Archive for August, 2010
|As we integrate with the rest of the world, a delicate issue that cannot be overlooked..|
Delhi Airport Terminal T3 has to be seen to be believed. It shows India has arrived.
It can handle 34 million passengers and is the world’s third largest completed terminal.
We proudly sprayed water on the first Air India flight to land at the terminal in an act of purification and blessing.
What can we Indians do to hold aloft this pride of India?
This week’s article truly shifts from the sublime to the ridiculous in its train of thought; a poem by Kipling on cross-cultural adaptation and the taboo topic of toilet use in India.
I do this deliberately to show how the unimportant things become the most important things to be got done first.
If we handle the small things with grace and patience, we could virtually move mountains.
I want to share my utter admiration for the insightful bard Rudyard Kipling whose mind was filled with India decades ago:
Father, Mother, and Me
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And everyone else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But — would you believe it?
They look upon We
As only a sort of They!
And today I find when I coach expatriates on the subject ‘Working with Indians’ that I interchangeably use “we” and “they” when referring to my own fellow Indians.
I use ‘we’ about Indians when highlighting our strengths or when stating the facts and ‘they’ when describing the challenges to be overcome.
This perspective is taken with utmost respect for our country — highlighting the positives, while downplaying although acknowledging the negatives, is a must in today’s globalised world.
And as Indians who aspire to ‘travel over the sea’ we can help figure out how to handle some of these challenges by beginning in our own country.
Let’s take a simple ‘we’ and ‘they’ principle which affects our daily work and life in this global village. The taboo topic of Indian Toilet Use. Why should we continue to be “like that only”? It is rather upsetting to hear people say that about us.
‘We’ consider water to be the ‘clean all’ element and for us wet means clean. Rural India wakes up to sprinkle water on its front steps, uses the toilet and washes out all areas around it with buckets of water to flush out bacteria. ‘They’ think of ‘dry’ as clean.
Water in toilets or split on the floor is considered messy.
Toilets in the Western world often do not have faucets or taps. Paper replaces water as a source of cleansing.
A stop at the washbasin is mandatory and includes washing with soap and water, as that washes off the millions of bacteria that may well be swarming on palms by that time.
Truth be told, the health faucet or water jets found in toilets today might be the best via media.
So long as they do not leak and are well maintained, they would reduce the use of paper and actually cleanse the body rather well.
Then we must adopt the soap and water routine to wash our hands, shaking off the droplets of water, then wiping dry.
But till this becomes the norm, if we use a public Western-style toilet in the many malls springing up in India, at restaurants, at the wonderful T3 Delhi International Airport we just inaugurated, and indeed even at our work locations, we simply have to play it by the Western rules of “dry” being clean.
The toilet has to be left the way we found it, no spots or stains in toilet BSFAW — Bowl, Seat, Floor, Around Washbasins
Let’s put our cell phones away at least when we flush, and be mentally as well as physically present and attentive.
Then we can run this BSFAW check to leave a clean room behind us.
Tips for baths when travelling abroad
Use the shower curtains that hang inside the bathtubs to prevent the surrounding floor from getting wet.
Shut shower stalls fully if there is a door.
When there is no curtain or door, it is harder, as was the case at an English home I visited recently — crouching with a hand shower then becomes necessary.
Shampooing hair means removing all traces of hair from the bath afterwards.
No one but you cleans toilets and baths — clean — make that your mantra.
And then the amazing last verse by Kipling says poignantly:
All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And everyone else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!
Patchy communication, low motivation and feelings of isolation — just some of the issues that could impact the performance of far-flung teams..
I was in the physiotherapist’s office recently and he made me do an exercise — standing on one leg and counting the seconds. I barely made it to 20. Then he asked me to repeat the exercise with my eyes closed; I barely made it to 2.
That had to do with proprioception — the sense that is responsible for maintaining equilibrium apart from telling us the optimum effort required for a particular action.
The experiment at the physiotherapist’s demonstrated our difficulty in maintaining our balance in the absence of visual cues.
Exercises help in improving proprioception. While training on a gym ball, the athlete is often asked to balance on it, and as he learns to balance on a wobbly surface, it toughens his core and strengthens his ankles, preventing injury.
This led me to think of situations in our lives when, in the absence of visual cues, we need to adjust our stand on various issues. Working on virtual teams is rather like doing without proprioception.
Today, as we conduct business across borders, we work with remote teams spread across India and the globe.
