Author: Amrita Gandikota, https://indien.ahk.de
Today, as businesses are getting highly international, one can hardly avoid cross-cultural business collaborations, pushing individuals to acquire intercultural competencies. In a recent survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit, 90% of executives from 68 countries cited ‘cross-cultural management’ as their top challenge in working across borders. With India and Germany being at the brink of sharing competencies and forming synergies, it becomes exceedingly important to have a concise cross-cultural business understanding.
The key objective of this article is to deep dive into cultural specifics of India. It is thus intended to build a common understanding when counterparts of the two highly diverse countries meet to do business together. It helps understanding how to predict and prevent conflicts and how to overcome conflicts by building intercultural competencies.
India is a diverse country encompassing many different languages, cultures and religions. It is thus difficult to generalise. For instance, the federal state of Gujarat has traditionally been inhabited by the business class, somehow contributing to a more advanced business mentality. Along these lines, the mentality can differ fundamentally. While in some of the urban settings a rather western business mentality has taken over and shaking hands is common, in some more traditional companies, people are still greeted with ‘Namaste’ by pressing the palms together with the fingers pointing upwards. Giving the strong hierarchical sense of the Indian society, it is important to first greet the most senior person. Women are mostly greeted the traditional Indian way to show respect. Indians are very hospitable; it is thus not uncommon to be invited for lunch or dinner and you should plan in the extra time needed for this.
Punctuality & time management
The German sense of time and punctuality is well-known. Keeping deadlines, arriving to meetings on time is considered as the most important pre-requisite for doing business. It should not be misunderstood that Germans are never late but the attribute of “time is money” is strongly believed in. In India, punctuality is treated rather flexible and many factors contribute to this attitude. First and foremost, the heavy and unpredictable traffic in India’s big cities. In addition, as India’s infrastructure is still developing, heavy rains during monsoon for instance can contribute to a complete stillstand of all business and public life as streets tend to get heavily flooded.
For Indians coming to Germany, it is important to adhere to the German sense of punctuality and to set up meetings well in advance. For German companies seeking to expand to Indian it is relatively easy to secure last minute appointments or to register and arrive at events late. It is recommended to send an extra reminder before going to a meeting in India as the person might have forgotten about the appointment. Similar challenges can occur when working with Indian partners, deadlines despite promised are often not adhered to and a regular follow ups are required.
The idea of perfection
The ability to strive for perfection from a German perspective is imbibed as a continuous process of improvement and optimizing processes and systems. In India, perfection is often seen as an unattainable phenomenon. For an average German, to deliver the promise, is more of a moral responsibility and anything less is considered a breach of trust. A strict adherence to order and structure is important for Germans. Among Indians, rules are interpreted to suit the situation at hand. The focus is often on the effort put into the work rather than the outcome itself. The effort is always appreciated even if the outcome is not up to the set expectations. Germans thus may face additional work to create an outcome suitable to their standards. An open communication may help to overcome these challenges. It is therefore inherently important for Germans to check whether they have been understood properly and the next steps are clear.
The German fear of the unknown is widely known. The stringency laid on structures and processes stem from this attribute. One can commonly see Germans plan unforeseen situations trying to control and predict the future to a maximum extent to avoid risk. Any sudden changes without prior due diligence are not welcomed. On a sharp contrary, India is a country where accepting uncertainties and dealing with the same is in the DNA of people. The practice of “Jugaad”, the ability to develop frugal innovations for unexpected situations, is quite popular and Indians tend to grab on opportunities that can improve their financial status very quickly.
Long-term vs. short-term orientation
While most German companies follow a long-term vision that inherently includes qualitative aspects, Indian companies tend focus on short term achievements. Difficulties in accessing finance and the uncertainty of regulations have further reinforced this behaviour. This has also contributed to frequent changes in the labour market. It is very common for Indian employees to shift jobs every two years. With this short-term orientation, people are very adept in accepting new changes to survive, whereas in Germany there is a long term outlook, in terms of hiring employees in companies, achieving competencies in their existing business line before diversification to new areas, their R&D processes and product cycles, etc. It is therefore recommended for Germans seeking to expand to India to be open to quicker decision making and prepared for ad-hoc and last-minute changes.
The often-seen German way of negotiating is to begin with a clear agenda and adhering to it. Small talk is usually kept to a minimum limited to politely enquiring how your counterparts are or a comment about the weather. To seek the best possible outcome with your German stakeholders, a quantitative research-based approach is appreciated thereby more prominence is given to facts than arguments based on feelings. Unlike in Germany, building business partnerships in India starts from a personal relation to your business contact. Most of the decisions are based on trust and intuition. While negotiating with Indian counterparts, Germans should invest in relationship building. Take some time to indulge in small talk before getting to business. Arguments are often driven by feelings, emotions and experience. The decision making is highly top-down. Since the decision-making is usually done at the top level, there is a tendency of by-passing orders to get work done faster. There is flexibility even after the final decision is made and the action steps are formulated on an ad-hoc manner.
As many Asian countries, India is a very hierarchical society. Hierarchies are being displayed both in the day to day life as well as in organizational settings. Hierarchy is displayed in something as simple as in the form of addressing decision makers in teams by calling them “Sir” or “Madam”. When engaging with Indian teams one might often see a sense of hesitance in providing direct feedback to superiors or even to fellow team members. This could be slightly hindering when working with German teams where direct communication and transparency in feedback is expected for effective communication. It could on occasions also be misunderstood by Germans and leave the impression that individual opinions of Indians are not shared due to a lack of ownership or lack of knowledge. Germans should understand that this is not the case, but hierarchical levels generally do not allow inferiors to talk if their superior is present and many are somehow hesitant to speak out if not directly asked.
While Germans prefer to be very direct, Indians usually shy away from directly communicating issues or problems. Their communication is often determined by factors such as hierarchy, relationships and the contextual setting. It therefore may happen that promises are made that later cannot be adhered to just to not loss face. Individual talks may help to identify the individual’s capacity to deliver on promises to avoid disappointments. In addition, clear milestone setting, and instructions are often required to achieve the desired objective. When talking to Indians, it is recommended to soften the directness of the statement and articulate in a polite form highlighting the fact that the feedback is of no personal bearing and only a positive criticism on the work at hand.