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Expats court experts to juggle Indian culture

Western executives on first-time postings in India are increasingly opting for “cross-cultural training classes” to make their learning curve less steep, reports Zia Haq.

business Updated: Oct 20, 2007 00:48 IST
Zia Haq

Dan Leonard, the Asia-Pacific director of multinational IT firm Perot Solutions, has a song from the movie Bas Ek Pal for a caller tune. It may not have anything to do with the “cross-cultural training” he had soon after moving to India, but the guidance gave him an insight into Indian culture he badly needed.

Foreign, usually Western, executives on first-time postings in India are increasingly opting for “cross-cultural training classes” to make their learning curve less steep. A little learning is not always dangerous after all.

Global firms are recommending such classes for their employees to bridge differences between “home and host country” and absorb culture shocks as they work in the economy considered to be the hottest after China.

“The most crucial lesson was time management. Time is less rigid here. I had to accept that it’s normal to turn up a little late. It’s a cultural norm rather than a personal one,” said Leonard, who hails from North Carolina, US.

For many, the “Indian concept of time” is an interesting discovery. Michael T. McKenna, director (worldwide procurement) of Pfizer who shifted to New Delhi this year, says: “Cultural exposure upfront helps make the experience less frustrating. Now I know that traffic is a challenge here and people may be late.”

Companies like McKenna’s Pfizer have outsourced “cultural sensitisation programmes” to niche expatriate firms like the Delhi-based IKAN, which charges anything between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh for a session. “Our courses help expatriates understand the dimensions of culture,” said IKAN chief Rohit Kumar, whose firm has trained over 100 employees of multinational firms at various levels.

Many foreigners have themselves turned cultural training for expatriates into a career. Holger Siemons, a German PhD Scholar with Delhi’s Faculty of Management Studies, trains expatriates on how to juggle “different cultures”.

“Clients are taught to put cultural practices in perspective,” Holger said. For example, he tells “noise-sensitive German clients” that in India, they must learn to “appreciate the vibrant noises from different sources all the time”.

Christina Janssen, who runs her own training firm in Delhi’s Sunder Nagar, said: “Cultural training smoothens out rough edges.”