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The Impact of Cultural Misunderstandings on BPO relationships

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Cultural conditioning runs deep.  The underlying attitudes, thought patterns, assumptions and expectations of different cultures can vary dramatically. This cultural gap is an ongoing issue for companies and their offshore outsourcing strategies. Getting it wrong can mean disaster.

These differences influence every area of business relationships, systems, processes and work interactions across cultural boundaries.

Whether people tend to be individually autonomous or group-oriented? Egalitarian or hierarchical? Situational or absolutist in their ethics and conduct? These differences influence every area of business relationships, systems, processes and work interactions across cultural boundaries.

East is East and West is West

Waseem Hussain, from consulting firm, Business with India highlights, describes  how western businesses struggle over and over again when doing business with India, “Most companies operate with a very Western-centric view of hierarchy, responsibility and processes. Individuals are expected to lead themselves, and to only bring problems and questions to their supervisors when action is required. There is nothing wrong with this; it is simply how Western civilization has developed.”

When Western companies ask Indian workers to be leaders, they are asking them to act in a way that runs counter to very deeply-held customs.

“It must be understood that Indian civilization has developed very differently. When Western companies ask Indian workers to be leaders, they are asking them to act in a way that runs counter to very deeply-held customs. How could this approach lead to anything but friction and failure?”

Repeated research shows that cultural mismatch and failure of cultural integration lead to poor strategic alignment, communications and execution, and are key reasons why business relationships fail.

Bridging the cross-cultural gap

Dr. Karine Schomer, President of Change Management Consulting and Training, advises, “In any offshore outsourcing relationship, a wide range of players is involved at both ends: executives, corporate managers, project leaders, members of multinational (often virtual) teams”.

When performing the due diligence and risk assessment for evaluating potential providers, ensure they have the necessary skills and competencies to manage the cross-cultural issues that may arise.

“In addition to the technical, managerial, leadership and interpersonal skills required for their jobs, the people occupying these roles need to have cross-cultural competence if they are to be successful and not put their company at risk.”

Without this competency, misunderstandings and poor communication will occur leading to frustration, mistakes and lost productivity. Ultimately the relationship will languish and fall apart. According to Schomer, soft factors like culture and cultural alignment should be factored in from the start.

When performing the due diligence and risk assessment for evaluating potential providers, ensure they have the necessary skills and competencies to manage the cross-cultural issues that may arise. This includes both knowledge about other cultures and the ability to adapt to cultural differences.

It goes both ways

The Internet has erased the geographical barriers between people. It has created unforeseen opportunities for people, opened new markets, and revolutionised global communications. Today, people have to communicate increasingly with different cultures for business as well as social needs.

How successfully we form, foster and improve relationships with people belonging to another culture depends on a variety of factors like:

  • Knowledge of the other’s cultural values
  • Perceptions
  • Manners
  • Social structure, and
  • Decision-making practices

It’s not something that can be mastered over night, but it’s something we need to foster in the aim of promoting greater understanding and acceptance of cultural differences.


[1] http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Why-Western-Leadership-Style-Struggles-4557967.S.5849819268849373186?qid=a27be152-357a-4ead-9fbf-8f7f6b54f2b3&trk=groups_most_popular-0-b-ttl&goback=.gmp_4557967
[2] http://www.sourcingmag.com/content/c061211a.asp

May 19, 2014
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