November 10, 2018

Lessons on Giving Feedback and Motivation to Teams in India

"Training our employees like that won't work. You have to be more strict with them. If they make a mistake, point it out! Point out their faults publicly to make them ashamed so they will improve." 
Is Money the Best Motivator?

Certainly, this has never been a popular approach for motivation and constructive criticism highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, but this HAS BEEN told to me in several companies I have partnered with through Authentic Journeys in India. I learned the hard ways that some Indians tended to apply this strategy in a corporate situation. This was certainly the case in some of the 50 companies I consulted with in India. When I say I learned the hard way, I was also treated like a local. There were a few instances I was shamed by a manager in front of the group to get their desired outcome or to change my behavior.

And, it worked. 

Yes, I changed my approach. It was not easy. I have adapted some of the Indian style and some of my American style into a unique approach. And, in a few instances, I had to learn to context switch, applying a harsher, more direct approach that I ever would in a corporate setting in the U.S. (The irony here is in most cross culture training programs it is said that Indians are indirect. While there are certainly situations that people in India are indirect, this is one exception.) I would not use this approach with Americans. NOT at all. It would not be motivating. In fact, they would be offended, and kick me out of the organization for not acting 'professional,' and, ironically, being too direct. It's this very difference that I often try to teach in US culture training programs to Indians working with US counterparts. It's a big learning curve and mindset change. Many often ask me in such sessions, "How can I possibly communicate to my Indian counterparts and US counterparts differently in the same meeting?" (They want to learn how to 'context switch.')
Indeed, a valid question. Some managers have found their own style to balance this cultural divide. In the beginning it wasn't easy. The Americans were confused hearing very direct orders to the Indian counterparts by the Indian manager, while the Indian subordinates were confused to hear the Indian manager asking the US manager (rather than using statements) to get work done. (That's because questions in some parts of India are seen as suggestions, and statements are seen as things that need to be done. While in the US, questions are seen as polite requests that will be discussed before completion, and statements are too directive and seen as rude and disrespectful. Part of the language difference is cultural, the other part could be based on the mother tongue influence.) 

Anyhow, after reading Neil's article, I have considered a few points to share with you on motivation, praise, and criticism. 

How to Motivate Indians? 
While Neil suggests individual motivators, and I would agree that motivating individuals is a way to go, we need to be careful how we do it. In Kerala, and maybe it's the communist mentality that causes this, but competition becomes higher when one is praised publicly in front of others, so typically, I praise in private, or praise someone's behavior rather than them personally or praise a group of people about something they have done. Why do I do this? Here are two examples: 

Example 1: Indian Manager Asks How to Motivate Staff
I was coaching an Indian manager with 25 plus years experience in logistics. He wanted to motivate his staff. I asked, "Could you praise individuals who have done well through achievement awards?" His response was, maybe the new generation would be privy to this, but the more experienced employees may get jealous of those who were praised, and those who get praised would come to me demanding for a raise (in his words, 'pay hike'). Then, I suggested how about praising the team for their great work as a whole, pointing out what they did well, and noting how it's improved the company's bottom line (a great tip straight out of Harvard Business review). He again wasn't happy with my suggestion. He said, "If I mention company's bottom line, they again will come to me and demand a raise as the company is doing well." In the end, he used indirect group motivators mixed with a bit of criticism to motivate the people to do better in what they lacked this time around. 

The irony here is that though India is known as a group culture and the US an individualistic one, individual motivators tend to work better in corporations in India, while group or team motivators work better in the US.  

Example 2: Prizes During Training Program

Using motivators in the training room
Learning about cross-culture models and gaps with the Lewis Model- and CANDY!
Learn more about a "Cross-Cultural Approach to Learning"
Prizes or candy is a common feature of many training programs I deliver. However, prizes must be given to everyone, not just the winner. I had a few cases where I gave prizes out only to individual winners or winning teams and did not give anything to the non-winners, and got bad feedback on my evaluation. Well, I did a good job delivering the training, but on the feedback form it would say, "Some team members got a prize or candy, but I did not." Leaving a group with a feeling of 'not liking a person' is not good to do in India. The relationship (liking) is more important than the task in many cases (as seen through a Western lens). So, the main thing is we need to leave the group feeling good. If they feel good, they will learn more, and give good feedback. In the US, this affinity principle is not so overt. People really don't "care" if they like the trainer, they will worry more about the delivery of the training or the quality of the information (not that is not important in India, but it's valued differently than the relationship). So, due to this, I bring prizes or candy for everyone in many sessions where we play games. Winners may get a slightly bigger candy bar than the runners up, but everyone will get something. If I give one thing to one person, I have to be ready to give it to everyone. 

