Why global HR practices do not work in India

One cannot blindly follow the West

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What is people management all about? It is about dealing with humans, that is, the people who make businesses successful. Therefore, no matter how modern businesses become and how much HR moves beyond traditional boundaries, it is impossible to ignore the cultural aspect while devising the HR strategy of any company.

There is no doubt that the cultural fabric of the people of the West is very different from those in India. Not only are our roots very different, but the way we work, think and execute also differs. So, can the HR practices that work in the West, work in India too? Of course not!

Since human resource management (HRM) as a term originated in the West, many modern HR practices also originated and developed in the Western nations. However, these practices will not necessarily work successfully in India too! Here’s why.

Diversity and inclusion

Let us take the case of diversity and inclusion in India and other parts of the world. In India, talk of ‘diversity’ mostly revolves around gender diversity and representation of women in the corporate culture or at the manufacturing sites. However, in the West, diversity is more about the representation of different ethnicities or skin colours.

Therefore, in the Western world, diversity programmes tend to mostly revolve around cross-cultural trainings and understanding of different cultures. In India, on the other hand, these programmes are more about sensitising people on gender bias, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) or PwD (people with disability).

“It is the manner of execution of the HR practices in India that differs”

Sailesh Menezes, CHRO, HPE India

Sailesh Menezes, CHRO, HPE India, states that, globally there are employee resource groups based on race and ethnicity, but when it comes to choosing resource groups in India, “We only choose what holds meaning for us, such as gender or LGBTQ or generational diversity”.

Things have started to change though. As a society, we have recognised the fact that men and women are no different when it comes to accomplishing success at work. Earlier, however, this also seemed to be an impractical challenge.

One of the HR leaders, who worked with a multinational FMCG brand, shares that his global HR leadership wanted 40 per cent representation of women in the field sales team, which was very difficult to achieve since the talent pool was very limited.

Also, field work involved working in remote locations, which made ensuring the safety of women colleagues a challenge. Such work conditions do not really appeal to the women in the workforce.

Performance dialogue

Talking to HRKatha, Nihar Ghosh, senior HR leader, shares that dialogue and conversations around ‘performance’ are very different here than in the West.

He says that the Western society is very direct when it comes to giving feedback. In India, on the other hand, one cannot be that straightforward. “I may follow the globally-prescribed flow of charts such as breaking the ice, building trust and so on. But the way it is done in India is not the same as in the West, since the cultures are very different,” points out Ghosh.

HR technology

Most of the HRMS products come from the US and Europe. Ghosh states that in one of his past stints, the organisation decided to implement the HRMS product of SAP Success Factors. “Within four months we had to scrap it,” reveals Ghosh. Why? Because the manner in which the technology worked, the dashboard behaved and the data was managed and observed was very different from how it was done in India. “We could not even customise the product to our use,” admits Ghosh.

“Being part of Indian society, we cannot blindly follow the ways of the West, but many Indian employers do not realise this fact”

Nihar Ghosh, senior HR leader

Employee engagement

The manner in which we engage with employees in India is very different from the existing global practices. One such example is the practice of celebrating success or any achievement with a ‘Happy Hour.’

As Menezes states, in many geographies, celebrations are conducted by serving wine or beer at the workplace. However, in our country this cannot be considered. “Having ‘happy hours’ will not be socially accepted in India at all,” asserts Menezes.

Performance-improvement programme

To those who are unaware of what a performance-improvement programme (PIP) is, it is a programme designed to manage poor performance in the company. As per Menezes, the framework of all the processes may be the same, but the execution of the same in India will be different.

In other parts of the world, the PIP can be stringent and the timelines are usually strictly adhered to. Employees may not be given more than two weeks to show improvement. In India, however, ample time is given.

Being part of Indian society, we cannot blindly follow the ways of the West, but “many Indian employers do not realise this fact,” admits Ghosh disappointingly. He feels that many Indian employers fail to understand the cultural nuances of the country, and that is why, very often foreign HR models fail to show results in India.

Menezes opines that by and large, for many HR practices pertaining to hiring, compensation or performance management, the global framework remains the same. “It is the manner of execution of the practice in India that differs,” concludes Menezes.

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