Monthly Archives: May 2018


Over the years I’ve been involved in a number of major projects where U.S. or European companies have looked to transition work from their home countries to outsourced facilities in India.  The drivers behind these projects have been many and varied, but I suppose that cost reduction is always a major component of any such decision.  Personally, I’ve always thought there are a number of advantages above and beyond cost arbitrage but for many clients that’s their starting point.

If your main motivation for going through the transition process is cost then it stands to reason that you have to make the transition work efficiently or any imagined cost savings can be quickly eroded through well-documented problems such as high attrition rates and client dissatisfaction.  Cultural issues play a huge role in creating disconnects between the home teams and the India-based teams – but cultural issues are not the only challenge.

Another area which is fraught with difficulty is in the partner selection process.  Lots of clients have got a year or two down the line only to question their original choice of partner but are then loath to jump ship and go through the pain of transition for a second time – better the devil you know etc.

Based on our experience at Global Business Culture here are five issues you need to consider when selecting an outsourced partner in India.  The list is not exhaustive but it’s a good starting point:

The Tender Process: A western-led tender process will only get you so far in India.  I’ve seen situations where the responses to tender have led clients to the wrong supplier, in the wrong location, staffed by the wrong people.  ‘Do you have experience of the banking/insurance/automotive/pharma sectors?’    The answer will be ‘yes’.  People move company and position all the time in India and employees pick up experience across a wide range of sectors – but that knowledge can be quite superficial.

You need to effectively pre-qualify your tender short-list and the best way to do that is on the ground.  Start with a long list and whittle this down until you have three or four bona fide contenders and then, and only then, get on a plane and spend time with each of the candidates.  It should be as much about chemistry as it is about commercials.

Management Capability: I cannot stress how it is important to assess the management capabilities of an outsource partner.  The India offshore business has grown exponentially over the past decade or so but management capability has not necessarily been able to keep pace with that growth.  It is not a question of education or technical ability; it is more an issue of commercial experience and acumen.  Many Western clients who transition work to India are looking for people who can operate with a knowledge of home country market conditions and – even more difficult – an understanding of home country cultural expectations.

This is a tall order and those two demands can be very difficult to meet.  Don’t expect too much at the outset and be prepared to invest in training people to make up the skills and knowledge gap.

Attrition rates: How does your potential partner manage its attrition rates?  Attrition rates are notoriously high in the offshore industry in India and this can cause you serious difficulties on an ongoing basis.  Attrition leads to knowledge and skills seepage and massive recruitment and re-training costs (which can eat away at any cost arbitrage you were looking to harvest.)

Try to get some accurate figures on attrition from any potential partners and don’t just look at the numbers, look at the trends over a few years.  Ask your partners how they manage this issue, what policies and processes they have in place to address the challenge. If they just brush it off as irrelevant, be very wary. When we talk to home teams, lack of continuity of contact in India is often cited as the biggest headache.

Size: Should you team up with a large, well-established player in the market who has size, scalability and well-tested procedures, or with a smaller outfit who are growing and hungry? With a larger player, you might end up being a small fish in a very large pond and feel you are of little importance whereas a smaller partner may see you as strategically vital but lack the sophistication you are looking for.

You need to balance these conflicting arguments and find a solution that you are comfortable with in the short and medium term.  Again, it has to be about chemistry as well as commercials.

Price: If you are going through the whole process as a cost-reducing exercise then this obviously becomes a key factor in the final decision-making process.

But just a few words of caution, which come from experience. If you drive too hard a bargain, people will resent it. You are shedding people back home (this is resented at home) and you are squeezing the pips of your new partner (this is equally resented in India). The whole process can become pretty sour very quickly and you end up with massively resentful workers in two locations.

In addition, your India partner often becomes critical to the well-being of your global business.  In fact, the better your partner performs, the more critical they become as you invest even more heavily in them in terms of time and emotion.  What are you going to do if they turn around and say, ‘we can’t support this level of work anymore at the price we are charging?’  You may find they have you over a barrel.

The deal must be fair from the outset – that’s what will bring the cost savings in the long run.

For more information on this, contact me at keith@globalbusinessculture.com

I ran two training sessions yesterday at the London Branch office of a major Japanese investment bank.

