Friday, December 04, 2009

Hiring in India-Importance of Cultural context

Earlier this evening, I was fortunate to listen to a talk -organised by the Ad Club of Hyderabad-by Mr Tarun Chauhan, President of Lowe Lintas-speaking on the "Importance of Cultural Context in India".

Tarun began with a background about the diversity within India, and the complexities involved in communicating to a potential consumer, especially in the recent past with the divide between the rural & urban customer disappearing-thanks to the penetration of the mobile technologies through out India. Almost 'half of India' is aged below 32 years, and so appealing to the youth, Tarun questioned the futility of marketeers trying to position their product to a homogeneous segment of people. He followed it up with some of the outstanding pieces of advertising campaigns in the recent past that sealed the concept of 'cultural context'. Eg The 'Jago Re' awakening campaign for product one consumes as one wakes up, the concepts of numbers and education in the "what an Idea Sirji' campaign, apart from the Camlin Permanent Marker and ICICI Prudential selling insurance-a product category which is usually sold more than anyone buying it!!

As I drove back, I was reflecting if these cultural contexts were relevant in recruitment too!! Was there any difference in the way companies hired in India-compared to the global practices? I usually try to 'set expectations' when I talk to my overseas clients-when they want to embark into the subcontinent.

Here are a few I can relate to, offhand, topics that come to my mind as I key in...and not necessarily in any order of importance!!

1. Title Consciousness.

(Am not sure if it has got to do with the colonial hangover or not!!) There is a huge premium given on the designation of the roles in India-as there is a lot of social status attached to the title. I have advised several of my MNC clients to change the title from a "Sales Representative-India" to "General Manager-Sales" if the role was to have a countrywide responsibility to introduce their products /services in India. The visiting card simply had more weight :-)!! And one can easily get through the clutter of hierarchy and meet a senior management decision maker-with a fancier designation!

2. Employment vs Contract.

Elsewhere in the west, one has been used to seeing several life cycles of recession and industrial boom. Perhaps it has also got to do with the fact that most developed economies provide social security to their citizens- and so people are used to the fact that one can get 'laid off' from work a few times in one's career!!

In India, it is almost a social stigma -the connotation is that people get laid off -for reasons of 'personal incompetency' more than a 'system failure'. While abroad, there are a lot of professionals who are 'independent contractors', here in India, only the 'permanent' employees have secure jobs! Those in contract-aren't as 'valuable' as those who hold permanent jobs!!

3. An intimate decision

Seeking a job in India-at least in the middle and senior management levels, is a very sensitive and intimate decision. Most professionals do not like to be 'known looking for jobs' as it indicates that one is either 'not doing too well at his/her job' or being 'asked to leave' and is often ridiculed for 'not being able to even hold on to his job. As a result, job boards aren't as effective while looking for senior talent-as much as it is for entry /junior level management.

4. Social acceptance of secure jobs

In an earlier blog post, I had indicated the reluctance of professionals embracing 'entrepreneurship' as the social acceptance of a MNC job or the assurance of security in a Government job is much higher. The dowry or the 'bargaining prowess' in the marriage market is in itself a good indicator of the stability that is associated with it!

Even today I saw a tweet from a young lady acquaintance of mine-a person who had picked up a Master's degree from the US and returned, to 'follow her heart' and work in a NGO Sector, wondering aloud how she could convince her relations about her career plans :)!!

May be I am wrong!! There are an increasing number of double income wage earners in India. Moonlighting or freelance positions may be soon accepted. I am not sure if a 'sabbatical' is considered as a considered decision of 'choice'....

I shall be glad to have your observations!


Ankur said...

It seems to me sometimes that the only thing that motivates ppl to work in India is money and status. I am a Software Engineer because I loved programming since Std 10th. I work at startups because I get lot of freedom and I call the shots. When relatives come knocking the fact that there son works as an MNC is what I should be doing. Majority in our country don't get the concept of intrinsic motivation not being money/social status.

AK Menon said...

Ankur,nice to know you are backing your instincts and 'doing what you love'!Sooner or later, people will recognise &encourage the merit in your passion.

I recall reading Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers' where he mentions what makes geniuses different from ordinary people. Dispelling the myths, he develops the 10,000hour thesis-the faster a sportsman or musician gets in 10,000 hours of practice, the better he or she will be!!

We can see what made Mozart, Bill Gates, and why even aamchi Sachin Tendulkar's single minded devotion -even changing schools to be able to play yet more cricket!!

You can change the mindset:-)!

Ankur said...

I have read the book too. I buy the the 10000 hrs concept.

P.S. it's Bill Joy and not Gates.

By the way you should give you perspective of the platform I think it will make for a very good read. Specially given the fact that they just released an API making it possible to retrieve people's credentials/connections. I think it's now possible to have an algorithmic approach where by we can compare an individuals resume with what he's stated on him profile. Do you think an app like this can have some potential.

Sorry to bother u with questions. :)

AK Menon said...

Ankur, I stand corrected reg Bill Joy!! I believe Bill Gates,Paul Allen & Steve Jobs too were part of the same 1953-56 era :)

As rgeards your point on LinkedIn there is an excellent discussion happening at Pluggdin! Pl visit