When India is the Boss: Problems Americans Face

by Brandi Moore on October 2, 2010

Indian companies are expanding into the US through purchases or by setting up wholly owned subsidiaries.  Infosys has one such office in Texas, Tata has several locations in the US including ash mines (for steel) in south and technology centers in the mid-west. Others have made investments into US corporations such as Avantha Group which owns CG Power Systems USA.

With a tight hold on the direction of the company, often multi-national corporations push the home management style at the start of an international venture.  This means that employees inside these firms that are used to American management should be prepared for different styles.  IndiaThink works with firms like this to build a bridge between management differences so Americans understand how they should interact in an Indian management culture.  This article talks about the big problems I see inside these client engagements.

The cultural differences between Indian and American business cultures is great — in almost every possible cultural preference that has been identified, India differs from the US.  These preferences play out in management style, differences chronicled in the India Way, a new book by four Wharton Professors.  These professors were convinced that the reason their student’s firms in India were successful was because they practiced American management.  They were wrong…..more about the India Way here.

One top problem generator between India and the US business cultures is Power Distance.  Power Distance is the way that cultures measure inequality.  This plays out in the work place in the relationships between managers and subordinates.  In the US,  power distance is low while in India it is high.  In India, employees report to one person and one person only.  Matrixed environments don’t work well in high power distance cultures. Because the power is great between employees and subordinates, managers are expected to assign tasks and direct employees in a specific way.  Employees take on tasks with minimal questions.

Americans typically hand out tasks and expect their subordinates to ask questions and discuss the best way to get things done.  The take in feedback from those on their team and see these questions as a sign of competence.

When Americans come to work for an Indian management structure expectations become confusing.  Americans ask questions to display their strengths.  Indian managers may see these questions as a sign of deference to authority.  Indians expect tasks to be taken on without a lot of discussion or disbursement of information.

This is just one example of the complexity of the differences between American and Indian business cultures.  There are over 18 differences between the American and Indian culture which is astounding when trying to work across cultures.  The best laid plans go no where if everyone is not clear on what is expected and why its expected.  Adaptations on both sides of the table are necessary if everyone is going to get the most out of the business relationship.

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