Learn and Lead

About continual learning and leadership

Cultural Issues in Dealing with Clients

Puja Anand writes another guest post for Learn and Lead. In this post, earlier published on her blog Accidental CEO Strategic Mom, Puja shares her experiences of dealing with clients from different cultures.

Into my third or fourth year dealing extensively with Asian clients, with a few American/UK clients thrown in, I had formed most of the ideas written here. However, I shied away from this topic because it is a form of stereotyping, and being an Indian expat living in Singapore, I have seen enough of stereotyping applied to me to be wary of it. I decided to write it down only when I was able to present my perspective constructively.
Let me start with my experience with Western clients. As an Asian service provider working with Western clients, you start at an even keel. They choose you after careful evaluation and once you have passed that test, you are their equal, unless you prove them wrong. Innocent until proven guilty…

The work that you execute is considered to be of equal value to both parties and its success likewise equally important. This trust at the starting point of the relationship lasts a long time, through the usual ups and downs of project DLC, provided you are professional and competent. You operate mostly in an environment of trust and partnership.

Coming to Asian customers, I have come across two types of relationships between them and Asian service providers. The first and the more common type of relationship is hierarchical. There is some kind of unseen but powerful driver that forces Asian customers to be aloof and somewhat distrustful of their vendors, as they refer to their service providers. Actions and decisions are often scrutinized for hidden agendas. You have to work much harder to build trust. Guilty until proven innocent! But it’s not all bad. The good thing is that once you have built this trust, it will last a long time. Customers are not likely to go to a competing vendor as easily because the barrier to entry is too high. Great thing for repeat business!

The other type of relationship between Asian customers and vendors is quite the opposite and seen in situations when the vendor’s expertise is well known and well demonstrated, usually in consultant roles. There you see a kind of respect for you as an individual that borders on adulation. Great for business but the downside is that this respect is reserved for only one individual, making it difficult to scale up such a relationship.

As in any generalization, there are exceptions. And just like any generalization, this knowledge can be useful if used effectively. Had I known about these differences at the start of my career in Singapore, I would have made fewer errors with customers and been less perplexed by some incidents. I would also have known how to overcome the barriers that seemed out of place and context at that time.

My Interview in IDConnect


Rupa Rajagopalan has been instrumental in running the Instructional Designers Community of India for the last few years along with some other enthusiastic members of the profession. As part of IDCI, Rupa edits a newsletter IDConnect. Rupa interviewed me for the second issue of the newsletter. You can view the complete newsletter on the IDCI community site. I am reproducing my interview here.

The Interview
  1. You have been conducting salary surveys for the past 2 years. Have salary levels for Instructional Designers in India improved? What are the current trends in salary?
It’s hard to find industry trends. I get inputs not just from the salary survey but also the many interviews I conduct, the people I recruit and the teams I manage. Perception plays an important role in people’s minds when trying to understand whether the salary levels of instructional designers have improved. The salary levels in absolute terms have improved but not necessarily the perception. I notice that the younger people continue to be less satisfied.
  1. Do you think Technical Writing is a better known profession in India when compared to Instructional Design? Why?
Technical Writing has a wider job market. Instructional Designer are primarily hired by elearning vendors and some training departments. Tech Writers are also hired by software companies, product companies, website content companies etc. In that sense, Technical Writing is better a known profession.
  1. Which of the following dominates the Indian e-learning market / business today - Template based e-learning or Creative e-learning?
I think it really depends on what the customers want. Most customers don’t want to pay too much and are constantly driving the prices and the timelines down. There are advantages of template based elearning. And template based elearning is not necessarily “not-creative”, if I may use the double negative in this case. Rapid elearning is also something that’s being looked at as a solution to crunch timelines and costs.
  1. You had written an interesting blog post on innovation in the Indian Learning Industry. There were some interesting responses to your post too. What prompted you to write this blog post and what did you learn from the responses?
My post on innovation in Indian Learning industry was actually prompted by another post by Will Thalheimer on the same subject, which was prompted by a NY Times report on innovation in India. I was fascinated by the responses this post received. I have come to believe that innovation is a very relative term. When it comes to identifying innovation at a company, industry or country level, the scale of impact defines the level of innovation in people’s minds. My next post on what is innovation explored these perceptions about innovation.
  1. A lot of companies in India ban use of social media in the workplace. In your opinion, social media is a tool, a medium. What you do with it constitutes the value you extract from it. Can you give some examples of how professionals in India can use social media effectively and responsibly in the workplace?
Many ways really. For one, start subscribing to blogs via your RSS reader. Start conversations with blog writers by commenting on their posts, building the ideas and sharing your ideas. It is very important to start meaningful conversations if you want o build on your knowledge. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes, or by shy of sharing your thoughts. You learn most by exchanging ideas. If you are using Twitter, follow like minded people and industry leaders. On LinkedIn join the groups of your field and engage in conversation. Share the information, links that you come across on various sources with your colleagues at work. Filter out the information and share the relevant bits. This way your colleagues will appreciate your inputs. Remember not to flood them with everything you find. Be selective. If there are questions your colleagues have, try to find answers by tapping into your social network. You will gain respect of your colleagues and your bosses and they will soon realize how social media can help.
  1. Effective collaboration in organizations – What are the challenges and how do you overcome these challenges?
Technology and culture are two big challenged. Most companies are not beginning to solve technological challenges by providing more means of allowing employees to communicate. The bigger challenge is cultural. Organizations should work at building the culture of sharing information freely and encourage collaboration. Collaboration will start bottom up within organizations and top executives need to be careful of not doing anything to discourage it. I recently wrote a post on this subject.
  1. What do you think is the future of learning technology?
It is always hard to predict the future. I believe that learning technology will become more collaborative in the future. How learning content is defined is likely to change and content creation will become easier in that context.
  1. What is your advice to budding learning professionals?
My advice to budding learning professionals: Keep Learning! You have to be able to learn faster than your learners. There is a great responsibility that learning professionals have when they create the learning programs. Keep pace with what’s happening in the field. Understand what business problems your learning program is attempting to solve and ensure that the design and development of the program is in line with the business objectives.
  1. How do you think a platform like Instructional Designers Community of India (IDCI) can help learning professionals in India?
Absolutely. Platforms like these play a crucial role in developing a community of professionals. Instructional Design as a profession has been in India for last 15-20 years and yet is still nascent in a manner of speaking. Platforms like IDCI can help bring professionals in this field together to share their common knowledge and learn from each other. It can provide people in the field a window to what’s happening elsewhere in India and across the world. I have been very encouraged with the progress of IDCI and look forward to seeing it grow in the future.
      

Driving Divergent Thinking in Our Children

I came across this interesting video presentation talk by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award. In the video he talks about what’s wrong with public education and why paradigm change is required. While the talk and the statistics are primarily USA centric, I think the state of affairs and the arguments he states are quite valid even in India, and perhaps most of the world.



I feel that divergent thinking, while reduces as we grow up and get "educated", can increases as we start working & gather many more experiences. Many organizations (at least in the services sector in India) now are focused on teaching (training) their workforce on divergent thinking. And with the increasing exposure to television, movies, the Internet, our thought goes beyond what we might experience directly.

Of course, there is no questioning that the school system should allow children to learn the way they want & what they want. There is definitely a need to reform the education system. However, as parents I feel we can do our bit of giving freedom to children even while following the set system of school education. That is something that is in our control and easily implementable while we continue to push for reforms in the school system.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

Creative Commons License This work by Manish Mohan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 India License.

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