While the west sees the “Asian Century” as a huge opportunity, we are clearly lagging when it comes to India. For most, trade with China is many times greater than trade with India.
India is now much better for business and investment and things are improving at a great rate – so, my advice is to take another look, have another go.
But you also need to follow my PRAY formula for India!
P – Patience is needed
R – Relationships are the key
A – Adapt to culture
Y – Yes means “maybe”
Adopt a patient long term view and for investors India is a 5 to 10 year game. It is very easy to get MOU’s (Memorandum of Understanding) signed with fanfare in India but too many do not produce any outcome. One way to improve our cultural dexterity would be to take a long-term view and apply lots of patience.
Businesses should not start out on market entry unless they are prepared to commit at least five years to making it work. Governments need the same longer-term perspective. Rushed trade missions, political announcements and photo opportunities amount to very little – we see them as an achievement, but they are just a beginning. Our business executives and even many diplomats do not build patience into their strategies.
India is a collective culture which means relationships are the number one factor in success, and building relationships takes time. Many who see India as not a short-term transaction opportunity can find success, but not for long as someone with a better price comes along. A better strategy is to aim for longer success through a focus on building relationships. The first trade meeting in India can be exciting and positive, but from the India side this is just seen as an introduction and they will wait to see if the relationship grows. Even our companies and governments take too short a view when sending people to India – a two or three-year stint there is just not enough. Trust and relationship take time. Others prefer to manage the India relationship from offices in Singapore or elsewhere – this is seen by the India side as evidence you are not committed to India.
See beyond the politeness: Indians are among the most courteous and generous hosts on the planet. To succeed, our businesses and governments need to dig deeper and fine the reality beyond the politeness. The dumbest question for a business to ask in India is “can you help me with market entry for my products?” The answer will always be “yes” and you will sit idle for a long time back home until you realise this is not the right question.
Realise that language and thinking are different: One of the big problems in our relations with India is what makes it seem easy – Indians speak English. As a result, whereas our businesses and government when dealing with China, Japan or any other non-English speaking nation will have interpreters and consultants, in India the use of English creates the illusion that communication is taking place. Yet when we deal with other English-speaking nations, we factor in their thinking as well – we know Americans speak English but think differently from Aussies. Our biggest mistake is assuming that Indians think like we do.
Within Indian culture built so solidly on relationship above all else, the word “no” is a real relationship breaker and is rarely or never used. “Yes” can in fact mean “maybe” or even “no” and you need to look for the signs. Like most of Asia, Indians are indirect communicators. Problems are rarely addressed directly and unless you have an ear for indirectness, you will miss the warning signs. In addition, indirect communication creates misunderstanding because the Indian side will always have to agree with whatever you may be asking.
These barriers have kept westerners and India apart while seeming to be quite together. Hence it negatively impacts diplomatic, defence, investment and trade ties. If we can adopt a caring, humble and inquisitive approach – learning cultural dexterity – we will build the relationships which are the key to success.
And of course, you have to PRAY.