Indian Business Culture: Why Do I Have to Repeat Myself?

#1 Oct 11th, 2008, 00:41
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  • BlueTick is offline
#1
I have been completely stumped by one aspect of business in India.

I work in the help desk industry, and I went to Bangalore to move an account from the US. Everyone involved in this story works for the same very large company. We start with a project manager, my manager, and a few others, including me. We put together information about scope, number of tickets, routing information, and so on. (If none of that is familiar, don't worry about it.) Then a project manager in India joins the project and we send him the info. He asks us questions about scope, number of tickets, routing information, and so on, all the stuff we provided in writing. Then a people manager in India joins, and, after a meeting with the India PM, asks for scope, number of tickets, routing information...

This goes on and on. After all of the above, I go to Bangalore for six weeks, and continue to answer the same questions for the same people. I talked to a friend on another account, who related the same story, so it isn't just this project. Sometimes I roll my eyes and answer the same questions. Sometimes I ask which part of my previous answer was unclear, which stops the questions for a while.

At this point, when they ask the same questions on conference calls, it implies that we have been withholding basic information, which is far from the case. My manager is getting angry about that, and I don't blame her.

I think there's something about the culture we're completely missing. Can anyone help me here?
#2 Oct 11th, 2008, 00:56
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BlueTick View Post I think there's something about the culture we're completely missing. Can anyone help me here?
About Indian culture, no I have no experience. However, when I have encountered this in England it has been due to either lack of confidence on their part, or their mishandling of information already supplied, due to sheer disorganisation or laziness.

Anyway, reason I'm responding is that I was hit with the "obvious question that makes it look as if I'm not doing my job" thing once too often, and I hated the way it appeared to suggest a lack of professionalism on my part. Sad to say, but I had to resort to a serious "cover my ass" exercise. Now, when I communicate information to certain people, I briefly note the date, subject and key words into a spreadsheet, and when it comes to "stupid question" time I can glance at it and say "Take a look at my email dated..."

You have my sympathy, when you're dong a good job you deserve to have a manager who trusts you, without that being undermined. Best of luck, whether or not it's an "India" thing.
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#3 Oct 11th, 2008, 01:12
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I think it is international. The wonderful saying, I've made up my mind, please do not trouble me with the facts, is something that I've said about many (and to a few) bosses!

Having said that, BlueTick is obviously talking about something different that he encounters in India.

My first idea is that the desire to say what people think you want to hear has to be countered, and the desire to respond positively, rather than to say, No, I didn't get that, tell me again, also has to be countered.

I'd recommend getting people to tell you what it is you have just told them.
#4 Oct 11th, 2008, 02:33
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I think that it also has to do with job security. In many facets of Indian "business" whether it involves a hotel, restaurant, bank or shop, it somehow always seems to require a team effort in order to get one simple lassi delivered to the table, for example. (I remember eating lunch one day in an medium-scale restaurant and being "watched" by at least 5 boys who would all rush forward if anything was "needed"...even to re-fill one sip of water taken!)
In business, each member must make sure that HIS position is considered very important...hence you must satisfy each and every department head, manager, etc so that they can all report that they have done THEIR job well, and that they are aware of each and everything going on...otherwise, at some point, their superior may think that THEY have been slacking off or are not needed. So they are probably not trying to annoy you

Just an observation....India is very competitive.
#5 Oct 11th, 2008, 03:18
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I get the feeling that the organisation you are dealing with is not that experienced and established. Also, fighting for turf within is a common thing amongst Indians so it might be a case of folks there scenting a mega deal and clambering to get into it so that they can garner the kudos once clinched.

Just guessing...
#6 Oct 11th, 2008, 07:02
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Thanks for your thoughts so far. I'm mulling over what's been said. Does anyone else have any thoughts? Has anyone else had similar experiences?
#7 Oct 11th, 2008, 07:27
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I haven't really read this thread in detail, but I thought you might find some recognizable (amusing/insightful/whatever) observations here: http://www.stylusinc.com/business/in...tural_tips.htm
#8 Oct 11th, 2008, 10:09
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My take is that it has less to do with 'Indian' nature, but is a problem of the organization structure somehow.
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#9 Oct 11th, 2008, 16:07
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BlueTick, what you describe is ringing a bell. But my experience wasn't in India, so this may be completely wrong.

My (start-up, web content) company was doing business in Japan and Korea. I met a lot of serious potential partners there and started negociating. Pretty simple stuff : I'm selling this content, I produce a local version, we share the cost and revenue ; all we should be talking about is figures.

Yet, the whole Q&A repeat session lasted for many, many months, both via email and when I went there. First I put it down to communication / language issues.
Then I thought they were stalling, not interested in the deal. And saying "no thanks" is not part of the culture there. So I offered to leave it at that. But they came back with a vengeance - and the same basic questions started again.
Huuuge time and money wasted, and no banana, bad investment for my fragile company.

It paid off though. At some point I must have reached a critical point where comfidence was established. We finally moved into the negociation phase, and from then on it went quicker than with most Western partners.

Not that the basic questions ever stopped, though...

My feeling, which again may be completely wrong, is that it has a lot to do with establishing trust. Creating a common language. Making sure all the marbles are in the same place they were the last time. And observing you, seeing how your project (/company) evolves in time. Understanding whom they're dealing with, and how to work together. Putting it another way, what matters is not the answers as much as the fact that they are indeed identical to the ones you gave the last time.

The sad (?) thing is, I have no solution to offer, no alternate route to take. The only Asian partners I ever concluded business with were the ones with whom I went through the whole protracted circus. I can't even help identify that critical point when it's finally showtime, nor tell you how I reached it, I have no idea.

Not sure this helps...
#10 Oct 13th, 2008, 22:44
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#10

Lightbulb I'm going to try this...

Quote:
Originally Posted by mayajaya View Post In business, each member must make sure that HIS position is considered very important...hence you must satisfy each and every department head, manager, etc so that they can all report that they have done THEIR job well, and that they are aware of each and everything going on...otherwise, at some point, their superior may think that THEY have been slacking off or are not needed. So they are probably not trying to annoy you

Just an observation....India is very competitive.
This makes a lot of sense. I feel very strongly that it isn't laziness, incompetence, etc.

I'm going to draw on everything said here and make some suggestions to my manager:
  • Send meeting minutes, and save them.
  • Resend meeting minutes when appropriate, to remind people that a topic has been covered.
  • Direct people to documentation whenever possible.
  • Since one of the India team is already helping me to maintain the documentation, many questions can be directed to him.

This might seem confrontational as a response to something that isn't laziness or incompetence, but I don't see another way. The India team will need to be more independent, and again, we don't have time to keep answering these questions over and over.

Thank you, everyone, for your input.

One note: I actually work for a very large and established company. You've heard of it. I'm sorry if it seems like I'm being coy, but I don't like to mention my employer's name on the internet. (I admit I might be paranoid.)
#11 Oct 13th, 2008, 22:57
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#11
You are, of course, very much entitled to keep your employer's name to yourself, just as you are to keep your own identity to yourself.

In the circumstances, it is probably better than you do. I wonder how much time your employees "waste" (the word sticks in my throat, of course ) on IndiaMike!
#12 Oct 13th, 2008, 23:44
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Bluetick,
Sounds like a good plan you have. If you can inform your supervisor about your situation that will help you in the future...just so they know that you are TRYING to bridge the cultural/communication gap, from your side. It took us (my husband and me) many years to really understand/believe that no matter how familiar we become with Indian culture, there will always be some aspects that we cannot fully understand because we were not raised with the same habits and modes of communication as they were. We truly do not know how different our paradigm is, until we are in these situations that stymie us. Indians have so many beautiful personality and ability facets that we, as Westerners, fall short
on (like their innocent open-heartedness, their amazing language capacities and the ability to do all manner of math in their head without a calculator, just for starters!); when we go crazy in business circumstances in India, we try to keep these points in mind...
#13 Oct 14th, 2008, 10:08
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#13
BlueTick - This thread is very close to my heart!!! Not from doing business dealings in India only, but in the US and internationally. I think you are right on the mark with your new strategies.

I totally agree with Haylo on the time & date spreadsheet - I use something similar for my internal reference and then resend the *original* email to the people who are still asking the same questions. At first I felt like I was being a little passive aggressive, but it actually made things smoother. Making minutes of meetings is a must - both for your sanity and to cover your butt in the long run. Also, having a shared wiki where all of this can be accessed can be a time saver for everyone. When someone asks the same question for the 8th time, you can say "consult XXXX in the wiki".

Please keep up posted on your progress! Sometimes I really do want to pull my hair out. Thank god there's an India Mike to vent on

Cheers!
-C

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