Strong hierarchy is still the dominant approach in India – Jasper Fortuin
Expats, Expats Life in India, Employee Relocation, Relocation

Micromanagement sucks! I have had micro-managers for some time until a new wave of managers within our company came to light. If I hadn’t moved to another role, I wouldn’t have developed myself to what I’m now. A brilliant young and modern manager gave me one of the most valuable drivers in corporate life: autonomy. I have been reading a lot about how to motivate people for the last couple of years. Every book is different, they write about this topic from various angles. However, they are all very clear about micro-managers: their approach only works in very specific companies and the success rate is very limited.

Daniel Pink: Drive

If you want to read about this subject I would strongly advise you to start with Daniel Pink’s masterpiece ‘Drive’. He’s a great storyteller and the book includes a lot of proof that already has convinced a lot of managers and CEO’s to change their management approach. More recently I just read ‘The Best Place To Work’. The book has been written by Ron Friedman, an award-winning psychologist and behavioral change expert who specializes in human motivation. If you want to draw one bold conclusion out of the many books on this topic, what would it be? The very brief and bold summary after reading thousands of pages is actually simple and logical: it’s important to give people a purpose in life, invest in enhancing their knowledge and give them the trust to work in an autonomous way.

We’ve moved to Agile

Usually I’m a bit reserved in talking about company-related topics, but our corporate Agile- journey has gone public in many ways, so I wouldn’t reveal a lot of company secrets by sharing any insights. A couple of years ago my former department chiefs decided to move to Agile. It wasn’t far from being easy, but the new way of working brought a lot of new energy and some of the latest innovations have been built based upon these new principles. The working ways of my recent department has also been transformed, we are completely Agile now. The result for me is that I don’t have a traditional manager anymore. My ‘chapter coach’ has some HR-responsibilities but he mainly focuses on my personal development. Apart from ‘having’ a coach, I don’t have any people around me to direct my work. The peers around me are responsible for creating an energetic working environment in which I can succeed. Furthermore: everything is centered on the actual (virtual) teams.

Most companies are being managed very traditionally

Working in ‘Tribes’, manage your work in short ‘Sprints’ and operate without managers for giving direction? You might assume that this would be a bridge too far in India. Let me start with some positive news: India has changed drastically in this aspect, especially if you look at the very flourishing start-up scene and some innovative companies in the corporate world. I’ve heard and seen a lot of good stories about companies adopting Agile, Lean or other ways of working in order to speed up the innovation process. Also our Indian partners have completely moved to Agile, often being an example for other (potential) clients. However, most of the companies and institutions in India are still being managed very traditionally. They’ve implemented a very dominant hierarchal structure, with checks and balances. The regular modus operandi of Indian managing directors and/or CEO’s; they treat their employees as family, with a lot of loyalty flowing in both directions. However, there are sad examples where employees are being treated very suspiciously.

Worship the owner or director 

As most of you, I’m also part of a lot of WhatsApp groups and I’ve recently received a very good joke about Indian working culture: ‘A manager told a joke. Everyone in the team laughed except one guy….Manager asks him: ‘Didn’t you understand the joke?’ The guy replied: ‘I resigned yesterday”. I probably will have enough material for writing a book about Indian office politics, but the joke actually says it all: the boss, owner, managing director or CEO has a very dominant role in the Indian corporate world. He or she is being worshiped. And to be honest: while being far from a comedian, a lot of people are laughing when I’m telling the joke….

Autonomy doesn’t exist in India; it’s a very ‘directive’ society

Unless one is working for a fancy or modern corporate in a responsible role, in India, people are regularly being hired to execute things. The owner, CEO or manager is on the other side of the spectrum. He or she is not only the boss, but also the full time strategists. They have been put in place to be very directive. Where most employees in Europe are only being told to get from A to B, in India they will also receive some extra guidance: please go from A to B, take this route and inform me about your whereabouts on every crossing.

Changing the mindset does work, but it will take years

It’s a pretty bold statement but unfortunately it’s true. However, things are changing and moving in a faster pace than one might think. After India opened up its economy for outside joiners, the service industries has grown very rapidly. The banking industry, IT and general corporates are still being managed in the Anglo-Saxon model, mostly with strong hierarchical structures and a lot of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) to control employees. Fueled by the demands of western companies or people who have worked outside India, the newer ways of working methods are being introduced into India. I have spoken to some people who recently started their company and almost all of them have launched modern structures, based on trust and autonomy. Let’s all hope that the new ways of working will be adopted by more companies and institutions!

For more wonderful stories about India, through an expat eye please visit Jasper’s personal blog:

Strong hierarchy is still the dominant approach in India – Jasper Fortuin

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