Looking at Cross Culture Training
Initially, we offered such training for our clients in Hyderabad covering the symbols and rituals of Western culture. And that was alright - that's exactly what the clients want in India. This is a critical requirement particularly in the outsourcing space, where the agents, usually an Indian graduate, sometimes with an advanced degree, need to taught to interact of the clients, usually an European or a North American organization. A big slice of this training focuses on language, how to talk like an American, for example, and some part of it goes to the manners and rituals of American life. The continuous stream of requests that we got convinced me that there is an opportunity to create a specialist Cross Culture training practise, either as a separate business or as a separate division within an existing training business.
However, I am also convinced, by watching what is being delivered at these training sessions from a close proximity [not just training that we did, but what the others did, too] is that there is a huge gap in expectations and outcome. The agents often fail to grasp the 'culture' aspect of the culture and go back to work with a sense of mannerisms and rituals. This gives them a false confidence, which does its trick if the agent was inherently capable of learning a new way of life through interactions and to conceal his/her shortcomings effectively and intelligently, but indeed, it does not give them an effective framework being one step ahead of the customer and does nothing to make them 'adapt' the client's culture, which is often the expectation.
Further, once you go down the scale to smaller companies, who usually follow the practises of the larger companies but would want to have a shorter, cheaper training period, the training fails completely because it is essentially focused on transactions without context. In those crammed sessions where the agents are taught to behave like Americans, it was all about acting like Americans without understanding why. In some cases, I have heard, such acting almost leads to personality disorders - note that we are talking about mostly teenagers here - and those stories reported severe problems that these kids face adjusting back to their usual day-to-day life.
The point of culture training should not be mimicking an alien culture, but to deal with it comfortably. Well, yes, I know this thing about acting American and trying to sound like one is from Chicago, but I think that's stupidity. First, there is a huge chance that you will be found out. Second, you are being dishonest to start with, which will make you either defensive or arrogant for rest of the conversation, neither good in achieving the sale or customer satisfaction that you are looking for. I would think an agent trained to behave as a global Indian, who is comfortable with who s/he is, will do much better than someone trying to mimic and hide.
So, if we go beyond this acting American view, what shall we try to achieve? I think the key point is meeting behavioural expectations - being courteous, prompt and formal, in case of American clients for example. This starts with being able to anticipate those expectations, without necessarily stereotyping people. Besides, this must be accompanied by an understanding of the principle of difference - that different people see things differently and that is okay - which will indeed make anticipating and meeting those behavioural expectations easier. One must remember while Indians are better in English than some other nationalities, Indians are on a different end of the scale in most dimensions of culture [from Anglo-Americans]. Besides, India is currently in the middle of an Education revolution and currently the Indian workplace is dominated by people from smaller towns. The point about them is that they are steeped in the local/ Indian culture. Their exposure to difference is comparatively less than someone growing up in Mumbai, and hence, their need for an understanding of this principle of difference, greater.