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Why India Lags Behind on the Corporate Front.

  • bijesh kumar
  • July 25, 2015
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Amalgamating western work culture with Indian customs – Is it acceptable, or even possible.

I have been working in an IT MNC for the past 2 years dealing primarily with Japanese clients. Mostly, the same monotonous life every day, occasionally perturbed by client visits. As a part of our employee exchange program we had a member of our Japanese office come and work with us in India for three months. Within a week or two we became friends and used to hang out together. One day, due to some pending work I reached my office at 9:15 A.M (the official time is 9:00 A.M) only to find him and two others diligently working on their respective computers – a thing that would have probably gone unnoticed had he not uttered, though informally, “Hey, you are pretty early today!” .Though unintended, that statement made me question my commitment towards the work which I was doing. Was I willing to push myself such that my work would be consequential to my employer? , or, a better question would be, did I have what it took to be really good in my work?

We, as middle class Indians, do have lots of generalizations about the west and its ethics that have promulgated from it to India. A prominent one being that the west and its ideals are centered wholly around materialism. And that material pleasures can buy one nothing but temporary happiness. A profound thought, profound since that’s what we Indians like to call it, bolstered especially by the recent rejuvenation of right winged nationalism in our country, is that the future belongs to the east and its ideals. That true happiness lies not in worldly manifestations but is rather ingrained in oneself and one only needs to look inside him or her to find it. And that to find peace one must practice detachment from all the sufferings of the world.

But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t accept this thought at the face value. The very fact that I am writing this article on a laptop in a room that is air-conditioned, both which are the products of the west, made me question my beliefs.  Why is it that the west, in spite of acknowledging the importance of eastern way of life lately, is years ahead of us in almost everything? Why does it appear that people here in India, the so called spiritual intellectuals, can do nothing but only talk and complain? And at times seek solace in claiming that India is morally far superior to the west. Why is it that Yoga and Ayurveda, sciences from our ancient past that had seemingly died out, experienced a renewed interest in India only after it was propagated and widely accepted in the west?

V. S. Naipaul, the literature Nobel laureate, in his book India: A wounded civilization has sought to provide some insight into this spiritual dilemma. He provides many cases, one of them being that of conventional government officials, often called babus, who, as if ingrained in their genome, have only two aims in their profession – doing the least amount of possible work and extracting the maximum amount of possible benefits. This, if you are even slightly aware of the working of Indian bureaucracy, would certainly concur with. This attitude, though much pronounced in bureaucracy, extends easily to the corporate sector. Naipaul argues that this indifference – though it can be easily misunderstood with the one taught in the holy texts, which it is not, is actually the result of years of subjugation and frequent changes in central leadership that India has witnessed over the years. Hardly ever, after the fall of Gupta Empire, the Golden Age of Indian culture lasting from 320CE to 550CE, had India had a stable government. With such frequent changes of central leadership, especially after the arrival of Muhammad Ghori, people rarely had time to pursue art, science and technology and were occupied in trying to make both their ends meet and saving whatever they had should another leader came in lieu of the present one. It had literally been the Dark Ages for the Indian civilization till, perhaps, the arrival of Mughals, who did provide some sort of stability in leadership.

This indifference, or so called ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude, as common it is with fellow citizens or for that matter public places, can be observed in Indian work ethics too – something that is disrespected throughout the world. Let’s not talk about big multinational corporations, the people there are astute enough in the job of hiring the right person. Those that concern me are the rest, maybe 70%, of the corporate working population. I have been working in an Indian IT MNC for quite some time and have come across certain attitudes of coworkers that paint a very horrid picture of India’s vibrant future. Why is it taken for granted that no matter what the work, how far or near the deadline, all work would be and should be completed an hour prior it?

A common problem faced by many project managers here is the sheer lack of involvement of professionals with the project. The person who has the least commitment towards his work is considered to be uber-cool by the Gen X & Gen Y. It seems that people just want to procrastinate whatever work or duties that are allotted to them by providing all kinds of excuses – meagre salaries, not being allotted challenging work, incompetent leadership and so on. There are C grade players as well as A grade ones everywhere else in the world, but it shows when one is not earnest to one’s work. And this attitude transcends to his or her daily social life as well.

