20 May 13 The less talked-about aspects of the Indian business culture

Understanding the local business culture is an important pre-requisite for doing business in any foreign country.

If you google Indian business culture, you’ll find dozens of articles on the cultural sensitivities that foreigners need to have for doing business in India. Most of them talk about what I think is the relatively easy stuff that can be internalised and imbibed within a short time. Some of the common pointers include,


  • Differences in work-life balance
  • Indian management style, particularly relationships of bosses and subordinates
  • Management structures and pronounced hierarchies
  • Business and social etiquette – the dos and don’ts
  • What to (and what not to) wear
  • Indian definitions of punctuality and commitment
  • Level of candour (or the lack of it) in giving feedback

…and other such issues.

I feel there are other deeper cultural differences that can have a significant impact on key commercial decisions of global companies operating in India. These relate to the psyche of Indian managers and decision-makers and are harder to put down in a neat little check list.

Some aspects of the Indian psyche are relatively well recognised. For example, the high level of price sensitivity in India that pretty much cuts across sectors, regions, different types of organisations and income levels.

There are other lesser known and talked-about aspects of the Indian business culture that impact business decisions. For example, the length of the strategy/ planning horizon. In many ways Indian decision makers tend to be short-sighted. This is reflected, for example, in how differently they look after their machinery as compared to say European companies. They go in for condition-based maintenance as against preventive maintenance.

European users invest much time and money in maintaining the machinery, which gives it a longer life. On the other hand, in India the machinery goes through rough use with less attention on maintenance, thereby shortening its life. The machinery may then be refurbished to extend its life. This has significant implications for European machinery manufacturers selling into India – their product positioning, after sales service, structuring of annual maintenance contracts, pricing of the product and its spares, and so on.

Many such subtle nuances of Indian culture are often “discovered” by foreign entrants only after they actually step into the markets. An easier and smarter way to accelerate the learning, of course is to find someone who already has knowledge of these peculiarities of the Indian business culture.

What unique aspects of Indian business culture have YOU encountered?

Varsha Chitale

Varsha led the competitive intelligence practice at ValueNotes. As part of her drive to educate India Inc. on the merits of competitive intelligence, she often conducted webinars and seminars on CI for senior executives of Indian companies.


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