In the morning, I worked with a group of senior Japanese expatriates who have been seconded into the London Office – we were looking at the major differences in approach to business between Tokyo and London.  This session was designed to help these expatriates integrate more effectively into a UK business environment.

In the afternoon, I spent a few hours with a group of UK employees of the same Japanese investment bank.  The objective of second session was to help those UK employees better understand the internal workings of their Japanese parent company and therefore enable them to effectively influence at the head office level.

Both sessions contained a group discussion in which each group was asked to identify what they felt the major difficulties were when working with their colleagues from the different culture.  Thus, the British were asked to identify issues they encountered when working with the Japanese and the Japanese expatriates in turn were asked to explore the difficulties they had encountered when working in the London Office.

The output of these group discussions was fascinating.  It was almost as if I had influenced them in some way regarding the feedback they should give.  However, the feedback was completely spontaneous and merely highlighted the extreme cultural differences that can still be found within a single global organisation in 2018. Some people would like to contest that the cultural differences no longer exist, but I can assure you there are alive and kicking in 2018 even within highly sophisticated, globally experienced financial institutions.

I have put the feedback from each of the two groups into a table below.

Japanese problems with UK approach UK problems with Japanese approach
Extreme lack of attention to detail Obsessed with irrelevant detail
No preparation for meetings and therefore not possible to get to an answer Always come to meetings having already decided the answer
Make decisions too quickly based on insufficient information Very slow decision-making process caused through detail obsession
Make decisions very quickly but then change the decision just as quickly Once they have eventually made a decision they are nor prepared to change it
Prioritise private life over their working life and the company Obsessed by work to the detriment of their personal lives
Mean ‘no’ when they say ‘no’ Don’t mean ‘yes’ when they say ‘yes’
Speak too much in meetings – even when they have nothing of value to add Don’t speak up in meetings and express their opinions – why do they attend?

As you can see from this feedback, the challenges each group face is an exact mirror image of each other.  What one sees as a problem, the other group sees as a virtue.  There are no rights and wrongs in any of these issues merely deeply held convictions around how best to operate in the working environment in order to deliver the best results for the organisation.

I suppose the question that needs to be asked when confronted with such stark differences in viewpoints has got to be, ‘who should adapt to whom?’  This is a question that must be addressed by any international organization who wishes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their internal operations.  Unfortunately, the answer is not obvious or easy.

We spend a great deal of time working with our client base of major global organisations helping them to address these complex questions in a practical and effective manner.  If you would like to discuss how we can help your company you work smarter across the barriers of culture, language, geography and technology please contact me at www.globalbusinessculture.com

For more information on this and other global virtual team issues contact me at keith@globalbusinessculture.com

Intra-team communication within virtual teams who are working across the barriers of culture, language, geography and technology is bound to present certain challenges which are less problematic amongst co-located teams.  Many of these communication challenges are cultural in origin and this blog highlights one such challenge.

One major cultural difference in terms of global communication is that some cultures place far greater emphasis on the importance of oral communication between people whilst others prefer the written word.

In countries such as Germany and Sweden, only when something has been communicated in writing does that issue become a reality. However, other cultures (such as Italy or Saudi) place much greater emphasis on the value of spoken communication – things are only really believed when they have been communicated by people with whom they have a strong, trusting relationship.

This simple fact can have a major impact on communication flow and the achievement of objectives within, for example, an international team. Do you communicate to each team member in exactly the same format regardless of their cultural background? Might it be a good idea to communicate more information orally to certain people if you want them to fully ‘buy-in’ to what you want to achieve whereas email communication may be more successful with other people?

Agreeing communication protocols in advance is a critical element in making global virtual team work effectively – and this is just one specific example of the things that need to be looked at.

For more information on this and other global virtual team issues contact me at keith@globalbusinessculture.com

 

Global Business Culture works with a large number of major global corporations and as they become more and more engaged in business activities outside their home bases in North America and Western Europe, they seem to be asking increasingly difficult questions about the difference between cultural sensitivity and ethical correctness. I suppose the question boils down to a simple one – should we always play by the rules of the country we find ourselves operating in or should we always apply the rules that work in our home country? Those of a culturally understanding nature, as well as those who place the commercial imperative before all else tend to argue that ‘when in Rome do as the Romans.’ But is it really that simple? Should local norms always trump home country beliefs?

