Lemons on My Front Bumper and Other Lessons Learned from India

A guest post for Handshake 2.0 from Kathy Claytor:

India is appealing as a low-cost business partner:  English is widely spoken, the government is democratic, the workforce is young and plentiful. 

Our organization built an information technology (IT) shop in Chennai, India.  Here's what I learned:

Lessons learned from India by Kathy Claytor Time is your friend. Time is your enemy.  India is 10.5 hours ahead of New York.  Work handed off to Indian colleagues at 5:00 PM EST when you come into work the next day is complete.  Perfect!  But think about it, you wouldn’t throw work over to the next cubicle and expect it to be completed without any interaction, would you?  A good work product requires interaction.  United States-based and Indian-based teams will be on Skype in the early morning hours.

Yes doesn’t always mean yes.  A talented programmer turned in his resignation.  His reason:  He was the second oldest brother and it was his turn to move to Singapore to help his family.  He did not want to go.  Our vice president in the U.S. called him and asked him to stay.  Our employee said, "Yes."  The employee left for Singapore one week later.  This employee could not tell our high ranking VP “No” on the phone and disappoint him. 

Filters and assumptions need tossing.  Indian culture is full of beautiful traditions.  The people can be kind-hearted and hard-working.  Embrace the culture!  I congratulated my Indian colleague who announced she was getting married.  I was surprised when she told me she would meet her husband-to-be soon. Most Indian marriages are arranged. I learned to honor this tradition.  I stopped worrying when statues of Indian gods were displayed in the workplace.  I learned to enjoy my Indian company car and driver who hangs lemons from the front and back car bumpers to ward off evil spirits.

“Glo-cal” is a term used to represent the most successful companies who understand that global policies and values must be blended with local culture and norms.

Kathy Claytor is a global human capital professional.

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  1. All very true. I just got back from my first trip to Chennai a few weeks ago, and saw many of the same things.

    It’s tough to make generalizations. I came home with a better intuitive understanding of why we face many quality issues regularly. It’s difficult to express some of these points openly without coming across as offensive or unfair. Contact me offline if you want to trade notes.

  2. Kathy, what advice do you have for college students with respect to preparing to work in the world of global business? Learn a foreign language? Travel through a Study Abroad program? Study history and culture through courses? Beyond a degree, what will help a future college graduate succeed in the workplace — where ever it may be?

    I’m hosting a Twitter chat tonight about Study Abroad (Wednesday, 03/02/11, at 9PM Eastern – use #CampusChat to participate). Please join us if you can — you, too, Jim!
    Input from the “real world” always benefits the conversation. My Twitter id is @collegevisit.

  3. Kathy Claytor says:

    Hello Jim,
    Thanks for your comment! Glad you visted Chennai – being there in the culture brings a whole new perspective. I will send you an email to chat further.

  4. Kathy Claytor says:

    Hi Kelly,
    I would encourage college students to consider a study abroad program, if they can. Nothing takes the place of this first hand experience. Recent college grads who have had a study abroad experience have a beter world view and in my opinion a “leg up” in the job market. Another option for college students is to spend time getting to know classmates from other countries and cultures – this will contribute to their success.

    Your website, SmartCollegeVisit.com is a great resource for students and their parents. I will definitely join your Twitter Chat tonight – thanks for the invite!
    Kathy Claytor

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