What is Time Orientation?

by Brandi Moore on October 31, 2006

Time orientation of a culture reflects a preference toward past, present, or future thinking. It effects how a culture values time and believes they can control it.

American culture values focus on the future.  This is the result of many things including the short time our country has been inexistance and the short time most have been members of our country.  There is no long term commitment of being say French with thousands of years of history.  Most Americans have been in the US for a short time.

Our orientation and culture create the psychological need for shorter commitments. This speed in business has increased with a absolute focus on quarterly profits inside most large organizations.

Most decisions are based on results rather than relationships.  In cultures like India where relationships matter, longer term orientation abounds.

Americans believe that time is money and that its perishable…it must be used or it will be wasted.

In America belief that our future is controlled also contributes to our shorter perspective on time.  Americans believe devoting large amounts of energy to our future will create a desired result.  Future planning is mandatory in America.  How can you sit around and not plan when you control your destiny is the thinking behind this.  In American culture you are lazy if you waste time and don’t plan for the future.

In stark contrast, India is oriented toward the past.  This causes India to be focused on traditions and long term commitments.  Many reasons for time orientation preferences in India exist.  One in particular is the belief in time sequencing laid out by Hindu traditions.  Today India is said to be experiencing a time called Kali which is fraught with evil.  I recently visited a temple in India made of solid gold entirely devoted to helping people adjust to the terrible time of Kali.  Kali is believed to be fraught with evil and filled with decline when compared to the previous time periods.

Because of this belief – that the timing of existance is unfortunate as times were better in the past – India leans on past traditions for inspiration and comfort.

Because Hindus believe life is an ongoing cycle or they believe in reincarnation, the need to do more than good during existing lives is a secondary focus.  Life is an ongoing cycle where influences from the past explain the current situation and the present is only a result of past action and can not be controlled.

Its difficult to emphasize the impact of these differences—-the American culture believing the future must be controlled and India’s culture believing the future has already been designed by past action.

Time orientation creates many problems in India and US business relationships.  Some examples are as follows:

Time orientation causes India to deliver projects late:

US managers complain; “no communication was sent regarding deadline risks” when their projects begin to slip on deadlines.  Its critical to establish a clear set of deadlines for a project with milestones along the way to insure each is accomplished.

Time orientation causes India to miss-understanding of the importance of time:

Checking in on Indian teams and proactively ask for draft work engage them in your need for time management. Requiring status reports on each objective is another technique.

Time orientation causes India to miss specific timed activities like meetings:

Call, write and call and write again. Repeat.  Get constant confirmation that your schedule is their schedule.  Your training class will happen at 5pm.  Your car will arrive at 3pm.

Americans should understand time orientation and make schedule adjustemtents:

Not as depressing as it sounds!  Create a schedule that allows time for tardiness and flexibility for changes if your car fails to arrive.  I suggest planning to spend extra days in India-drastic?  Not when things fall behind and you are suddenly on a long flight home without any accomplishments.

Want to know more about time? Check out our free webinar at http://theglobalmanager.com/meeting-deadlines-in-india-webinar/


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