A better understanding of Indian decision making

Written by Mark Heus September 2012. Posted in Decision-making, Int. Skills

A better understanding of Indian decision making

From a Western perspective, decision making in India may be mainly experienced as time consuming, but if one knows about the cultural background of India and the importance of hierarchy a greater understanding will be achieved.

First of all, a basic knowledge of the Indian history is needed to understand how India has become as it is nowadays. When India became independent in 1947, it meant the end of the British Raj (reign in Hindi) and also the abolishment of the caste system. The main religion, with 80 per cent of the population following it, is Hinduism.

Another ‘need to know’ about the Indians is that they not only greatly value family in their private life, also their work colleagues are like an extended form of family to them. As a result of the aggregation between private family and work family, paternalistic behaviour tends to be used in both ‘families’. This means that the boss instead of the father incorporates this role at work. The paternalistic behaviour in the work environment is just one of the many examples of the presence of hierarchy in India.

Hierarchy is also present in the main religion of the Indian, Hinduism. In the Hinduism one’s soul reincarnates after dying. The sum of the things you did right and wrong in your life will either have negative or positive effects on your next life. In short, the Hindu believes that hierarchy is not only limited to this present life, but also exists in their upcoming ones.

Another example of the presence of hierarchy in India is the caste system, which is maybe one of the best examples of the strongly rooted hierarchy in the Indian society. Despite the fact that the Indian society made a lot of progress over the years, the influences of the caste system are still present in today’s society, e.g. in marital arrangements or simply in discrimination based on the caste. However, a remark must be made that influences of the caste system are more likely to apply to people from rural areas than people from urban areas.

To summarize, the previous examples show how hierarchy forms a stable environment for the Indian people. And though the caste system is subject to ethical objections, it created a stable society to certain extent.

When we translate the ‘maintaining of hierarchy’ to a way of maintaining stability, the first step to a better understanding of decision making in India is made. The second step is to take a closer look at how the maintaining of stability influences the decision making process in India in a business context.

For instance, the Indians tend to be risk averse and they place great importance on consensus and preserving harmony during business meetings. During a business meeting all of the contributions of the attendants need to be considered, which delays the decision making process significantly. But since high value is put on stability, all input needs to be considered.

Since stability is of great importance in India, employees often refer decision making to a higher authority. The employees know the limits to their roles very well and are not entitled nor empowered to make decisions on their own. Although this may seem rather time consuming from a Dutch view, it is in accordance with the paternalistic leadership style which is very common in India.

Even on an individual level the maintaining of stability can be found. The Indians put great value on relationships and they believe that one must know with whom he or she does business with, on a personal level. It is therefore necessary to spend a considerable amount of time to build a sincere relationship and share mutual interests with your Indian business relationships. Gaining trust from your Indian business relationships results in you maintaining stability, which will eventually help you to smoothen the decision making process.

In short, hierarchy and stability are inseparably linked with each other within the Indian culture and have a great influence on the decision making process. Although, at first hand it may seem rather time consuming, when one is able to adjust to these circumstances not only a better understanding can be achieved, but also a more successful way of doing business with the Indians.