Indian Attitude Towards Time – A Strength In Future

We Indians jokingly refer arriving late for a meeting as arriving ISD (Indian Standard Time). However, if you, my reader, are an Indian, you would have heard a question from a western colleague – “Why are Indians late for meetings?” If you are a westerner, you desperately want to know the answer to bring your stress down and figure out whether the Indians actually want to do business with you. However, whether you are an Indian or a westerner, have you ever thought of Indian attitude to time as a strength in the future chaotic world?

Let me delve into a little bit of detail before I answer that. The attitude towards time divides people into two cultures – monochronic people and polychronic people. According to Wikipedia the definitions are:

Monochronic – A monochronic time system, people do things one at a time and segment time into precise, small units. Under this system, time is scheduled, arranged and managed.

Polychronic – In polychronic time system, people do several things simultaneously, and take a more fluid approach to scheduling time.

Indians follow the polychronic time system whereas most of the western countries believe in monochronic time systems. The general perception is that people following monochronic time system are better organized. Hence, monochronic system is superior.

1. Attributes of the two cultures

Below is a table of attributes the people of two cultures show with the current business buzzwords and applicability to Indians. Check it out and tell me whether Indians attitude towards time is going to be strength in future?

No Monochronic People Polychronic People Buzzwords Applicability to Indians
1 Do one thing at a time Do many things at once Single task v/s Multitasking Multitasking
2 Concentrate on the job Can be easily distracted and manage interruptions well Single task v/s Multitasking Multitasking
3 Take time commitments seriously Consider an objective to be achieved, if possible Task oriented v/s goal oriented Goal oriented
4 Are low context and need information Are high context and already have information Direct orders V/s Subtle communication Subtle communication
5 Are committed to the job Are committed to people and human relationships Task oriented v/s people oriented, People oriented
6 Adhere religiously to plans Change plans often and easily Predicted & scheduled v/s Chaotic & complex(Fixed project schedules v/s Flexible planning) Chaotic & complex
7 Are concerned about not disturbing others; follow rules of privacy and consideration Are more concerned with those who are closely related than privacy Individual V/s social communities(Privacy and security v/s social networks and internet) Social communities
8 Show great respect for private property; seldom borrow or lend Borrow and lend things often and easily Ownership v/s credit lending Credit lending
9 Emphasize promptness Base promptness on the relationship Time v/s relationship Relationship
10 Are accustomed to short-term relationships Have strong tendency to build lifetime relationships Transactional relationships v/s Long-term relationships Long-tern relationship

2. Link with current management trends

Now let us discuss the latest management mantras:

a)    Impact of  technology

Advancement in technology and telecommunications has globally connected the world with little segregation possible in work and home life. Managers do multiple tasks now and Gen Y are mentally geared to do so from childhood.

Advantage – India: Indians traditionally do multiple tasks and have a huge population of Gen Y.

b)    Effect of  globalization

Globalization and outsourcing has ensured that managers are not physically available on site to monitor tasks. Secondly, work-life balance is encouraging more people to work from home. Hence, success depends on delivering results and not on completing tasks.

Advantage – India: Indians do not have mindset for process adherence and adopt flexible approaches to achieve targets.

3)    Influence of social networking

In the age of social networking, communication is taking center stage.  Senior managers face the challenge of communicating with a global workforce of different cultures.

Advantage – India: Indian communication style is subtle, layered and non-aggressive.

4)    Demands due to complexity of business 

The space of change in the world has increased due to technology and globalization. The business environment has become complex and chaotic. The long-term planning is not possible because parameters change in a short time.

Advantage – India: Indians managers are used to dealing with adversity and chaos. They are comfortable working delivering results with minimum infrastructure and support.

5)    Finding meaning in relationships

The western organizations have realized that in the long run transactional relationships result in dysfunctional organization culture and reduce customer loyalty.

Advantage – India: Indians believe in long-term relationships even in business. They conduct business after establishing trust and respect in the relationship.

Closing thoughts

I do not know whether I am on the right track. Nevertheless, in my opinion we definitely need to relook, as the risks are high. For instance, presently the western organizations are developing their organization structure, processes and framework according to monochronic thinking. On the other hand, as the business environment requires polychronic behaviour, there is going to be clash in the system. Employees will be confused and unnecessary conflicts will occur. That results only in one thing – lower profits and higher risks.

In Indian organizations, we need to be clear that we do not adopt behavior patterns and change the culture according to our perceptions. We need data and analysis to assess the culture that will be suitable in future. It is possible, that a polychronic culture is better.

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3 comments on “Indian Attitude Towards Time – A Strength In Future

  1. Hi. That was an interesting read..First time i have came across something which looked at “indian std time” in a postive light. With all due respect i would say that your arguments are feeble and far from convincing. Its sounds lyk glorifying our weaknesses. I guess you have looked at it only from a top mgmt point of view where the work usually involves meetings. This chaotic approach has a really bad effect on the overall organizational culture and impacts the work life balance which results in job dissatisfaction and high attrition

    • Rohan,

      Thanks for sharing your candid opinion. I have a request, give me an argument to defend the monochromic time. Stating polychromic time system isn’t good is not sufficient.

      Sonia

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