Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Managing Diverse Workforce


Managing a team with members from different cultural background and nationality has its own unique dimensions and challenges. Typically organizations have different training modules which train people on cross cultural aspects before they get exposed to the people of various nationality and culture.

Research shows that most of the organizations have few common issues which inhibit the advancement of diverse groups in the workplace : (1) negative attitudes and discomfort toward people who are different, (2) discrimination, (3) prejudice, (4) stereotyping, (5) racism, and (6) bias.

In one of the HBR series discussions, Navi Radjou, VP at Forrester Research shares his insight on why Indians score over their western counterparts.

He asked senior execs at both Western and Indian multinationals with R&D operations across US, Europe, and India what challenges they face in managing their firms’ transnational innovation networks. They pointed out that the biggest hurdle is socio-cultural, as Indian engineers think and act completely differently than their Western colleagues. The former, growing up in a red-hot economy, are animated by a “growth mindset” whereas the latter, operating in mature economies, are stuck in a “settled mindset.” These two opposite approaches clash when they are asked to collaborate on a R&D project. Why? Because Indian and Western engineers completely differ in their:

1) Reasoning. Unlike Western engineers,who reason with a predicate logic (a statement is either true (1) or false (0),Indian engineers solve problems using a fuzzy logic,the degree of truth of a statement can range anywhere between 0 and 1.

2) Problem-solving. Given their average age (mid-20s), Indian engineers belong to the Generation Y, or the Millennials, who learn through hands-on experiments (think video-games) and peer-to-peer interactions (instant messaging anyone?). When solving a problem, these grown-up “kids” harness the multiplicative power of social networking tools to experiment with multiple solutions simultaneously, and select the optimal one based on peer input. You can call this problem-solving approach “Collaborative Darwinism.” By contrast, Western engineers, many in their 30s/40s/50s, theoretically weigh the pros and cons of every single solution before even trying it, and feel too proud to ask for help when stuck solving a problem. It’s the “ostrich-style” problem-solving.

3) Market expectations. It’s hard for Western engineers living in rich economies with advanced infrastructure to design products for use by customers in developing economies with poor roads and unreliable electrical and water supply. But that’s second nature for Indian engineers in Bangalore, with its ever-congested roads and frequent power cuts. As a US tech multinational’s exec eloquently puts it: “Western engineers’ product ideas are shaped by laws of abundance whereas Eastern engineers’ inventions are motivated by the rules of scarcity.
Just to add to this , it’s also interesting to look at the famous Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions when one tries to do a comparative assessment of diverse workforce. His assessment is based on five primary Dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures: Power Distance - PDI, Individualism - IDV, Masculinity - MAS, Uncertainty Avoidance – UAI and Long-Term Orientation – LTO.India scores fairly different when compared to western countries when one looks at all these dimensions, so the differences are expected. When it comes to product designing or any solution perhaps the awareness and better understanding of cultural diversity, language barrier and different socio economic approach towards consumption and consumer behavior drives Indian mindset.So instead of terming it mindset of scarcity versus abundance it would be appropriate to term it as informed and sensitized approach towards ideas and conceptualization.

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1 comment:

ram said...

Is the HR in IT companies being insensitive to the indian family values by picking young professionals for onsite assignments whose primary responsibility is to look after the ageing parents?