Helping the U.S. and India Work Together
During a recent visit to Chennai, I had the opportunity to interview Ranjini Manian, the author of Doing Business in India for Dummies. Although her book may have been titled "for dummies," she didn't strike me as dummy herself! She had fascinating suggestions for Americans doing business in India—and for Indians doing business with Americans. Here are edited excerpts of a recent conversation:
MG: How did you end up authoring such a quintessentially American title as Doing business in India for Dummies?
RM: I have run a company called Global Adjustments for the past 13 years. In this role I have acted as a catalyst for those coming to do business in India. This is how our publisher, Wiley, came to know me.
In my work I have the opportunity to work with a who's who of business leaders. I have firsthand knowledge of what works—and what doesn't. This gave me access to practical knowledge that may not be taught at B-school. I also had a strong research team that helped the book come alive with useful nuggets on many topics.
So what does your company, Global Adjustments, do?
Global Adjustments is an end-to-end expatriate-services company offering a range of relocation and cross-cultural services. We also publish India's only expatriate cultural monthly magazine called At a Glance—Understanding India. We have worked in easing the passage to and from India with expatriates from 74 countries. Headquartered in Chennai, we have offices in all six major cities in India: Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, and Delhi, and of course, Chennai.
Before we continue chatting, can I offer you some south Indian coffee? Or maybe some Darjeeling tea?
Why do Indians insist on food and drink? I love it myself, but just wondered.
Indians' perception of hospitality is a bit different from where you come from. Food is synonymous with guest relations…offering, cajoling, and even insisting are all signs of respecting a guest in India, and business relationships are built by this. So here is a tip: If you are interested in doing business in India, set time aside to have tea and biscuits with us first.
You have told me that you believe individuals work better in teams in India. Why do you feel that this is true?
You know, Marshall, it is part of our child-rearing habits…We [have] this collective culture and upbringing. The good news is that we lay a lot of stress on collectivism, and therefore we work very well in teams—and can be super flexible and accommodating. And that is maybe why we have such brilliant software engineers who adapt to last-minute changes.
Ranjini, as an executive coach, I know appropriate assertiveness can be a key to successful leadership. In the States, I am almost never asked to help an executive become more assertive. Yet in India this is not an uncommon request. Why might some Indian leaders need to become more assertive?
It is true, Marshall, the flip side of our peace-loving and relationship-oriented nature is that we may not be assertive enough. We may need to be taught to set goals, be able to say no politely, be solution-oriented, communicate succinctly and clearly, and even negotiate our own needs while keeping project deadlines.
That is why I am working at building an Interactive Global Adjustments Academy, and part of my challenge is teaching Indian leaders when to be assertive. Many of our academic institutions are so focused on technical issues that they don't teach some practical interaction skills that may be needed by our future leaders.
What is the basis of Hinduism? Do you literally believe that there was a little blue man called Krishna?
Krishna is the belief in an idea and a God, both at one time. If the belief of America and the idea of the very nation can be evoked on a simple flag of stars and stripes, then why not the idea of an eternal, all-pervading consciousness that unifies us all in a blue idol? The color of things all-pervading and endless—like the sky and ocean— are blue! It is the oneness that is important, not the name, form or color at the end of the day.
That makes sense to me. Can you share some facts about India that may surprise our readers?
Sure, we invented the zero, without which the world wouldn't have had computer codes. India is booming and has a growth rate of 9%, and our people balance materialism with inner wellness.
You tell me that your training on soft skills can actually produce hard results?
Absolutely, Marshall! For example, we coached our American insurance client's 600-member Indian team on the ability to say "no, I need more time, I won't be able to deliver the report on X date." This was a superb illustration of how they retained their U.S. customers. The differentiator was that we had driven home the point that Americans need to hear the word "no," if that is what the Indian intends. Any number of the usual Indian tactics such as understating, changing the subject, or saying "I will try" didn't communicate "no" to an American—although they might have to another Indian.
The customer expectation needed to be communicated in a way that American consumers could understand. Teaching Indian representatives to do this increased customer satisfaction and retention.
You can contact Ranjini Manian at Ranjini@GlobalAdjustments.com.
If you are from India and work with Westerners, or if you are from the West and work with Indians, I would love to hear your reflections and suggestions! E-mail me at Marshall@marshallgoldsmith.com.