Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The huge difference in work-cultures

Yesterday, I was at the office of a non-profit I am involved with here in New York. I noticed something that made me think and compare the working styles and, the so called open door policies.

It so happened that a gentleman whom I recognize by face as the Executive Director, the senior-most person in the organization, walked over to a door in the hallway. Standing outside the room he asked, " Would you like to talk to me about that video shoot/press release (or something similar) right now." The lady inside the room mentioned that she was working on another project/assignment at that time. He responded with the equivalent of - Fine, we will do it at a later then. He later strolled over to my work-space, said hello, and inquired if he could ask a question. I must mention that we have never met formally, till today.

I tried my best to recall anything remotely similar to that in my five years of experience in India but couldn't. I have worked in highly unstructured software setups and fast growing private sector insurers and have had some really great bosses. But the notion of hierarchy, and your boss having the final say on your time is embedded in our work culture. I don't think any Indian could have ever responded in the way the lady or the gentleman did. Our culture where age and position imply authority, is partly to blame. The expectation of deference to your superiors' wishes built into Indian nature, is further strengthened by the fierce competition due to India's huge population. As a result most of us fast realize, consciously or sub-consciously, that "Yes Sir" is the safest and often the fastest, route to career growth.

It is pertinent to mention that the non-profit actually serves Asian clients, including South Asians. The question is, if we can do it here, why not back home?