Interestingly, again in the US, there is not a value put on this in a professional environment. 

Using Time As A Motivator 
In this article, an American manager tries to motivate her Indian team by saying "If we finish this now and get this stressful part over now, we can relax later." I doubt this approach would work with many in India. This phrase on it's own shows the US or Western approach toward time (that it's linear) and destiny or self-determination (we can control the future). Both, not really popular or understood ideas in India. Plus, with the way time shifts from moment to moment in India, people may not trust in this approach. 

Frankly, after living in India for four years, I would not believe this either! Though, if used in the US, I would believe it. 

Public Praise 
Public praise doesn't work the same in India, surely not in Kerala. Public praise may get people suspicious. Public praise to one person will make that one person often demand a raise, and the others will be jealous and competitive (as in the above example). Public praise that the team or company is doing well (especially financially) will not employees motivate to work harder in most cases, but again be a reason to demand a raise (the thought - if the company is doing so well, it has profits, we must share the wealth). I'm not sure if this stems from the communist ideals in Kerala. (My guess as an outsider looking in. Feel free to comment, if I have misunderstood.) 

Since originally writing this in 2015, I have heard a few more stories like this from other parts of India. For example, in a central Indian based MNC, during a town hall when the manager mentioned the company's growth, one of the 1,000 attendees stood up during the question session and said, "I heard it mentioned that the company's growth is much better than expected. When will see this reflected in our pay?" 

Delivering Criticism 
I have actually seen that in some teams criticism done publicly motivates the team because they don't want to be shamed. But, rather than criticize an individual, criticize a group. However, I have seen individuals criticized, too (as in the example I started this article with, where I was publicly criticized). I think the idea is, "See the manager's job is to make us better, and if we are good, there's no point in giving feedback, only when we do bad he needs to point it out. That's his job." People may be motivated by fixing their mistakes rather than pointing out the positives and building off of those (anyhow this approach does take creativity). This approach also stems from the education system as a whole. Many teachers and parents in India motivate by pointing out mistakes or areas for improvement or where to make up lost marks, and not the positive aspects. These differences are overacted on many YouTube videos where Indians have recreated scenes of how Americans parents respond to "bad" grades compared to Indian parents. 

And, if you are an American in India and publicly criticized, It is very possible you will be humiliated, offended, and think it's not professional. Whatever you do, DO NOT talk back. Just take it. Just nod and say "ha" or "yes" in typical Indian style (where "yes" doesn't mean "I agree" but "I am listening.") Maybe later, depending on the manager, you could speak to him or her individually. Just do not ever talk back in front of the group. You will lose face, and the respect of your other team members. I have also learned this the hard way.

Please share any other tips or contradictions to these points in the comments below. Thank you. 

This blog post is based on The True Secret to Motivating Indian Teams, a recent article by Neil Miller an American expat living in Chennai. After reading his post, I became motivated myself to share some feedback based on his observations. 

Author Jennifer Kumar is an American citizen who has lived as an expat in India twice for a total of 10 years. Six and a half of those ten years she spent running her own business in India providing business consulting, cross-culture training, and virtual team coaching. Based in Salt Lake City, she is also looking to work with your US based company to bridge the culture gaps to improve relationships, workflow and ROI. Contact us today. 

