Are you looking to expand your business connections to India or are you planning on travelling there for work? Then you should make sure you understand the environment you are about to enter. Indian business is fast moving and, though at first it may seem quite westernised, there are very important differences to which you need to pay attention. Here are some of the basics.
Things take time
India, like France, is one of those places where people like to take their time. Don't assume, just because things take a day or a week in London, New York or Hong Kong, that the same things will take the same time here. Business moves slower in India, so be patient.
Be prepared to travel
Business in India is not really confined to a single city. Though Deli and Mumbai are probably the biggest business centres, if you truly want to conquer the Indian market, you will need to spread out. From Deli airport you can be just about anywhere in two hours and that is really key: the Indian business person travels.
Be more flexible than 9-5
In India people might say they work 9-5 but, in truth, things are a bit more fluid than that. People like to take long meetings over breakfast so, in reality, things rarely get going until about 10.30am or 11am. This also means, of course, that things frequently run on late in the evening.
In fact, be flexible full stop
Last minute changes are part and parcel of Indian business. If a meeting is scheduled for 12pm, it might well not actually kick off until close to 1 or it might even be chopped at the last minute and rescheduled for tomorrow. This goes for lunches, dinners and any other kind of appointment you could make.
Check any important date against the religious holidays
Given its incredible cultural diversity, it should come as no surprise that India has a very large number of religious holidays on its calendar, most of which are widely observed by state and local government. So, if you are scheduling a very important date, ensure you are not doing so on a sacred day that might sink the whole enterprise.
Get used to a different type of formality
One of the key culture shocks western business people encounter when they come to India to work is how both a very high and very low level of formality is expected to be upheld simultaneously. On one hand, politeness is premium and most Indian business people prefer not to be referred to informally until they know and trust you well. However, if somebody's phone goes off during a meeting or private conversation, nobody bats an eyelid if they answer it right in front of whoever is speaking. You simply need to get used to it.
Inter-gender handshakes don't really happen
It is still very rare for a man and woman to shake hands in India. If you are male and are introduced to a woman, wait to see if she extends her hand before shaking. Otherwise, you are better off keeping your distance to avoid a faux pas.