief Executive Officer)
The Corporate America philosophy is often Social Darwinism, or survival of the fittest individual, where work becomes an ambitious and competitive climb to the top. Professor Martin Gannon wrote, “Perhaps the best contemporary indication of this emphasis on individualism and competition can be found in the area of CEO compensation…a study of 13 industrial nations indicated that the disparity among incomes is much greater in the USA than in the other industrialized nations.” In 1965, the average CEO made 20 times more than workers; whereas, in 2012, the average CEO made 273 times more than workers.
Metaphor for Indian Workstyle: the Dance of Shiva
Hindu philosophy is key to understanding India, because even though the Indian culture has had a number of religious influences, 80% of Indians are Hindu, resulting in an overwhelming majority of Indians as tradition-oriented. While India has 300+ languages, Hindi is the official language of the country. However, Hindi is the native tongue of less than half the population; so, English (the secondary official language) serves as the “link language,” thereby uniting the country linguistically. It is worth noting that India is 1/3 the size of the USA geographically, but has 4X the population.
Shiva is one of the three most important gods in India (along with Brahma and Vishnu). There are numerous gods in the Hindu religion, each one is a different manifestation of one Supreme Being. The Dance of Shiva metaphorically represents the cyclical nature of Hindu philosophy, which includes creation, existence, destruction, and re-creation.
The elements involved in the “dance” cycle of social interaction represent how one’s role in corporate life is carried out:
- Fluid Time – Time is more of a guide than a fixed point.
- Being / Relationship – Spending time to getting to know a colleague on a personal level is critical. This usually entails being together outside of work and meeting the spouse/family.
- Hierarchy – Yielding to authority, &/or age (senior) and gender (male).
- Collectivism – Loyalty and precedence is granted towards family and friends.
American managers typically take on the role of a problem solver or facilitator and try to draw their subordinates to participate in meetings. This is more of an egalitarian approach. If the American manager uses this style with an Indian direct report, the Indian (if hierarchical) may wonder whether the manager is competent and may even hold him/her in contempt for not acting more autocratic. This is the hierarchical viewpoint.
What to do? This depends on a number of factors. The old adage of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” may be applicable here if the manager is in India, which is for the American to switch styles and act more respectfully autocratic. If the scenario takes place in the USA, then there is need for a private cultural dialogue where the manager can provide some mentoring that helps the direct report become aware of the local norms and expectations.
Play ball and dance!
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. CorporateLookingGlass.com.
*The use of the term “American” refers to those born and raised in the USA. The author acknowledges that there also exist other Americans, namely: Central Americans, South Americans, and other North Americans.
Martin J. Gannon, Professor of Strategy and International Management, Columbia University Graduate School of Business. Understanding Global Cultures. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA. 2001. Pg. 215.
©Rossina Gil, 2014