Mala Subramaniam's Blog

Mala Subramaniam's Blog

My thoughts about leadership, communications and career development

Influence of Culture

Culture plays a significant role in our responses in business, and heavily influences today’s global economy. Embracing the role played by culture avoids costly misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Corporate America is now realizing that it is time to learn more about the outsourcing partners that support their IT and other critical functions. A leading IT analyst firm predicts that shipping work offshore will be discussed in more than 80% of U.S. executive boardrooms by next year. Let us look at an excerpt from a recent Ad posted by a major financial and investment firm.

Director, Market Insights and Competitive Intelligence

The Director, Market Insights will be responsible for monitoring and developing an understanding of market trends and events among a competitor set, leveraging both internal and external contacts to gather the best and most current intelligence available (partnering with a team in India), and engaging in delivery of insights to internal customers. Experience in managing/ collaborating with offshore employees a plus.

Today, not only are we asking our staff to manage people and activities here, we are asking them to understand, partner with and manage those from and within faraway locations. The importance of knowing how to manage cultural differences in cases like this is paramount.

To understand how culture influences business, we must first understand what “culture” is. Culture is the full range of learned human behavior patterns. According to English Anthropologist Edward B. Tylor in his book, Primitive Culture, it is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Of course, “culture” is all in the mind.

The Elephant in the Circus

To help illustrate the point of culture being mind over matter, think of the story of the elephant in the circus. Have you ever wondered why in a circus, a huge elephant can remain tied to a pole with a small rope and does not escape? As a baby, the elephant was tied to the pole with the same type of rope. Naturally, the elephant tried to escape, but try as it did; the rope and the pole were too strong for it. So, it eventually gave up. Later as an adult, the elephant was still trained to believe that it could not escape from the rope, and remained standing in the same place, never even trying to break loose.

People leave their country, but their country doesn’t leave them. Patterns of behavior remain strong in their minds. They too don’t break loose easily.

As an Asian Indian, I found it hard to leave behind some of my ways. It took time to stop addressing my boss as, “Sir,” or rising from my chair when the department VP passed by, and it took me longer to speak up in meetings in the presence of my managers.

Hospitality is second nature to Indians, who would find it hard to say, “I’m busy now,” to a surprise visitor. Many a times, I have been late for events or appointments because of unexpected guests and my compulsion to offer them some tea or biscuits, and a little something for them to take home.

By factoring in these cultural patterns in business communications, your end-result will improve. Of course, since it is all in the mind, time and new environments will replace old habits with new.

So just how do you influence your staff to understand and properly respond to cultural differences in the workplace, and ultimately improve business results? Proper training is the key.

Training Sessions that Target Cultural Interdependency

Since 2007, MKTinsite’s Mala Subramaniam has traveled the country delivering lectures on multicultural communications based on her experience as an Asian Indian professional in influential positions in corporate America. Her sessions are engaging, and are based on theories of cultural communications spiced with personal stories and humor.

In a global economy, where interdependency among countries for business success and growth is an accepted fact, Mala’s sessions play a critical role in fostering better communications. Her educational sessions for American companies who are working with IT outsourcing professionals from India have created a better appreciation of cultural differences.

These sessions have reached more than 2000 Americans in the past few years and have resulted in repeat invitations to speak. Mala speaks from experience, relying on her own amazing journey as an Indian in America. She has transformed to a highly-respected public speaker and leadership trainer from a person who spoke in a low voice, never expressed her opinions nor spoke in meetings in the presence of superiors, said, “Yes” even though she meant “NO!” Mala’s advanced education in Sociology and 15+ years in a research field makes her conversant in the theory behind culture in business.

There is a true need for this type of education in today’s global business economy. It avoids misunderstandings, misinterpretations and miscommunications, all of which lead to wasting of resources, time and money. It is a small investment that has a huge pay-off.

Courses:

Communicating Across Cultures

Managing IT Outsourcing for Greater Profits

 

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