Thursday, 28 May 2009

Five things India can learn from China - 3. Work Ethic

The word “follow up” is rarely used in China – at least by me. I would like to dreamily believe that there is no word for follow up in Mandarin (not true of course). The Chinese work hard, but with a difference – and therein lies a lesson for India to learn.

In the office, once the job is well understood and within the capability of the individual to perform, you can leave him alone. He needs little supervision. The job is done precisely as it needs to be done. No short cuts, no scrimping on the edges. Nobody needs to look over his shoulder. No lounging around over coffee, no extended lunch break, no going missing. In the BPO business that I was involved in, you could rely on the team in China not to deviate from the standard process. And you didn’t need to check on it.

At home, the maid does not bunk. If she’s not able to come , she tells a day before. If she’s to start work by 9.00, she comes at 8.55. If we call a plumber or an electrician, he comes at the appointed time. And finishes his job before he goes. You rarely have to phone twice.

Now this is not , of course, unique to China. In many countries in the west, you see a similar phenomenon – people are very professional. The difference in China is that people achieve this AND work incredibly hard. The hours that the average worker puts in China will be way above what it is in the west.

In India, too, many people work very hard. But “follow up” is ubiquitous. Nothing will be achieved without follow up, even in a white collar setting. More than 50% of my professional life has been spent “chasing”. Standing on somebody’s head and getting it done. I am willing to bet that there are far more “supervisors” in India than in China.

Why is this so ? One of the most heartening things about China, is that many people consider work “sacred”. They take pride in working hard – not grumble and do it because of having to earn a living. How many times have I thanked somebody for doing something and she has responded back surprised saying “Why are you thanking me ; It was my job” ! In China, until recently tipping was an unheard of phenomenon. Even now, its not very common, although foreigners have come to pollute this atmosphere. The worker feels he is doing his job, for which he is receiving a salary. So the tip is completely unwarranted ! When I was new and I offered a tip, very often the guy looked pained and returned whatever I gave him.

In India, amongst many people, work has lost its sacredness. Its considered OK to scrimp. Its OK to cut corners. Its OK to look for “easy money”. Its OK not to do it, until chased. Its OK to demand an entitlement, before doing the job. The Vishwakarma Puja has become a ritual and lost its true greatness. I know this is an unfair generalisation; many Indians are not like this. And not every Chinese is the opposite either. But there are far more Indians in this mould than Chinese.

So, my call to India, is to “reinstall work is worship”. Its an irony of sorts, that an Indian has to learn “worship” from a Chinese !

12 comments:

  1. how very true.. i find similarities here (considering 60 % of the population is Chinese) in all walks of life, viz maids, people who come home to fix things etc..
    whenever I see this 'full blown professionalism' (for lack of better words), i think to myself, 'what would happen to india, if they aped this mindset'. Where everyone did the job they were paid to do and not expect bribes etc..wouldnt we be a super power by now (again we can only wish)

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  2. my prev comment should read 75% population chinese

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  3. Work Ethics like that followed by everyone from the highest office, the politicians to the last level would make India a power to reckon with... are we dreaming now?

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  4. @ Aparna - Yes Singapore is a bit like that and super efficient. But there's something cultural about this in mainland China

    @ Venus - Thanks for dropping by and your comment. It looks like a dream now, but things can change pretty quickly, so here's hoping and dreaming ....

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  5. Very true. How many times have I thought the same thing myself about people just doing their jobs instead of complaining about what is and what is not.
    Yet, when one gets pulled over for speeding or signal jumping, first instinct is to shell out a few bucks as bribe otherwise who's got the time to go to the court for getting the licence back. You can't blame the cops either for wanting or accepting bribes. They need to bribe top officials to get into the service in the first place. The whole thing goes right up to the top leadership of the country. Which, in a way, the common man chooses.
    It's a Catch 22 situation.
    Sometimes I think a military coup and a dictatorship is what India needs to get things moving. Democracy with an impoverished rural India is absolute nonsense and you can't expect the politicians to change the state of affairs as the present state of affairs (lack of education, regional biases, communal biases etc) favours them most.

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  6. I do not think it is generalization.In the West there are Indians who come with a mind set to make the "quick bucks".They are always complaining about everything - work related stress, deadlines etc.They are always comparing at how the "West" got it easy.They fail to realize that these habit impose bad impressions not only on the individual but also on the country they represent. I am not saying everyone is like that.But I can assure you that no one will consider "work as worship".The general opinion is - "We are Indians.So we are smart and so it is O.K. to take it easy".The follow up is a pain for a Manager of Indian origin when he/she has to look over other Indian shoulders because the "team opinion" is - "He is also Indian.So he will cut us some slack".Sorry to hog the comment space.Just that this topic is an every day phenomenon I witness, working closely with a team of individuals from all over the world.In the "vs." series - so far this is my fav post from you Ramesh.Great stuff.And yes - Bishwakarma Puja is just another "holiday" to play cricket in the factory parking lot.

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  7. kiwibloke28/5/09

    In India it is almost a fashion to just hang around in office late in the evening, some times on weekends simply because there is too much time spent on doing nothing during regular work hours. No wonder you go really mad if you ask for a meeting at a set time and less than half the folks troop in on time. We neither value our own time nor do we value other people's time in India. I fully agree with your comment on follow up - and this is not just in government offices, mom&pop outfits, handy men etc-- even with 'professionally' run corporations this is the story

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  8. @ Ajay - its a thought. Discipline is a valued ethich. Freedom without discipline is anarchy !

    @ blogueur - Thanks for your valued comments. I've seen the behaviour you describe. Its a real pity. But I am also seeing that with experience of working overseas , many do change and become more professional.

    @ kiwi - yes, many mistake long hours for working hard. Hence the general disregard for time.

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  9. In India, "Work is Worship" is only a saying now coz nobody worships their work anymore. Sab ke sab nikamme ho gaye (that includes me). They look for money in everything; the more money you pay the more willing they are to work. Like you said, maybe there are a few who are hardworking, say 25% of the population? but they are not going to make any difference to the nation. Chinese are doing a great job by worshipping their work. Even in US people are not professional, they just don't give a damn until we give them a serious warning.

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  10. Hey rads - its not so bad. My own experience is that professionalism is improving among the youngsters in India. Sure they are money minded, but who isn't ?

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  11. Yep, Irony indeed. I have asked my sis and BIL to read your China posts to get an idea of what to expect when they arrive for BIL's foreigm immersion component of his course.

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  12. Your sis and bil will have a lovely time when they come to China - Very nice and friendly people here and lots of things to admire. The only problem is if they are vegetarians - that's really tough here.

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