Constraints of time and resources do not allow frequent one-on-one interactions. But technology makes up for that — we use conference calls, audio and video techniques, besides e-mail to keep in touch. Hence, we are all expected to be on the same page. Easier said than done!
In this context, I present a few thoughts on how we could apply Proprioception strengthening techniques to our virtual work lives too.
Balance. As with the gym ball exercise, if we can recognise early signs that our virtual relationships are getting wobbly, we could avoid falling into verbal or written communication traps, correct our responses to suit the other, check each time for full understanding, and, thus, meet our project deadlines. Balancing our day-to-day project work while taking a long-term view of our relationship could strengthen the core of remote teams.
‘Wobble’ signs to watch out for:
Asking for a change in team members on a project
Irate customer-vendor relationships marked by shouting matches
Unsatisfactory reporting or communication of status updates
Things to look out for while working with virtual teams:
Communication problems as body language can’t be assessed: As we interact remotely, we might miss opportunities to gauge the client’s mindset. So do ask questions and find out whether you are meeting his or her expectations.
The basic insecurity among Indians prevents us from speaking up or seeking a meeting to sort out issues. We hope that things will sort themselves out and go away. So, Indians on teams, empower yourselves to seek help, escalate and report.
The expat, on the other hand, needs to ask for status updates, seek an understanding of the bigger picture, without focusing too narrowly on the bottom line alone. Help your India team meet its deadline by offering solutions that might be in your control.
Also, virtual teams in India often feel that the Westerner does not understand the infrastructure limitations under which the team operates. Clearly outlining expectations and proactively communicating delays helps a great deal.
Feeling of isolation: Remote team, whether in India or abroad, tend to feel that the overseas boss cares more about his own success than that of the team. So my advice to managers based in remote locations is — Meet your virtual teams at some point, otherwise, the members won’t feel connected.
Motivation, or the lack of it, in virtual teams is also a problem. But when feelings of isolation and communication are sorted out, motivation takes care of itself. A conscious multicultural team-building workshop, even via a webinar on both sides, is necessary and is time well spent.
Burn-out: This is difficult to spot as there’s virtually no face-to-face interaction or monitoring among teams that are in remote locations. Again, it is something that the local managers would have to watch out for and communicate to their overseas bosses.
Caution: One problem with the loss of proprioception is that the victim doesn’t realise the exact amount of effort required for an action. You might end up gripping a spoon with all your strength so that you do not drop it. Managing virtual teams presents a similar risk — you might be tempted to micro-manage, not giving your team members the flexibility and freedom essential to make outsourcing a success.
Client retention: In today’s virtual business world, client acquisition seems a do-able target as we can all connect halfway across the world and ramp up our Web sites and services. But retaining the customer seems to be the key with competition nipping at our heels. For this, we might have to use the small touches that matter.
Build trust — with quality, promptness and follow-ups.
Get regular feedback from your customers — what was right, what was wrong, additional requirements, if any.
Address their needs — celebrate your clients’ successes, share them on your Web site/ newsletter/ magazine.
Find common ground with your clients — the customer would soon become a friend, and the relationship a long-lasting one.
Technology helps with this, as we can compile detailed databases on our customers, learn about their cities, countries and companies and use this information in our dialogues to build relationships that last. Business then follows automatically.
Ask them what they love about the city and the list is endless — art and culture, Marina Beach, Amethyst and yes, Kollywood! Says Nicolas Beaumont, a French national who has been in the city for a few months now, “Chennai is a great city. All you need to do is to go out and experience it — experience the movies, the music and the culture. Go to Sathyam and watch Tamil movies. You will be surprised to find that you understand 95 per cent of what is happening on screen. Watch Madraspattinam and Raavanan. You will find yourself reading Ramayana and history of Chennai when you get back home.”
The people here, they say are extremely hospitable and friendly, especially with foreigners. German national Bernd Thommes has been here for over two years and he says, “When I moved in to Chennai, the first thing I was told was how conservative the city is. But today, I own my factory here and all my employees are from here. And I am proud to say that they are all very progressive.”
For their part, expatriates have adapted to everything that is local. The sarees, the malli poo, Carnatic music and even TVS scooty! Says Finnish national, Silva Paananen, who has been living in the city for over two years, “I was quite frustrated when I came here because I could not drive my car. I felt like my wings were clipped. And then I came across a driving school that taught me how to ride a scooty. And now I hop from one concert to other in my scooty and there is no looking back.”
Did they enjoy the local south Indian cuisine? “It is all about how you adapt your palate. Once I got used to Indian food, I was carrying chutneys back home till I settled down to my native food again,” reminisces Beaumont. Chennai is a city that has adopted us like its children they say. “It is not a city that opens itself to you. You need to be open to the city,” reflects Nicolas.