Related Posts: 

Diplomatic Way To Say Someone's Wrong in English 
Delivering "Improvement Tips" (Bad Feedback) Positively 
Motivation Across Cultures  

Articles in the series "How to train in India":

October 28, 2018

4 Ways to Encourage Offshore Indian Teams to Participate in Meetings

4 Ways to Encourage Offshore Indian Teams to Participate in Meetings American counterparts and clients often voice frustration that the Indian offshore developers do not speak up. For teams following scrum, daily stand up meetings can help resolve some of these problems. But, for those not using stand up meetings or relying on other kinds of meetings and group discussions to foster discussion, it still may seem the Indian counterparts are mum. While this may frustrate you and make you wonder if they can actually talk about their work confidently, there are some tips you can apply to help encourage discussions. 

Insist on Meeting Agendas 
Insist offshore Indian software teams to have meeting agendas that incorporate key players into the agenda. While an agenda can help keep things from going overtime, in some teams when agendas are first established, the head honcho is the only one talking, while the developers stay mum. While some of this can be attributed to the differences in management hierarchy in India, some can be resolved by insisting on an agenda that calls out specific topics, and against each topic the person who is actually doing that task has to talk (not their manager). 
See our workshop on Effective Meeting Management

Move to One-on-Ones 
If group meetings do not work, try one-on-one meetings. While I know you have only so many hours in a day, and adding one-on-ones can sound tedious, the good news about one-on-ones is that they can be in shorter duration than full-length meetings. The one-on-one could be scheduled with only the person doing the task, not the entire team or the management. In some cases, I have seen with those weaker in English conversation start out with IM or chat meetings then work up to phone calls.

Use IM or Chat 
Quick pings can help get the attention and response from offshore
Do you have only one question or a short message to deliver? Try IMing the person in question. Sometimes these short interactions could build rapport and build confidence to phone conversations. While sticking to work related questions may come by default, maybe having a short small talk conversation about the team member's weekend or a recent holiday that passed can help to break the ice. Or, just ping your colleague to say "Hi" or "Good day." 

Talk in Plain English 
This maybe the most tricky of all, because for this to happen the awareness and onus has to fall on onshore native speakers of English. Remember that while offshore team members have a wide range of fluency, it is still a good bet that even the most fluent may not always understand American idioms in conversation, and how to respond. In some cases, the idiomatic responses get lost in translation and can cost time or money in project work. In other cases, it just so happens that your offshore team are too busy trying to translate idioms in their head to their local language and back to English again to try to get the meaning, and are just at a loss for words. It's important for onsite native English speakers to be aware of their word use and if normally talkative offshore team members are suddenly mum, take inventory of what was just said. Was an idiom or phrasal verb used? Something as ordinary as saying, "Looks like Ram is MIA." could be answered with silence while the team tries to figure out what MIA means! As native speakers, it's often challenging to identify when an idiom or phrasal verb is said, but after the first two or three times the silence is noticed, try again to repeat what was just said in different words (plain English). As idioms are quite poetic, it can be challenging, but this will help offshore understand easier. 

Are you an American working with Canadians, Australians or British nationals? Don't assume that they know American idioms or phrases! While some of the same phrases may cross borders, they may or may not have the same meaning. For example, I (an American) was once talking to my British counterpart who said, "That's going straight to the skip." I had no idea what skip meant as skip means a kind of hop in America which suddenly made no sense to me. I did speak up and ask what skip meant, and found out it meant 'dump.' But, as my British counterpart did not use the word 'dump,' we both had to use plain English to say, "the public place where garbage is thrown."

Indian offshore teams may not always be so bold to ask about a particular word or phrase, so it may be up to you to be aware of phrases and idioms to rephrase for clearer communication. 

Jennifer Kumar, helps you to identify culture and communication problems on your global team. We can work together to improve your team's workflow and day to day functioning.  Contact us for more information today. 

October 20, 2018

How to Use English to Build Respect with US Clients

Using the 'active voice' communicates ownership
"His American client doesn't think he takes initiative or ownership, but he does all of his work!"  

This is a typical complaint many clients and their managers bring to me to resolve during coaching sessions. Though many behaviors and communication tactics can be used to demonstrate initiative and ownership, I will isolate one commonly seen in the Indian English communication style- the preference of PASSIVE VOICE over ACTIVE VOICE.  

