When culture impacts business

We don’t understand cultures as much as we think we do, argues Craig Storti Photo: Global Adjustments  

The Internet may have shrunk the world, social networks may have helped us connect with people from different cultural backgrounds, but we don’t understand cultures as much as we think we do, argues inter-cultural expert, Craig Storti. He was in the city as the keynote speaker at the annual meet of Global Adjustments, a Chennai-based company that provides cross-cultural training.

“Being aware of cultural differences can go a long way towards managing the expectations of both sides better,” claims Storti, whose book Speaking of India is about how to work with Indians.

His argument is that the ‘culture’ problem is invisible; something that won’t feature in a balance sheet, but it will have an impact on business relationships. “For instance, Americans usually don’t explain what needs to be done because we think explaining too much is insulting to the other person. We would much rather let the other person ask questions. Indians, however, are very polite and don’t ask questions because they don’t want to come across as incompetent or make others think they didn’t explain things properly. This is a cultural problem,” he says.

However, problems like these result in missed deadlines, which, of course, costs money. So, are his seminars prescriptive? “In any client-vendor relationship, it is the vendors who have to figure out a way to work with the client. I work predominantly with IT companies whose clients are Americans. So yes, my seminars are not overtly prescriptive but the message is clear. But that is not to say that the American way is better and Indians have to adopt it. The American way is better while doing business in America and the Indian way is better in India.”

With more young Indians embracing Western ideas and values, will these differences matter in the near future? “Young Indians think that they are more Western but they are not when compared to their counterparts in the West. They are definitely far more westernised than their parents, but that’s about it. Indians who go to the U.S. to study understand that there are many differences than they thought.”

Why is the industry reluctant to conduct programs? “It is not in the interest of companies to admit that there is a big cultural difference. Why should American companies outsource work to Indian companies if it is going to be difficult? It doesn’t occur to them that problems could be cultural. I have heard Americans telling me that Indians don’t tell them when they are going to miss their deadline. Now, the Indians tell them, but the Americans are not getting it. You can’t fix what you are not even aware of.”

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 8:04:20 AM |

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