Veteran journalist and historian S Muthaiah, one of the founders of Madras Day, also shares his lively perspective. “Go out and explore the city. There is no way you can expect the city to accept you till you accept and explore it. George Town has some of the most luxurious buildings in the city. But there is no way you can reach these without getting your feet dirty and getting squashed in narrow streets down below. All these encompass Chennai and make the city the colourful mural that it is.”
Madras Week is all set to kick off on August 15 with numerous food fests, art shows, cultural events, lectures and more. And it’s not just expats but even youngsters in the city who are looking forward to a weeklong celebration of the city’s birthday!
Elegant, erudite, professional and unbelievably classy, Ranjini Manian, founder Global Adjustments, seems to be happy with the world and has all reason to be. Global Adjustments turned 15 this year and the years notwithstanding, the glowing testimonials Global Adjustments’ clients heap on them is a sure fire sign that Manian’s gamble paid off.
“A diplomat’s spouse, Joanne Grady Huskey was finding it very difficult to adjust to life in Chennai. So I helped her in adjusting, and she said that her stay here would have been impossibly difficult without my help. We then decided to do this professionally-help people from outside settle into Chennai.”
She also believes that it was also a matter of being in the right place at the right time. “This is every entrepreneur’s dream,” she says, explaining the concept behind Global Adjustments. Global Adjustments does more than just relocation services. It provides end-to-end solutions to anyone moving into the city.
Manian stresses that as good as the idea was, she never expected that it would turn out be a huge success. “We knew our idea was good. We started from my mother’s small apartment and Joanne’s old computer. Also, the timing was right for us because many multi national companies were entering Chennai. That was also the time when cell phones were introduced. In fact we started by hosting a party for St. Patrick’s Day and promised our customers free calls to their loved ones back home,” she reminisces.
Today Global Adjustments has more than 50 employees, thousands of clients from 76 countries across the globe and five offices in the country. What she finds most gratifying about the job are the friends she has made on the journey and the perception of Chennai the expats return with.
“Most of the people who move here come kicking and screaming. From the weather to the food to the infrastructure to the housing, everything is new to them. Most of them come here for a year or two maximum, but at the end of it none of them want to leave. There’s something about Chennai that is so warm and hospitable. And yes this is a business, and yes we do make revenues, but what I like about it is the lifelong relationships I have formed.”
Manian is all praise for the city that has nurtured her dream. “Yes I do wish that there are more role models in the business, which is what the city lacks, as well as the government and industry having more common ground. The public and private need to come together and work together, and give a voice to women entrepreneurs, which is something I would to be a conduit for.” But having said that she feels Chennai is one of the best places for business.
After having explained India to expatriates, she believes that the need of the hour is a renaissance of core Indian values and culture. She feels it is time to focus on the cultural quotient, CQ as she calls it.
“We already have the brains, what we need to include our CQ.” Global Adjustments is already in talks with B-schools across the country to include this as part of the curriculum to give them a necessary perspective beyond their management studies and to make cultural connections.
She is also in the process of writing her next book, Upwardly Mobile, which will be published by Penguin. The book is going to focus on what India needs to become global in a true sense. Also, it also talks about playing to our strengths and making it work to our advantage.
Despite the hectic life she leads, she maintains a balance studying Vedanata literature and spending time with family.
- My team helps expatriates overcome their initial shock and confusion when they arrive in India, and then help them settle in comfortably.
- They work specifically in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai.
- They provide various specialised services: relocation and realty consulting, cross-cultural training and social networking.
|As the interaction between Indian workers and their counterparts from abroad increases, here are a few tips to keep the relationship on an even keel..|
As India moves forward with the world, young managers from India and abroad are interacting with each other ever more frequently. It’s a learning experience for both sides as we find at coaching classes we conduct for expats and Indians.
While the work culture and expectations of the expat worker may seem strange and new to us Indians, remember, they would also find it difficult to understand our ways.
If some incident at your workplace, an action or reaction of your overseas colleague has left you feeling hurt, slighted or angry, take a moment to consider it from the other person’s point of view — chances are, no slight or slur was intended.
In this week’s article, I present a couple of scenarios which could leave one or the other party feeling alienated.
An expat manager has joined the company. The team is new to her — there are a set of direct reportees under her, and a group of people who, in turn, report to the second rung.