One reason passive voice is favored in India is due directly related to the Mother Tongue Influence (MTI). In this case, MTI refers to the cultural use of local languages that favor automatic use of the passive voice (as it tends to be more indirect, a softer tone, especially for a 'subordinate' talking to a 'superior,' clients already have the assumed status of 'superior' in many cases). Using passive voice in India works well most of the time, as it can communicate deference and respect. Often among Americans, the passive voice can express a lack of taking ownership, not getting to the point, and not taking initiative and responsibility. Similarly, the over use of the passive voice doesn't build trust. It is common knowledge in the US that people who over use the passive voice, such as lawyers and politicians, are often thought of as being untrustworthy.

There is a clear communication and cultural gap here.

Yes, in learning how to change from one style (known by interculturalists as code switching) to the other, many headaches happen. These are two very different styles of communication and thought.

Here are some examples of passive vs. active voice:

October 12, 2018

Managing Teams in More than One City in India

Are you remotely managing co-located, virtual offshore teams in different parts of India? Understanding Indian cultural diversity and work culture will help you to manage your teams more effectively.  

Different Languages 

business and education is generally conducted in English, each state in India has its own language. Different languages have different scripts. Managers will quickly understand there is no language called “Indian” when they encounter a bouquet of languages – Tamil. Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi and countless others. Managers who manage diverse teams in different metros will notice social groups and cliques form for lunch and after work. If one studies these groups closely at times it becomes obvious people break into groups based on their language background; and will be talking in their local language on their down time and not English. This is one reason many onboarding programs have a soft-skills module on speaking English in the office. The module's main goal is not to necessarily improve English skills but to highlight to the team that speaking English in common areas helps everyone feel more comfortable to mingle and break into group discussions in pantries, break rooms and during lunch. Such onboarding training modules appear to have more long term success in corporations in larger metros with a more diverse employee base like Bangalore and Mumbai. Similar modules have also be tailored for the virtual teams preparing for their expat assignments to the U.S.

Different Holidays 

India is truly diverse and inclusive in its observance of holidays. There are government holidays, national holidays, regional holidays and holidays for various religions (Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhist, Jain, etc.). Depending on the area, the holiday schedule may vary slightly. If you manage teams in different states, keep a holiday calendar for the two areas. Even the same companies will observe different holidays based on the various regions they are located in. 

Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director of Authentic
Journeys, celebrating Onam in Infopark, Kerala.

A few examples of this would be:
  • Kerala celebrates Onam in late August / early September. This is not celebrated in other parts of India. 
  • Birthday of Lord Krishna is celebrated for two days in some parts of North India, and for only one day in some areas of South India. Some in South India may celebrate Krishna's birthday on a totally different day than the rest of India, as well. 
  • Diwali the major holiday of a majority of India may not be observed in Kerala.
  • Sometimes holidays are scheduled, but changed the day before due to wrong sun or moon calendar calculations (case in point with Eid this year, which had it’s actual celebration the day after the officially stated day). 
Unlike in the U.S. where holiday events at work are typically subdued or small in scale and scope, in the parts of India I worked in holiday celebrations at work were taken seriously with a wide variety of holiday themed cultural events, competitions, games, and more. A serious mistake an American starting an offshore team in India could make is to limit holiday celebrations in the office. 

To get an example of some of these celebrations, see the following posts of holiday events I have attended at some of my client sites: 
Onam Celebrations at Litmus7 
Pookkalam (flower carpet) competition amongst companies in GeoInfopark, Kerala 
Christmas Competitions at UST Global 
Onam Activities in Infopark, Kakkanad
Celebrating Onam in NRITBI (where Authentic Journeys office is in India) 
Watching Thiruvathira Dance for Onam, Arbitron, 2012

Different Cultures
India's multi-cultural diversity of India is not limited to languages, holidays, and religions. From area to area, you will encounter very different tastes of food, different styles of dress, different dialects (accents and slangs), different attitudes, different family observances and traditions. Family is a major part of life in India and work life and family life balance take on a different aspect in India than in the West. Managers are known to help employees with transportation and even work around challenging family issues that prevent people from working to keep employees on the team. Managers are particularly sensitive to the safety and transportation issues of females, even in big, cosmopolitan cities like Bangalore. Be aware as a Western manager or employee if you are a female, take precautions for your safety. Ask locals for tips to stay safe.

