It was a tough afternoon for Santosh, a manager for a popular BPO company in Noida. He was sick and tired of the lack of loyalty of his employees. He was fed up with the status consciousness of his staff. And lastly, he was at his breaking point with the sloppiness of some of the workers. Santosh knew that if India was ever going to get ahead, a cultural shift would have to happen. Since childhood, Santosh had always had a love of the the cultures of the East. His family took him to Japan as a child, and his love affair with Japan never ended. He knew what he had to do. He had to Japanize his company. But how? And would his staff be agreeable to the change?
The New Company Culture
Santosh started by creating some new company practices as an effort to remold the company culture. The workers started the day by doing jumping jacks and then singing the company song. Nobody liked this, but they did it. This is how Japanese workers start their day, so this is how Santosh’s BPO would start theirs. Group activities are an essential framework of the Japanese culture as theirs is a society of ants. They function as a whole society and not as individuals. They are loyal to groups, and not to their personal needs. In the entire world, it is really only Japan, Korea, and to some extent Vietnam who are so group focused. The American culture is individually focused while India and many other nations revolve around family. But, family culture will not get India ahead. Santosh had a plan.
Stage two of Santosh’s plan was to have group activities. The workforce would go hiking together. A few said they didn’t feel like it and another girl refused on the account that she didn’t want to get her shoes dirty. Santosh insisted that people would have to put aside their individual preferences if they were going to function as a group. If they didn’t like hiking, they could come up with some other physical activity to promote health and group consciousness.
Next it was time for sushi. You can’t have Japanese culture without sushi. Sushi has raw fish. If you eat raw fish in India, you will undoubtedly get dyssentery and be in the hospital. So, what can you do? They tried making sushi with nori seaweed paper that they flew in from Singapore. They got cauliflower and sticky rice. That didn’t taste good. Then they tried cook fish, but half the staff refused to eat it because they were pure-veg. What to do? After about twelve experiments, Sujata decided to try tempura sushi which is popular in California. The group loved it. It was fried, unhealthy, and tasted great! Sushi didn’t quite gel with the group. So, they decided to try something more Indian.
They would have green tea, and mini samosas eaten with chopsticks. Sujata fumbled with her chopsticks. She couldn’t hold them right. She looked at the chopsticks, then looked at Santosh, then stared blankly into space looking confused. Then, Santosh explained that you hold one of the sticks like a pencil and the other jammed between the side of your thumb and your ring finger. Sure using chopsticks won’t come natually to non-Asians, but what better way to get into the mentality of the Japanese culture and teamwork?
Next, Santosh introduced the idea of bowing. It is hard to get Indians to eat meat or fish if they are from a non-meat eating caste. Hiking doesn’t match the sedentary lifestyle enjoyed by most Indians either. But, bowing shouldn’t be too much of a problem. When anyone entered a room, they had to bow. Unfortunately Veena forgot to bow.
SANTOSH: You forgot to bow!
VEENA: Oh, sorry sorry sorry! I’ll bow three times to make up for it.
Next, everyone watched a movie on samurai culture. Santosh said that if anyone made a mistake, they would have to kill themselves with a sword. It would be fake, and with fake blood, but what better way to condition yourself into being careful about your work as if your life depended on it? After a few weeks of this Sujata had had enough. She complained to Santosh that they were not Japanese, and that they were Indian. It was unnatural to adjust to this foreign culture. They didn’t even know anyone from Japan and they didn’t have any Japanese customers either.
Doug’s visit to India
A year ago Santosh had hired a hippy guy named Doug to teach them about American cultural norms. Sujata reacted better to Doug as he was easy going and didn’t give them a hard time. Doug’s philosophy was, “Do whatever you want to — man.” Sujata and the others we okay with Doug until Sujata told Doug how Aunty wanted to force her to marry Dinesh, and she didn’t want to. Doug said, “Well if she likes Dinesh so much, why doesn’t she marry him herself?” Then Sujata replied, “In India, we cannot talk about our elders that way. It just doesn’t work like that.” The problem was that Santosh’s staff could not break out of their rigid Indian ideas and adjust to other cultures. Sure, they could accept certain things about other cultures, but not things that conflicted with the values of the homeland. How would their team succeed with all of this rigidity?
A few momths later, Sujata complained bitterly to Santosh…
SUJATA: How can I be in the same team as Prateep? First of all, I am much more highly skilled than he is, and second, I have seniority! I have been here 104 days — well, 104.5 days if you include orientation, and he has only been here 43 days.
SANTOSH: In life there are no exact fits and no exact equals. For us to succeed as a company, we are forced to either work together, or leave the company. Since I own the company, I have no choice. I have to stay. When you get married to Dinesh, you’ll have similar problems. He’ll want to do one thing and you’ll want to do another. You’ll have to compromise and get along somehow or your marriage will be a wreck. We can’t survive as a company without teamwork and India will never become a first rate country without a general improvement in corporate standards. It is up to us!
VIPOOL: You wanted to see me?
SANTOSH: Yes, at our company, we treat our employees like family. When they have done something wrong, instead of firing them, we send them to their room. You made a data entry error yesterday. I hereby order you to what Japanese call, “The boring room.” You are to commit hara-kiri, the ritual Samurai stomach cutting act with this fake sword. Fake blood is in the refrigerator. Try to make some convincing facial expressions and sound effects. Oh, and one more thing.
SANTOSH: Don’t forget to bow — very important.
VIPOOL :Yes sir… I mean, “Hai… gozai-masu Sensai” (Japanese translation of yes teacher)
After a year of Japanese culture, the employees still didn’t like it — well, except for the green tea ice cream and mini-samosas. But, their sense of teamwork got better. Many cultures as so individualistic, that it is hard for them to put their personal concerns aside and think about teamwork. But, what people fail to realize is that if everyone else is teaming up with you, teamwork just happens. If your team expects you to contribute, but treats you like an unappreciated member, the team culture won’t last.