The manager, Angela, is keen to bond with the extended team. So she sets about systematically scheduling meetings with the members. She starts off by arranging a meeting with one of her direct reportees, and sets up another with a couple of people who report to him.
Dinesh, who reports directly to Angela, is upset. The reason: Angela has directly scheduled a meeting with Mahesh and Amir, who report to him. Angela didn’t go through him or inform him, he came to know about it only when Mahesh made a casual mention of it.
These are some of the thoughts that go round and round in Dinesh’s head: ‘Why has she scheduled a meeting with people on my team secretly, bypassing me? Is my position secure? Is she trying to find out something about me from them? What if they give her a bad report about me? Or is it that she has some prior connection with Mahesh and Amir which she doesn’t want me to know about?
Mahesh and Amir are taken by surprise too. When they realise that Dinesh isn’t going to be present at the meeting with Angela, each has a different take on the matter. Mahesh is worried. “Oh no! I must’ve goofed up on something,” is his initial reaction. Thinking it over, he becomes even more alarmed. “Whatever it is must be really serious — my immediate boss is being bypassed, and it’s gone all the way up to the US.”
Amir, on the other hand, is upbeat. “Angela has scheduled a meeting with only Mahesh and me. She must realise we’ve something special to offer. Maybe they’re going to give us some special assignment, maybe we’ll be sent to the US or to Europe … what should I pack?”
Angela picks up the unsettled vibes, and is bewildered. She mentions the situation to her mentor, an expat who has had long-term experience with India, and he immediately tells her how her casual step has set the cat among the office pigeons. He explains to her the deep-seated hierarchical system in India.
How Angela handled the situation
She immediately apologised to Dinesh, explaining to him her intentions in calling the meeting, and also the fact that going directly to Mahesh and Amir had been an oversight, caused by her unfamiliarity with Indian working protocol. She invited Dinesh to sit in on her meetings with Amir and Mahesh, and sent e-mails to all explaining the purpose of the meeting. Ruffled feathers and pounding hearts were soothed.
Sanjay, a Tier-2 manager, was sent by his Indian company as an on-site consultant to the European firm they were partnering. It was his first exposure to the work culture in the West.
He quickly settled into the cubicle allotted to him, and as far as work went, proved to be an asset. However, he found that he wasn’t getting the cooperation he expected from some of the staff.
For example, he would ask people to make photocopies of various documents for him, just as he was used to doing at home. He found the staff strangely reluctant to do this simple task. And then there was the coffee break. Sanjay was used to the office assistant back home bringing him a cup of coffee at 11 o’clock, hot, sweet and foamy, just as he liked it. But at the Europe office, when he asked for a cup of coffee he got it the first couple of times — a Styrofoam cup of vending-machine brew. Later, his requests were just plain ignored.
Sanjay felt he was getting second-class treatment, and thought of complaining about discrimination. He took up the matter with an official in HR , who happened to be an Indian. Tarun at HR explained that in the West, unless one happens to be at the very top of the ladder, everyone makes their own photocopies and fetches their own coffee — irrespective of race or colour.
Sanjay was hard to convince, but he did pay a little more attention to what was going on around him. After a couple of days, he sheepishly admitted to Tarun that he was right.
The next time Tarun saw him, it was at the coffee vending machine, enjoying a joke with the very people he had accused of cold-shouldering him!
Moral: When in Rome, or the US, the UK or wherever, do as the Romans, the Americans, the British do … When Rome, the US or the UK come to India, take a mental trip to these places before you start taking offence.
(The author is CEO of www.globaladjustments.com. She can be reached at email@example.com)
|Historical monuments, art galleries, eating out options and shopping… Russia offers something for every tourist.|
Karasho is the most useful word in Russian. It means, variously, “okay”, “good”,”understand?”, “understood” and together with Spasiba, means Thank You; these twin words always get you a smile. Russia — the world’s second most powerful country, a friend of India, a beautiful nation occupying a sixth of the world. , A week spent between Moscow and St. Petersburg spans a total of 12 centuries (Moscow is nine centuries old, St. Petersburg is three) and leaves you lost in wonder.
St. Petersburg is the biggest city when you look at those with a population of over one million It was teeming, in mid June this year, as it celebrated the White Nights, World Economic Forum and the annual Graduation ceremony of young Russians. The phenomenon of the White Nights happens during a week in June, when the sun shines bright for 21 hours of the day, and monuments come alive with floodlights for the remaining three. The World Economic Forum of course had many reports of improving our common lot and ended in a lively debate between President Medvedev of Russia and President Sarkozy of France. The place was teeming with security and VIPs. As for the Graduation ceremony, it happens on June 19 annually, when high school and college grads flood the streets in their tens of thousands, celebrating with a live music show and street carnival.