People here seek to find meaning in the most grandiose of works and severely disregard any work that is, for them, menial. Why is it that we Indians, to a much greater extent than our fellow humans from other developed countries, need constant approval from our colleagues without which we simply cannot push ourselves further?

Naipaul further argues in his book that it is the underdeveloped ego of the Indians that causes them to classify themselves as a part of one big family, where everything is codified and hierarchical and where the responsibilities lie with the eldest in the family and his are the decisions to be made and executed. Others, no matter what their take, are to blindly follow his decisions it as if it were a gospel, the rejection of which could be tantamount to heresy.

On a deeper analysis we can find this attitude rooted deep in our professional life. We do follow western work culture – highly centered on the individual, but refuse to give up the mindset of treating ourselves as a part of one big family. Evidently, we constantly seek approval from the rest of our colleagues for all kinds of decisions and have a tendency of refraining ourselves from taking critical decisions, relying, though subconsciously, on our seniors. Our ego feeds from the approval of other people and our families – one of the characteristics of a non-individualistic society. But, what we require right now is quite the contrary.

India has, historically, been an agricultural economy. Even today almost 60 % of the population resides in the villages, dependent on agriculture as their major source of income. The society, hence, is tuned to enhance the agricultural productivity – large joint families for carrying out the sowing and reaping work manually; hierarchy, with the eldest to dictate, capitalizing on his rich and diverse experience, when the season is most ripe for carrying out necessary agricultural activities, and not enough incentive for innovation since nobody ever had neither has nor will have enough resources to create something innovative in an agricultural economy attuned to a great extent for mere subsistence, not to mention the social stigma of going against the elders. No need for punctuality since time discipline is required only when sowing and reaping needs to be done. This concept of punctuality, better known by the term ‘Indian Standard Time’ is a subject of much ridicule – especially among foreign conglomerates. In fact Robert Levine in his book ‘A Geography of Time’ has illustrated that the perception of punctuality in any culture bears a direct correlation with its economic prowess. Punctuality is one of the main reasons why economies like the U.S, Japan and Germany have always been the leaders of world economy.

The truth is that we can never surpass the west in their own game with their own set of rules – rules which we have manipulated in such a way that we have imbibed only those ideas that are easy on us and ignored, to a great extent, those which can take a toll on our emotional wellbeing.

However, there is a catch. You might be well aware of the fact that Indians are taking the global stage by a storm. Indira Nooyi – PepsiCo, Rakesh Kapoor – Reckitt Benckiser are only a few in a long list of Indians who have made it big on the corporate front. In fact the median salary for Asians in the U.S is about 865$, which easily outpaces the median salary of White Americans which is about 757$.

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(source Wikipedia).

The reason being that Hinduism as a culture is quite inclusive. With no set of hardcoded rules and laws that have to be followed it becomes quite easy for Hindus, with an open mindset, to mingle with different cultures. Those belonging to Gen X and Y and who are first generation rich, with the right priorities and mindset, are able to appreciate the value of hard work and money to a much greater extent and are able to push themselves much harder than their western counterparts and are perhaps the reason behind India’s exponential rise in the recent decades.

Days of an agriculture based economy are long gone. Agriculture, today, contributes no more than 15% of GDP. We are living in a society that is increasingly becoming anachronistic. Unfortunately, if any good has to come of this country, if it is to become a manufacturing and technology hub, it must be in the next ten to twenty years – the stipulated time in which the rich demographic dividend of the country would pay off, which if not utilized properly would only become a liability, a humongous one, and judging by the prevailing attitude of people achieving full potential seems a gargantuan task. To cope up with industrialization, that is, if we really want to excel industrially, we need to let go of these old structures and shackles for they will serve us nothing other than holding us back.

Rahul Bahadur

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