Doing business in India demands more than just risk and profitability analyses

Training & Learning


Many people approaching India from a strict production economy viewpoint and aiming only to maximize the return on their investment and the predictability of their operations will soon encounter their share of challenges.

They often have their roots in cultural miscommunication: scheduling conflicts for projects, communication challenges, even personnel issues.

However, many companies manage to succeed in India, bringing in great results from their offshoring, outsourcing and co-operation projects. And no wonder! With a consistent growth rate of 7%, having overtaken the UK’s economy and with several unique achievements like reaching Mars at their first go, India keeps on dazzling with success stories. So, what can we learn from these?

First lesson: Withhold your assumptions and focus on listening

International business experience is all that is needed to understand India and to have the necessary grounding to run operations there.”

This sort of attitude is a recipe for disaster when co-operating with Indian companies. Instead, withhold your assumptions. Indians speaking English don’t necessarily think like Westerners. Words and phrases reflect different thought patterns in different socio-cultural contexts. For example, “yes” for Indians almost always means only “I have heard you.” It does not signal a positive commitment unless explicit details are added to demonstrate that. And Indians, guided by their own thought patterns, may not notice that you are making the wrong assumptions about their positive commitment.

If you want more clarity with Indians, engage them in a dialogue. In Sanskrit, “Tat tvam Asi” means “You are it.” This is at the core of all Indian wisdom: All progress begins with yourself and not external variables. You may know something, true – but there is always more to learn. Indians speaking English don’t necessarily think like Westerners.

Reflecting on your own assumptions, ways of thinking and acting makes you more sensitive to the cultural context – and that’s the key to success when doing business in India.

Second lesson: Focus on building relationships

Many Westerners assume that focusing on rules and regulations automatically leads to processes that run as smoothly in India as in the West. However, they fail to take into account that Indians have been conditioned over millennia to constantly innovate and renegotiate the factors that impinge on their circumstances. For example:

  • Indians cannot rely totally on the electricity grid to supply them power 24/7, so they’ve learned to almost always have a low-tech backup.
  • Unlike in the West, Indian HR actively supports employees from far-off places to relocate family members like aged parents closer to them, thus achieving higher levels of employee engagement and retention than competitors.
  • When business-critical issues such as permits get stuck in bureaucracy, extended family networks often help move things forward more quickly.

Living in this sort of environment requires different skillsets and character than the standards Western people are used to. For example, a certain flexibility with scheduling, the ability to multitask, and being able to work as team at a high level are all stable parts of the Indian work mentality.

So, what does this mean for Western companies operating in India? The ability to establish and maintain beneficial relations with the right people in the right way is a vital part of success.

In Summary

The variety of life, the energy of the teeming masses, the jumble of sounds, the richness of colors and smells, and the unpredictable yet inevitable occurrences that defy all attempts to make business smooth and manageable – this is India.

Understanding the astonishing diversity of this ancient yet vibrant culture and behaving in an effective manner in multicultural business environment is a daunting challenge. Get help. Consulting with a mentor helps you reflect on ways of working, acquire the tools you need to overcome your internalized assumptions regarding culture, and learn how to co-create success when working with Indian people!

Learn more about cultural training services!