Implementing systems and processes in India is hard. Stories like this one from expats are very common:
I had just started a new assignment with the customer support team. The numbers from the latest survey showed we were losing a lot of customers due to poor service. The CEO wanted to see those numbers change quickly.
I stepped into what seemed like a complete mess. The entire team worked independently and everyone had his/her own strategy. Some people had a sophisticated system of documenting information and some just took the calls as they came, but there was no sharing going on. Customers were viewed as annoying and many people made fun of customers who called in with their “stupid” questions.
The first thing I wanted to do was collect more data in order to develop the right strategy. I convinced the CEO to invest in some advanced software that would help us track key data. It would take consistent work from the team to make sure it was done correctly, but it seemed straightforward to me.
I booked a conference room for the day and went through the training video that came with the software with the whole team. I walked them through step-by-step how to use the new system. I asked them at every step if they understood. They always said, “yes”. No one had any questions at the end of the session.
I was excited to see it in motion. At the end of the first day, only one person had entered any details into the system, and she had done it incorrectly. On the second day, I asked if the system was clear. They all said, “of course”, but they still only used it sporadically.
After the first week, it was clear that no one was using it consistently. I was furious since we had spent so much money and time on this software, and I wouldn’t have the information needed to fix our challenges. I told them that if I didn’t see 100% compliance by the next week, I would start issuing warnings that could affect their quarterly bonuses. They came back with all sorts of excuses for why the system wasn’t easy to use, even though I had covered everything during the training.
India by nature prefers to run on the energy produced by chaos rather than a boring process. (#ChaosBeatsLogic) But how do you assure quality and collect important data without using intelligent systems and processes?
Systems in India are possible, but you have to start at the right place.
Two Essential Questions You Must Answer First
1. Who are you? As always, relationship comes to the front. This will be the first question Indians will ask themselves about the person leading the new change. (#See1See100)
Did you just fly in from Germany and are leaving next week, never to be seen again? What kind of trust does the team have in you? How do they view you? Who is driving this change? Is this just your idea, or do you have the backing of the top management?
The ideal situation is being a highly trusted, involved, and experienced person (aka a Parent Leader), who has the full backing of the top leadership. In this kind of situation, you will not find a lot of resistance.
You can do several things to create this atmosphere. First, try to get the business head or the CEO to speak to the team about the importance of the new process.
Second, if the team is unfamiliar with you, list your qualifications and why you are the perfect person to lead this change. Are you a Six Sigma black belt? Have you implemented this same system for another team with great results? Don’t worry about sounding pretentious; you must present yourself in an elevated way. (#PowerPlays)
Third, explain clearly how involved you will be in the implementation process. Can they come to you for questions along the way at any time? How available will you be?
If you are relatively inexperienced and are just trying out an idea rather than carrying out orders from the top, you will need a different approach. You will need to get the team’s complete commitment from the beginning. The process should be their creation and idea. Instead of starting with a training video, start with a brainstorming session where everyone can come up with the process together.
2. Why should I change? This is a classic principle of change management that is true in India as well. When you find that the team is not following the process later on, it may be a matter of not understanding, but it may also be a matter of defiance. They might have a serious (and legitimate) objection to the new system, but they will not likely say anything about it at the start. Create a compelling argument at the start of your implementation that includes their best interests.
Creative tips to make sure your process succeeds:
Once you have answered the two essential questions, here are some things that can make the process smoother.
Create a hierarchy. Within the team, identify the official or unofficial leaders. You must have these people on your side. Call them into your office. Get them to agree to the benefits of the new process. Tell them you want to put them in charge of implementing it because you are “not sure if everyone else will understand the importance”. Now this person feels motivated to not only learn the system, but ensure that others do as well. (Playing people against each other and ego massaging like this are standard and accepted practices.)
Embrace Micromanaging. Nothing in India is “set it and leave it”. You should accept the fact that you will spend a lot of time with individuals, helping them understand the process. Start with the perspective that this will take several weeks (rather than days) to get to full compliance.
Use indirect communication to create an accurate feedback loop. Questions like “Does everyone understand everything?” or “Why won’t everyone just follow the process?” are not going to get the kind of feedback you need. Ask questions like “What do you think are the challenges the rest of the team is facing?” or “If we needed to change one part of the system, what would it be?” Remember to use body language and tone in your interpretation of the answers.
Don’t see training as a single event. Break the concepts down into smaller portions, and deliver them slowly over time. Don’t just show a video and expect the team to understand everything. Most learning in India comes through peers and mentors. Let each of your “ambassadors” lead small group sessions to follow-up on the concepts.
Stay away from negative motivation. Warnings and punishments (especially related to salary) will only make them turn against you more. Warnings are shame-based incentives and should not be used. Instead, reward and publicly praise positive behavior.
Clarify the goal. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the goal is to get a spreadsheet filled out perfectly. The goal is more happy customers. You might be able to simply tweak what they already do rather than bring in an entirely new system if you clarify the goal. Find the values that you both agree on and the actions that can satisfy those.
Prolifically use the data you gather. Don’t just sit in front of your computer and hide all the data you’ve gathered based on the system for your own use. Publicize it often. Show them reports you are sending to the CEO using the data. When you repeat and display it often, you will increase their drive to participate in the process.
There is not a magic key to getting processes to work in India. Really effective companies will tell you that it is a mix of consistency, mutual buy-in, and a lot of time. If you can completely answer the two essential questions and use some of these tips, your success rate will greatly increase.
What other tips can you share to implement processes?
Photo Credit: examplecg on Flickr