My friend is the CEO of a major division of a huge Indian conglomerate. He oversees operations in multiple countries and manages a workforce in India and the US. He has a brilliant business mind and brought this division up from substantial losses to profit in a difficult industry.
Yet when I chat with him, the thing that’s always on his mind is dealing with his Chairman and all the other conglomerate leaders. From the outside it looks like a giant mess. One CEO doesn’t like the other one because of something that happened ten years ago. The Chairman’s son is being groomed for a top position, but no one wants to be pushed out. So on and so on.
Ego works around the world, but he seems to pop up in India a lot. He’s a tough person to work with because it seems like he takes all of your emotional energy, and with one bad move, he’ll run you out of town.
Ego doesn’t work just in the C-suite. She’s there among middle managers and freshers and everywhere in between. You can never escape from working with her.
There are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to working with Ego. One is to ignore him, pretend that he doesn’t exist, and beat the hell out of anyone you might think is working with him. The other is to worship him and spend all of your time appeasing him. If you’ve been in India long enough, you’ve likely seen the failure of both of these approaches.
If you are going to work well in India, you have to first admit that Ego is not a bad person. She’s talented, fun, and highly valuable to your company. It’s just that she’s a bit sensitive to a few easily avoidable things. And let’s just say you probably won’t like her when she’s angry.
Here are a few ideas for how to create an Ego-friendly workplace – one where Ego can be respected, but not venerated.
1. No Surprises
Ego hates being surprised. The worst way to get on his bad side is to spring something on him. If he says, “I didn’t know about that,” or “No one told me”, then you are in for trouble. Keep Ego informed of things by cc’ing him on emails even if you think it isn’t necessary. You can also hold private meetings with Ego and his friends before you are about to make a larger announcement; this way Ego never gets caught off guard.
2. Create Multiple Inner Circles
Ego loves to know she’s a part of a special group. It doesn’t have to be secret; any private, closed, invitation-only group will do. Use special email aliases and Whatsapp groups to increase communication in these circles. The feeling of exclusivity makes Ego happy.
3. Give Respect to Age, Experience, Tenure
Ego not only wants you to respect his age, experience, and tenure, but also those of others too. If you are not from a culture that naturally respects these, learn to give deference (It’s really a good thing). Both in public and in private, mention Ego’s experience and ask to learn from him. Don’t immediately correct someone who is more experienced than you, but find a later time to bring it up.
4. Create a Culture of Asking for Help
Ego loves to help. She is a great at lending her knowledge and wisdom. She is more than happy to help you learn something. Creating a culture where people and departments are dependent on each other means people will ask for help more often, and all of the Egos in your office will feel better. You must first model this consistently. Ask for a lot of help and squelch anything that hints at self-reliance.
5. Praise, Don’t Put Down in Public
If you critique or blame Ego in public, you can be sure to see his resignation papers shortly. When in a public setting (meetings, group emails), find ways to proactively praise people and share their accomplishments. Leave criticism for personal discussions.
6. Use and Grant Titles
Ego loves titles and has worked hard for the one she has. If you don’t use a lot of titles internally, make sure to always use it when speaking of Ego to people outside the company. The title is good not just for Ego, but for her parents, friends, and current/future in-laws as well. If you want to reward Ego, give her a better title than she has now. It means a lot even without a salary raise.
7. Respect Established Hierarchy
When you don’t follow hierarchy, Ego can get very upset. Why is that new girl meeting with the CEO? Why did my manager just ask for a meeting with one of my Sales reps? I’m the HR manager – why wasn’t I informed about this new hire? When you don’t follow established hierarchy, Ego gets suspicious, put-off and nervous. Keeping hierarchy patterns is important to keeping Ego happy.
8. Invite More People Than You Think You Need to for a Meeting
If you really want to tick Ego off, tell her that something was discussed in a meeting she wasn’t invited to. Ego’s first thought is not Oh, thank God I didn’t have to waste my time in a meeting. She’s thinking, Why did they have a meeting without me? What are they planning? I’ve never had a meeting in India where I regretted inviting someone. I’ve had a lot where I really regretted not inviting someone.
9. Learn to Speak Indirectly, Especially on Sensitive Issues
Indirect communication is a skill all international managers need to learn. There is a time to speak directly, but there is also a time to carefully consider your words and not say anything you might later regret.
10. Establish Relationships Outside the Office
When you meet with Ego outside the office (with families, for food, or for travel), you get to see a different side of Ego, and so does he. He will start to feel more comfortable around you and not suspect ill of your careless actions.
Ego is a great friend to have. Don’t write him off just because he can be a little difficult to work with sometimes. If you create an atmosphere where Ego feels safe and respected, you will have a great relationship and a positive work environment. What else can you do to create an Ego-friendly workplace?
Image Credit: Kalyan Kanuri on Flickr