One of my North American clients placed a female employee as the project lead on a project with a certain Asian client. They received an email from the client in Asia saying they would prefer a man as the project lead. What should the North American company do? Should they acquiesce to the demands of the client even though that would contradict both the law in their own country and their strong corporate policy of being a gender blind employer? When I pose this question to clients around the world, responses vary enormously and not just, as might be expected, along gender lines. I’ve had female managers in the US saying that the client is always right but then being argued with by male colleagues who say that corporate policies should be adhered to regardless of the commercial consequences.

I spend a lot of time explaining the impact of differing attitudes to meetings, decision-making styles etc. on global business and my usual advice is to adapt to the expectations of the client as this can help you meet your goals on time and on budget. Nobody objects to the idea of adapting to a different meeting style – but condoning gender bias or bribery is a whole different ball game!

These issues are really complex and there is no simple answer to them. However, I strongly believe that a global company needs to address these difficulties rather than sweep them under the carpet. Organisations need a clear policy on all of these issues which is then effectively communicated and they also need to be strong enough to apply that policy in all situations – no matter how commercially uncomfortable that might be. It just not fair to say ‘we don’t pay bribes’ but then to punish a sales guy for losing a contract because they were competing with someone who did. It sounds bizarre but it happens.

If you’d like to discuss how increased cultural fluency can help you develop and implement effect global compliance policies, please contact me at keith@globalbusinessculture.com

Like it or not, English is the common global language adopted by most international companies.  The trouble is that language levels in English vary around the world – even within one organisation.  Native speakers often assume that ‘if somebody is working in my company, they have to have really high levels of English.’ This is often a dangerous assumption.  Just because people don’t tell you they haven’t understood, doesn’t mean they have understood!  People often don’t tell you – it’s a face thing.

So when communicating in English in a global environment, everybody needs to think very carefully about the way they use English.

Be aware of the following at all times:

Control Your Speed

  • Keep at the forefront of your mind: slow down, slow down, slow down.
  • Speak at the same pace regardless of who you are talking to.
  • Don’t speak more slowly to non-native speakers only to speed up when conversing with other native speakers.

 Vocabulary 

  • Native speakers use all kinds of vocabulary that non-native speakers simply do not know.
  • When working internationally it is a good thing to use the same vocabulary over and over again.  It is the message which is important, not the style of the messenger.

Sayings

  • These figures of speech such as ‘cheesed off’ (unhappy), ‘sticky wicket’ (difficult situation) are usually very difficult for non-native speakers because they are often illogical.
  • Colloquialisms (sayings) are very confusing when used in an international situation.  There is always another way to say the same thing – choose the other way.
  • Colloquialisms (‘sayings’) are a good thing to talk about in social situations as people love to learn them.  In serious meetings, however, they can cause great confusion.

Humour

  • Humour is usually at the edge of linguistic difficulty.
  • Humour is very often culturally specific.  What one country finds funny, people from another culture may find irrelevant or even slightly surreal.

Abbreviations

  • Very few abbreviations are universally understood and it is best to be very careful about their usage.
  • Abbreviations are usually short forms of common phases such as a.s.a.p. (as soon as possible) or abbreviations of Latin phrases such as n.b. (nota bona).
  • TLAs (three letter acronyms) – which are often used to describe products or parts of your organization – should be used very carefully.  Does everybody understand them?

Silence

  • When people do not respond quickly to questions, non-native speakers usually answer the question themselves or simply move on and ignore the silence.
  • Often, non-native speakers do not respond immediately because they need a little more time to form an answer than they would if they were speaking their own language.
  • Give non-native speakers a little more time and space in which to operate.

Non-native speakers

  • Never be afraid to say you don’t understand
  • Never worry that people will think badly of you if you ask them to repeat things
  • Ask people to slow down if they are speaking too quickly
  • Ask people to follow-up in writing if you are worried you might have missed or misunderstood something

You can probably think of other useful hints and tips but these are a good starting point.

At Global Business Culture we run training programmes on global communication all over the world – if you’re interested to find out more please email me at keith@globalbusinessculture.com