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.
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This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in India only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.