India is one of the most diverse countries in the world and therefore all generalisations about Indian culture should be treated with caution. Try to research each client thoroughly before entering into any negotiations. Is it a traditional, family-run business or a more modern hi-tech operation working with western business methodology?
India, more than most other countries, places great value on the quality of interpersonal relationships. Do not try to push things along too quickly in the early stages – take the time to develop relationships.
Both society and business are extremely hierarchically arranged and many Indians find it extremely difficult to work in a non-hierarchical structure.
Trying to introduce a flatter, more egalitarian approach into a society in which the caste system still flourishes can prove extremely difficult and painful for all concerned.
Most decisions are made at the top of an organisation and it can, therefore, be a waste of time and resource to spend too much time negotiating at the middle levels of a company if top level approval has not already been given.
The boss is definitely the boss in India and is expected to play the part. Senior managers are not expected to engage in work which could be undertaken by somebody lower down the organisation.
Managers are expected to give direct and specific instructions to subordinates – and subordinates are expected to carry out the instructions unquestioningly.
Do not expect too much initiative from subordinates, contractors etc. Plan in great detail and explain exactly what needs to be done.
Meetings can seem very informal and it is possible for several meetings to be conducted by one person at the same time and in the same room. Try not to become irritated by this informal approach.
Time is fairly fluid. Be prepared for meetings to start and finish late and for interruptions to occur on a regular basis.
As relationships are important, many meetings will begin with fairly lengthy small talk. Take the time to engage in this process – it is very important to the development of solid, long-term relationships.
Contracts should be viewed as a starting point rather than as fixed agreements. A contract is a statement of the best set of circumstances at a given point in time.
Teams expect to perform closely defined tasks under the strong control of a leader. It is not considered intrusive for the leader to take a detailed interest in the work of individuals within the team.
English language levels are, on the whole, very high in India and amongst the educated classes, several other (non-Indian) languages might also be spoken.
Do not be surprised if people seem ready to agree to most things – it is difficult for Indians to show direct disagreement. People will tend to tell you what they think you want to hear. Always seek detailed clarification of any agreements reached.
Small gifts are often given and received – this is usually part of the relationship building process and should not be taken as attempted bribery.
Gifts should be wrapped and not opened in front of the giver.
Women will be respected in business situations if they have a position of authority. People show respect to the hierarchical level rather than being affected by any gender issues.
Try to be sensitive to local religious conventions. Don’t offer alcohol to a Muslim or beef to a Hindu.
Before travelling to India on business check the calendar for local festivals, public holidays etc. – there are lots of them.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
India is notoriously difficult. It scores badly on the ease of doing business index and a lack of investment in infrastructure over the past twenty to thirty years can test even the most seasoned of business travellers. So why bother with India when there are easier potential markets?
We feel you really do need to look at doing business in India for a number of very strong reasons. Firstly, India stands poised to become one of the world’s largest economies over the coming years as economic liberalisation kicks in after decades of political stagnation. It has a population of almost 1.3 billion of which 50% are under the age of 30 and therefore the consumer potential of the country is almost limitless. Secondly, the lack of historical investment in the country means that India needs everything. You cannot point to a sector which is not crying out for investment and new product ideas. Thirdly, and very importantly, India has a highly educated, aspirational workforce who can help you build your business on the ground.
India is the ‘next big thing’ – you really cannot afford to ignore it.
You cannot ignore India but if you want to business in India successfully, you need to understand it. You need to understand the cultural drivers and expectations of the people you will be working with when you get there and you need to understand how that cultural knowledge can help you succeed in-country.
This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Indian business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on: