Cross Cultural Management Guide - India


What will you Learn in this Guide?

In this guide, expatriate managers will gain an understanding of a number of key cross cultural areas when working in India:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling 
  • Communication style and; 
  • Negotiation style 


Gain an Expert Understanding:

Once you've read this guide, ensure the success of your Indian business venture by: 

Being a Manager in India

To ensure successful cross cultural management in India, you need be aware of the strict protocols and rituals that exist. The official caste system may be illegal, but a strong hierarchical structure, based upon job title, still exists in business. What might this mean for you when working in India?:

  • When managing in India, it is important to keep in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization, and maintaining that role helps to keep order.
  • It's important that you adhere to any business hierarchy as failing to do so may lose you the respect of your colleagues and any reporting team members. 
  • Trying to engage subordinate employees in decision making may also work against you as they may view you as having insufficient expertise for your role. 
  • Be aware that the honor of those with whom you work is very important.  Be very careful not to criticise or embarrass anyone in front others and don't challenge people in such a way that they feel shamed at not having the right response.  Always consider their public reputation and honor. 


The Role of a Manager

In India, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude to their employees. They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace. This may include involvement in their family, housing, health, and other practical life issues.You should also consider that:

  • It is the supervisor’s job to regularly check on the work of a subordinate and to provide regular constructive feedback. This may include monitoring work quality and the timing of its completion.
  • Failing to provide regular feedback and guidance may make your subordinate feel that they are not being suitably managed. 


Approach to Change

India’s intercultural adaptability and readiness for change is developing all the time. India is seen to have a medium tolerance for change and risk. What does this mean for people proposing changes?

  • It is important for innovations to have a track record or history noting the benefits if they are to be accepted and implemented.
  • It's also of benefit to outline the value that these changes will bring to the company as a whole.  Since India is a relationship based culture, then it's fair to say that personal and group impacts shouldn't be underestimated.  You may well find that the value of change to the group is given priority to the value of the change on time savings or the financial bottom line. As such, emphasising these areas will benefit you.
  • A well known saying in India asserts that 'nothing is impossible'.  Indians tend to rise to the challenge and typically like to see beyond potential barriers. As such, dealing with unforseen outcomes, particularly within the framework of change, is often taken in one's stride and viewed in a sense of 'challenge on'. 


Approach to Time and Priorities

Indians are generally quite careful about time guidelines in business situations and necessary schedules and deadlines are regarded seriously:

  • However, where, timescale seem less important then they may well be overlooked.  It's important to remember that Indian culture is concerned with relationships so there may be instances where there is some flexibility to strict standards of adhering to schedules.
  • To err on the side of caution, when working with people from India, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization. Successful cross cultural management will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.
  • Global and intercultural expansion means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.


Decision Making

The culture in India is very relationship and group-oriented, so a strong emphasis is placed on maintaining harmony and proper lines of authority in the workplace. This means that in some cases, Indians may not say what they think to avoid offence or causing upset.  This is particularly the case with people that they don't know, or, people higher up in the hierarchy.

However, where relationships are strong then, it may well be the case that Indians are far more direct, in which case you can deal with them in the same way:

  • The manager makes decisions and accepts responsibility for work performed by subordinates. The middle manager may consult with subordinates before reaching a decision, although it is more likely that he will confer with trusted advisors or relatives.
  • To ensure successful cross cultural management, you will need to bear in mind the importance of people in the office maintaining the proper behavior relative to their position. For instance, it would be inappropriate for a manager to make copies or move a piece of furniture because these are tasks that lower level people do. To engage in behavior beneath you would lower your esteem in the office.


Boss or Team Player?

If you are working in India, it is important to remember that honor and reputation play an important role.

  • The risk of causing offence may become amplified in a team or collaborative setting.
  • When meeting together and moderating ideas, intercultural sensitivity is necessary. It is important to qualify ideas that are raised in a gentle manner, protecting the reputation of those bringing up ideas, so no one is shamed.


Communication and Negotiation Styles

Cross cultural management will be more effective if you understand the importance of personal relationships. They are crucial to conducting business and are based on respect and trust. It takes time to develop a comfortable working relationship and you will need patience and perseverance.

  • Indians are non-confrontational. It is rare for them to overtly disagree, although this is beginning to change in the managerial ranks.
  • Decisions are reached by the person with the most authority but reaching that decision can be a slow process.
  • Never appear over legalistic in negotiations; in general Indians do not trust the legal system and someone’s word is sufficient to reach an agreement.
  • Successful negotiations may be celebrated over a meal.

License Our Management Guides

Did you know that you can upload all our Management Guides onto your company intranet?

Connect your expatriate and international business staff with customised country information at the touch of a button.

Click here for more information.

© Commisceo Global Consulting Ltd. 2022 All Rights Reserved.