O India! To be honest, India is not a place I would ever have considered visiting, but the experience proved to be a great learning lesson, not just from the business perspective, but also from the humanistic.
At first glance, your senses are bombarded by noise, crowding, pollution, smells, and chaos. Audible, tangible, and visual chaos. We were quite appropriately warned that if we cherish our systematic organization, we should be prepared for a shock when we entered India. That couldn’t have been more accurate. An activity as mundane and routine as crossing the roadway was an out-of-culture experience!
However, Indian culture also thrives on and demonstrates profound hospitality and polite manner. Personally, I was not prepared for the level of service afforded to us on a daily basis, from our National Management School hostess that took us immediately under her wing to guide us through a crowded and disorienting early morning airport arrival in Chennai, to the daily assistance from practically every Indian citizen encountered.
At our company site visits, we were able to see a more Westernized organization and calm to a degree. Upon entry into L&T InfoTech’s massive and beautiful facilities, it was evident that the class was in for a treat. From the very first contact with the company hostess, who was expecting us and received us with sincere interest and hospitality, to the final question and answer session in one of the modern classrooms, to the tour of the executive access only skywalk, company representatives and executives treated us to a professional and enjoyable experience and gave us a look inside a premier Indian engineering company.
In parallel with other observations of the country in general, L&T offered examples of service orientation, hospitality, innovation, creativity, flexibility, adaptability and cultural tolerance.
The concept of collectivism was evident in the call center we visited. In cubicle spaces typically occupied by one person in America, Indian people tended to sit closer together, and occupy two to a space. I saw many empty cubicles, and those with occupants always had two or more employees collaborating, discussing, or just working together. In sharp contrast to the collectivist social norm of India where people are used to dealing with and adapting to the chaos of masses packed into precious small space, Americans tend to cherish and occupy more personal space. Rarely will you see an American work cubicle environment where people choose to work together in close quarters for any length of time. This affinity for collectivism is what makes the Indian culture ideal for workers that thrive in a team work environment. Collaboration is expected and welcomed, tolerance is inherent and adaptability is the norm.
Another memorable site visit was to the community eye care clinic. It quickly became evident that compassion, free care for the impoverished community, and world class quality in the provision of that care are indeed possible. I’ve never seen a more organized, well run clinic environment, where clients could expect the same level of service (or better) than that would be found in a fee-for-service private health care provider’s office.
While the chaos and disparities are perhaps the noisiest memories, the biggest learning lesson to come home with me is that we have much to learn. Societal norms already in place in a country with a massive population, young and upcoming professionals, and a developing education system all equate to great potential for business. As more and more business and global economy enters India, and with the right pace of implementation and sustainability, the better for business and for the country of India.