St. Petersburg or Leningrad?
The drive from Puklova airport to St. Petersburg tells you it’s a globalised world, as you pass plants of Coca Cola, Wrigley’s and Toyota. The Moscova Prospect (prospect means avenue in Russian) stretches from the airport down through the city for 12 kilometres.
Many things seem to stretch 12 kilometres here, the Hermitage or the winter home of the Czars on the banks of the Neva, a museum par excellence also spans 12 kilometres, imagine a home that big occupied by a dozen people and perhaps 200 servants! Each room fills you with amazement at the opulent vases, the malachite and lapis lazuli pillars, the ceilings with bas relief and the artefacts of splendour. The gold and diamond room are special and so are the two Leonardo da Vincis of the Madonna and Child. Donated by collectors to the national treasury, Renoir, Cezannes and Degas vie with Van Gogh, Matisse and even the current temporary display of the travelling Picasso show, including the exhibit of this Cubist artist’s rare goat sculpture titled “La Chevre”, leaving you impressed
Like our Indian cities, St. Petersburg once changed its name to Petrograd and then to Leningrad, and unlike our cities changed its name back to the original, so there is hope for us yet! The most stunning experiences for a visitor are the wondrous cathedrals and churches. Active churches in Russia move you as deeply devout followers revere the holy trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, marked by Cyrillic alphabets resembling an inverted “3”, an “O” and an “h” and the Mother of God. They cover their head with scarves, inspiring us to do the same, as they chant, sing, pray and genuflect, almost identical to the way we do our namaskar in India on bended knees, forehead touching the ground.
Museum churches are no longer active, but showcase mosaics and paintings that leave you in another kind of charmed awe, two such are the Church of the Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The former has mosaic icons of Jesus and Biblical stories embellished with 22 carat gold halos stretching from the ground, on walls and even part of the ceiling, an incredible work by artists who didn’t have any power tools.
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, is the tallest church in Russia with doorways that take your breath away as you meander through beautifully painted corridors in muted colours, reaching the inner sanctum where a choir performs live music.
Moscow’s Red Square with the awe inspiring Kremlin is best enjoyed by a walking tour, pausing now to see, here a Lenin dressed alike, there a military Bolshevik for Kodak moments. Python, monkey, iguana, and vulture — add these to get your photo taken for 300 roubles a piece. Walk through to Saint Basil’s Cathedral with its amazingly different spires, and the overall ochre, earth red, green and white facades offer a magical play of colours.
Quiet inspiration is loudly interrupted by cannon balls that fly in military honour, the changing of the guards is a not to be missed hourly event outside the Kremlin and Bosco’s cafe overlooking the Red Square offers great coffee and a terrific view. Moscow is the financial and political hub of the former Soviet Union, enough to get a buzz with a three- day visit. The streets with cafes, metros that are plush as nowhere else in the world, fast cars and sweater weather leave quite an impression.
Buy, try, see, eat
Amber stones are a must buy in hues of honey to pale yellow as they are mined in Russia and are at affordable prices. Bargaining is the norm and guides get a commission when they escort you, so live and let live. Their matrushka dolls are ubiquitous but the newer versions of the Obama family fitted one inside the other are current fun souvenirs.
Georgian food is a must try. They use coriander, chilly and spicy sauces in their cooking, familiar and appetising to the Indian palate with a naan like bread called Lavash, which turns out to be comfort food for travelling Indians! Russian breakfast porridge is a delicious version of Indian rava kanji, all restaurants offer vegetarian options and meat is served with spices that suit the Indian palate.
The Bolshoi ballet is a must see, we picked the Sleeping Beauty but Swan Lake or Romeo and Juliet would do just as well. Renting a pair of binoculars from coat check-in is well worth the close up view of the unbelievable floating movements of the artistes.
Some of the richest live in Moscow, they even have a “millionaire’s street”, their poor exist but seem hidden from tourists in these two cities. Beware of gypsies, one even came and plucked my bindi off my forehead! It didn’t stop me from returning to India from Russia with love. Moscow’s Domodevo airport and hour long immigration queues made us realise India is leaps ahead in its quality of airports and staffing efficiency – Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad or Bengaluru win hands down. That’s the second time we thought of Mr. Praful Patel, our guide Olga had told us he was the other Indian she had shown around recently.
(Thanks to Mr. James Bond for the title)