Strikes and Bandhs 

Bandh means ‘closed’ in Hindi and is used all over India to indicate a ‘strike.' (Hartal is the word more commonly used in Kerala, where the language is Malayalam, pictured above.)  Strikes are very common in some areas of India for social and political issues. If a strike is called in one area of India, it may not be called in another part of India. Teams may work in one part of India and not in another. Generally, when a strike happens; people do not go out. They may work from home, if that is allowed by the company. However, generally people do not do work or go to school or college on strike days and people stay home. Roads become deserted and people only go out in extreme emergency because there is a chance that fights erupt or people’s cars can get stoned. Depending on the nature and length of the strike, electricity and other utilities can be affected. People generally go out the day before the strike to buy their groceries to avoid going out on the day of the strike. I have shared some of my thoughts on going to work in Bangalore and Kochi during strike days, and my general observations in regards to strikes, here.

Investing time in educating yourself and the US team members on the diverse cultural and safety implications in the various parts of India before sending your managers or employees to set up an office in India is critical. Be especially sensitive to the needs of female employees; helping them realize that based on the area of India, it’s best to be reminded they are not in their native country, but in India where rules are different and attitudes toward women’s safety are different. Maintain a safety plan for your employees in case of any eventuality. Stay safe and all the best with your business ventures in India.

Jennifer Kumar helps your co-located, global teams to bridge the cultural gap to improve communication and productivity. We can work with you to bridge and build your cultural awareness about India to work more effectively with Indians and south Asians.

Related Posts: 

Why Some Indian Holidays Change at the Last Minute
Outsourced to India - Cultural tips and Considerations on Accommodations.
Tips for adjusting to life in India as a foreigner

Originally posted Oct. 4, 2018, Updated Oct. 2018
Picture credits: India map: from India Languages page on Wikipedia, Indian language scripts: 

October 6, 2018

A Dozen Conversation Connectors in English

Do you ever feel your English is dry? The sentences you say seem disconnected or disjointed? Unable to connect your thoughts with phrases that continue the the conversation in a fluid way? 

Let's take a look at some common conversation connectors in English. These are common in American English, but most may be universal if not idiomatic.
    12 Conversation Connectors in English
  1. I'm not joking when I say 
  2. ...and that goes for (......) as well 
  3. like i said.... 
  4. and to make matters worse.... 
  5. That's a great question 
  6. That's a great point 
  7. having said that.... 
  8. I think you'd agree with me when I say... 
  9. I hate to say it but... 
  10. it goes without saying... 
  11. getting back to the topic at hand 
  12. as a disclaimer  
In future posts, I'll share examples of how to use each phrase. As the list builds, I'll link examples from this post. 

Feel free to share examples of other conversational connectors you use, or examples of how you have used these in the context of some other conversation. 

As a fun fact, the image in this post is a road sign for route 12 in Utah, one of the most scenic routes in the US. If you have ever heard of Bryce Canyon National Park or Kodachrome Basin State Park, these are at the southern end of the route, while Capitol Reef National Park is at the northern end. The photos below are from the author's travels on byway 12, one of the most inspirational landscapes! 

Driving through Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Driving through Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Scenes of Scenic Byway 12, Utah
Scenes of Scenic Byway 12, Utah
Camping in Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah
Camping in Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah

Jennifer Kumar, Author, cycling on byway 12 near Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Jennifer Kumar, Author, cycling on byway 12
near Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Having said that, let's wrap up this post! Until next time, connect, connect, connect!

Jennifer Kumar, author builds cultural context on virtual teams. Jennifer is in Utah. If your team is working with Utahns or Utah based companies, let us be your bridge. Or, if you are visiting Utah and want help with fun, off the beaten path kind of things to do, we can help with that, too! Contact us for to see how we can work together. 

Related Posts: 
More idioms and phrases said by Americans 
Making Small Talk with Americans  
Sound Confident in English 

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.