“Outsourced” is a film about an employee named Todd and his experiences while working as an expatriate in India. Todd is an employee in a customer service call center for a company that produces America-themed novelty products. At the beginning of the movie, Todd’s boss informs him that their call center is getting outsourced to India. Todd is faced with a tough dilemma. His boss has required that he move to India to train his call center replacements or lose his pension plan. Todd chooses to go to India to train the call center but received essentially no preparation or cross-cultural training. This is evidenced by Todd’s total lack of knowledge about Indian culture and business practices. After facing a drastic learning curve, Todd is eventually able to effectively motivate and communicate with the employees at the Indian call center. He connects with the employees at the call center and even enters a romantic relationship with Asha, one of the employees. The following report aims to analyze some of the situations and interactions from Todd’s experience and relate them to themes of cross-cultural management.
When Todd first arrived in the call center, he had a very ethnocentric attitude and truly had no idea how to communicate with his Indian counterparts. With little to no knowledge about Indian culture, Todd behaved in a way that was arrogant and naïve. He treated his employees like children and could not comprehend how the call center employees did not understand what he was asking of them. For example, Todd tried to teach the call center employees to speak “proper English,” despite the fact that many of the employees were fluent in the language and even spoke it as their first language. Todd even tried to teach the employees Chicagoan accents and instructed the employees to tell customers that they were in Chicago when asked. The Indian employees did not respond well to this request. They even told Todd that they thought it was dishonest to lie to customers. Todd also committed several other culturally insensitive errors. He tries to explain one of the company’s products, a branding iron for beef products, to the call center employees. The call center employees were horrified as Todd explained the process of sticking a hot iron onto the flesh of a cow, as cows are sacred in the Hindi religion. This incident is evidence of Todd’s low cultural intelligence. If he was familiar with his own biases, characteristics of Indian culture, or even how to relate to people from a culture that differs from his, then this situation could have been avoided. Additionally, Todd has a fundamental lack of understanding of basic principles of Indian culture. Culture and the ways that people behave are often influenced by religion. In this case, Todd’s coworkers are influenced by a shared value of the Hindu faith. It is crucial when visiting or working in a foreign country that one understands the influences of culture and how they shape the society’s behaviors and attitudes towards certain practices.
Throughout the film, Todd slowly comes to the realization that he will not be able to teach or motivate the Indian employees in the same way that he could motivate the American employees that he traditionally worked with. After not being able to meet the expected goals of the call center, Todd realizes that something needs to change. At this point, he had begun to recognize some of the cultural differences and identified that he would need to adapt his leadership style to match the people that he was leading. Todd went directly to the people that he was leading and essentially asked “What can I do to motivate you all? What would make this a better working experience for you all?” Todd got some interesting and unexpected answers. The employees wanted to be able to wear traditional Indian business wear to work, rather than the Western business attire that had been previously required. They also wanted to be able to decorate their cubicles with photos of their families. Lastly, they mentioned wanting to be able to order some of the products sold by the company. Todd mentioned that he would set up a program where the employees that had the best call statistics for the week would have their pick of one of the products offered by the company. This practice, specifically, motivated the employees and was a game-changer for the call center’s overall statistics. Todd was somewhat surprised that Indian employees would be motivated to improve by the incentive of receiving a choice of the company’s novelty goods. According to modern motivational theory, however, the things that motivate people are quite different across cultures. What motivates an individual to perform well in the United States may be different than what motivates an individual in India. Additionally, research indicates that multi-national corporations should focus on giving physical rewards, such as novelty items, to lower-level personnel, whereas middle and upper-level employees are more motivated in a climate that fosters challenge and autonomy. Employee motivation is not something that translates perfectly between countries, even employees of the same experience level. In order to effectively motivate an employee, one must consider the cultural implications of the situation.
As mentioned previously, Todd had little knowledge of Indian culture prior to arriving to the country. When he first arrived, he was bombarded by taxi drivers who wanted his business. They totally defied the American norms of personal space and got very close to Todd. They also spoke in elevated voices, which would probably have been perceived as very aggressive in American culture. The verbal communication variables including volume, rate, and intonation of speech have different norms in both Indian and American society. These variables contribute to Todd’s inability to effectively communicate with the taxi drivers. Additionally, the taxi drivers got very close to Todd and essentially encircled him. This is an example of the taxi drivers using proxemics to communicate a message of “I want your business” to Todd. In order to fully understand a message, it is crucial to understand the body language that the person is conveying. This can be especially difficult in cross-cultural situations. It is crucial to understand the non-verbal communication tendencies in a culture, as non-verbal communication carries about 65% of the total message in a two-way conversation.
Upon Todd’s arrival in India, he is essentially forced to stay in a family’s house rather than the hotel that was previously setup. Although this was supposed to be a kind gesture, Todd really just wanted to spend time alone in his hotel room. Todd was quite confused by some of the interactions with the family that he was living with. The mother-figure in the home asked Todd some very personal questions immediately upon his arrival including the following: “Are you married?, “Do you have a girlfriend?,” “Why aren’t you married?,” “Are you looking for an Indian wife?” Todd had no idea how to respond to these questions as he did not really know the woman on a personal level. These questions make Todd quite uncomfortable as it is typically against societal norms in the United States to ask this level of personal questions upon just meeting someone. This uncomfortable situation stems from the fact that culture influences the topics that are appropriate for discussion between members of a society. In every culture, there are certain topics that are not appropriate to discuss. These topics include, but are not limited to, family relations, illnesses, politics, religion, and more. While these may have been normal questions to ask one-another in India, these personal questions being asked by a stranger caught Todd off guard.
India is a country with major cultural differences when compared to the United States. Indian employees are motivated by different factors and expect different leadership styles than American employees. Additionally, there are some engrained social aspects that seem strange and almost unacceptable to people unfamiliar with the culture. When going to India for work or leisure, it is crucial to come with a general understanding of Indian culture. Without a basic understanding of what to expect and cultural dimensions, it is easy to commit a cultural faux paw or even insult someone, much like what Todd did. When visiting cultures that differ greatly from one’s native culture, it is also crucial to avoid adopting an ethnocentric mindset and to be aware that there is no “right” or “wrong” culture; every aspect of culture is both subjective and valid. In addition to understanding the basic behavioral characteristics of Indian culture, it is also important that travelers understand some of the social norms and expectations of Indian culture. For example, Todd did not understand how to properly tip (or not tip) service providers in India. Todd tipped a snow cone machine operator and it was clear but the employee’s behavior that the tip was abnormally large. It is always important that one learn some of the cultural norms and expectations prior to visiting or working in any country. However, when visiting or working in a country that is culturally very different from one’s home country, attaining this knowledge is exponentially more important.