Sending Employees to India? 10 Cultural Differences You Need to Know Now

February 21, 2017


Have you ever selected an employee for an international assignment to India and then later wished you had more real-world Indian experience to share with them? If you had personal experience working and living in India, you could better advise on company culture and establish your transferee’s expectations for the assignment. Although ideal, we understand that physically traveling to each of your company’s office locations isn’t always feasible. Have no fear – we’re here to help!

Pro-Link GLOBAL opened its New Delhi, India office in August 2016 with the goal to expand its business immigration footprint in the country and the APAC region. Executive Director of HR Samantha Hernandez traveled to India for the first time to interview applicants and staff the new office abroad. No easy feat! One of her first hires was HR Manager Akansha Sharma who later in the year traveled to the U.S. for her first time. This unique opportunity for both HR team members to adventure across the world generated valuable observations and insights into the differences between U.S. and Indian company cultures.

India expat assignmentsAkansha was born and raised in India. After traveling to the U.S. for the first time Akansha outlined the six meaningful contrasts below that Global Mobility Managers and Global HR Managers will find helpful when selecting employees for international assignments to India.

  1. Professionalism: Americans are very formally professional and they often spend more hours working on a daily or weekly basis.
  2. Punctuality: Americans are on time to meetings and appointments. 3:00 pm is 3:00 pm; it’s not 3:01 pm. Indians, on the other hand, tend to be more relaxed about “start times.”
  3. Different signs of respect: In India, if a senior leader in the company visits your office you usually stand as a show of respect, but in the U.S. it was certainly not like that. Instead, the Executive Director was standing and we were sitting listening to her.
  4. Work on your own: In the U.S., there isn’t an office assistant or helper, you make your own coffee and clean your cup. In India, your cup of coffee is delivered to your seat.
  5. Transparency: In the U.S., everything is transparent and nothing is hidden. Management within the company tells you everything without judging you.
  6. No lingering on: If the decision is to be taken, it is taken right at that time and afterwards nothing is lingered on, unlike in Indian culture.

India expat assignmentBorn and raised in the U.S., Samantha also discovered noteworthy insights over the course of her three separate business visits to India. Before selecting employees for business travel to India, Samantha suggests:

  1. Look for employees with a Global Mindset. Those employees who are curious about other cultures, adventurous when it comes to trying new things (like new types of food), and respectful of these differences will be the most successful in such a different business environment.
  2. Determine comfort level of direct communication. Most American’s use very soft language to make a request, such as “when you have a moment, can you send me that report.” Indians are used to a more direct communication, such as “I’m requesting you to send me that report.” Business travelers should be comfortable communicating in this direct style.
  3. Be mindful of hierarchy. American business work very hard to become flat organizations and ensure that communication flows freely across all levels of the business. The Indian workplace has a very ridged hierarchy. Business Travelers who are able to manage political jockeying in a U.S. business will be best positioned to work within the hierarchal structure.
  4. Talk it out. The Indian culture is very relationship oriented, business travelers should be prepared to spend a lot of time sharing about themselves before business can start. Once those personal relationships are built, the work can commence. During a typical working day, Indian employees enjoy many breaks where they can enjoy tea and time with their co-workers. Shy away from sending those Business Travelers who are extremely task oriented, they are more likely to be frustrated with the pace of business.

Of course everyone’s experiences are different and viewed in their own individual perspective. Reviewing these cultural differences can set you and your transferees up for success. Even if you focus on one or two, it can shift your mindset and make the transition much easier and more successful. Let us know what you learn.

How do you evaluate employees for international assignments? What are your go-to examples when describing the differences between U.S. and Indian company cultures? Let us know in the comments.