Janelle felt like she was having one of those dreams where no matter how hard you try to run, you can’t go any faster.
Her team of six HR professionals was attempting to process all the yearly employee evaluations within three weeks. Knowing how sizable a challenge this would be, Janelle clearly set out a plan for how many evaluations would need to be processed per day to meet their goal. She talked about how if they exceed the target, it would create a little more work now but would far outweigh the stress that would happen if they fell behind.
One week in, they were already behind. Janelle adjusted the required target, and talked about how the rest of the company was depending on them completing on time and that some people’s promotions and salaries were on the line.
In the middle of the second week, one team member asked for a day’s leave because a close relative was ill. Thinking her team would perform better if they felt that she was sympathetic, she agreed to the leave.
At the start of the last week, they were still far behind and the possibility of finishing seemed hopeless. Another team member asked for leave to go on a holiday he had planned a few months before and for which he had already booked the tickets. Janelle was furious and said, “No more leave for anyone until we get all these reports processed!”. She turned into a very strict disciplinarian, started monitoring how many minutes people took for lunch breaks, and forced them all to stay late every day until it was done.
How do I motivate my Indian team? Motivation is a common challenge for cross-cultural managers, and one with a lot of different answers.
Types of Involvement
Traditional business theory suggests there are three types of involvement managers can have with employees.
The first category is called alienative, and suggests that people are motivated out of fear or respect for the leader. In India, you can get some short-term mileage out of being extremely authoritarian, but it won’t last for long. Similarly, you can also see some initial positive motivation out of being extremely accommodating, but this will also come back to bite you in the long run.
An effective Parent Leader manages bounces off both ends of the spectrum, but the motivation employees feel towards them is much more about who they are as a person, rather than how much fear they command.
The second category is called moral, meaning the leader appeals to his/her employees’ conscience. This is like Janelle saying that other people are dependent on this work, so it needs to be done quickly. This technique has some validity in India, but remember that India is not a country with a strong universal sense of right-and-wrong. Relational Ethics reign here, and ‘doing the right thing’ comes after ‘doing for the right person’, so be careful how you frame these ideas.
The final category is calculative, meaning the leader tries to motivate based on the employee’s self-interest. This is when Janelle said they would relieve themselves of more stress later if they worked a little harder now. Using self-interest as a motivating factor can work in India as well, but the concept of ‘We’ll-all-do-better-if-we-cooperate’ hasn’t really stuck in the Indian mindset in a large way. Just stand in any queue, and you’ll get my point.
Outside of the direct involvement of the manager, here are some other things that can motivate Indians.
Public Praise. It not only feels good to have someone point out how well you did, but it also holds you accountable. If you have one team member who consistently struggles to meet quality checks, and then you publicly celebrate the time he does, now you have created a public accountability system.
Titles/Designation. Titles and designations mean a lot in India, primarily because it is a way of measuring success relative to people in other companies (a very important factor when it comes to getting married as well). But the shine of a new title can go away fast. A good idea is to create more levels in an organization and opportunities for advancement. If your home office only has 2 levels for engineers, you might need 6 in India.
Money. Bonuses and higher salaries are always appreciated and will always be a good motivator. But like titles, these will fade away over time so this shouldn’t be your only strategy.
Punishment. This basically never works in India. If think that you can show you are serious by docking pay or not giving time off, you are mistaken. That only creates bitterness that will ruin your relationships.
No matter how much sage advice you can collect on motivating Indians, it all comes down to individuals. And this is the real secret. It’s #IndiasNotIndia, and what works for one person will not work for another. What you learned from the manufacturing plant you set up in Rajasthan will have very little application to an IT startup in Bangalore.
The more you know about the individual people, the easier it is to know how to motivate them. You need to know about their likes, dislikes, how they preferred to be remembered, and what they admire in a leader. This kind of knowledge is hard to get, but pays huge dividends.
That’s why something like the Culturally Agile Discussion Guides is such a great tool for the cross-cultural manager. It helps you understand the unique motivators your team members have and what appeals to them the most. If you aren’t already doing this on your own, you need to start now.
If you rely on generic answers to complex problems, you won’t get far in your cultural competency, and you will likely find yourself in a bad dream like Janelle. Think through your motivation plan now, and don’t address it only when your back is against the wall!
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Photo Credit: mynameisharsha on Flickr