Outsourcing – The Cultural Effect
Outsourcing – The Cultural Effect

As humans, we are equal but culturally we couldn’t be more different and … thank God for that!

A Culture’s perspective

Culture is defined as “the values, beliefs, behaviors, and norms that shape and reflect the basic worldview and way of life shared by a group of people.”



Let’s consider the following statements:

  • Culture creates social standards that influence behavior.
  • Culture conditions the way to approach some topics or even if to do so at all.
  • Culture presets social group perspectives over topics such as gender, religion or politics, amongst others.

There are two major soft skills that one needs to master prior to Outsource to different cultures, which in fact will be precious in supporting the decision-making process to that the best fit is found:

  • Cultural Awareness which is the ability to look outside ourselves and be aware of the cultural values and customs of the culture we are in.
  • Cultural Competence which is the ability to coordinate, work, or interact with people of different cultures and social backgrounds.

Cultural Awareness becomes central when we have to interact with people from other cultures. It constitutes the foundation of effective communication while involving the ability to become aware of the cultural values, beliefs, and perceptions of others.

  • Why do those people act in that way?
  • How do they see the world?
  • Why do they react in that particular way to a specific action?

Be aware that people with distinct cultural backgrounds basically tend to see, interpret and evaluate things in different ways.

How to manage cultural diversity

To begin with having and respectful and open minded attitude. Admit that you don’t know everything.

Never assume! It is the source of misunderstanding. Take differences for granted, not similarities.

These are some key attitudes when dealing with a different culture:

  • Suspend judgments - Collect as much information as possible so you can describe the situation accurately before evaluating it.
  • Empathy - In order to understand another person, we need to try standing in his/her shoes. Through empathy, we learn how other people would like to be treated by us.
  • Become comfortable with ambiguity - Assume that other people’s attitude towards life may be as effective as our own and that their way will add to what we know.

“If we always do, as it has always been done, we will always get, the same.”

The Example

One of the most significant examples of cultural diversity that works is Singapore, a cosmopolitan society where people from different cultural background live and interact harmoniously.

The immigrants of the past have given the place a mixture of Malay (13,3%), Chinese (74,2%), Indian (9,2%), and European influences, all of which have intermingled over the centuries.

Now, religion is one main pillar of culture, which strongly influences people’s behavior towards diversity. In Singapore, the variety of religions is a direct reflection of the diversity of races living there. This small city state of the modern era has the following religious strong groups:

  • Amongst the Chinese community (the biggest) members are predominantly followers of Buddhism (33,9% of overall population) and Taoism (11,3% of overall population),  although there are also some believers in Shenism.
  • Christians and Catholics (17% of overall population),  and a minority considered as 'free-thinkers' (Those who do not belong to any religion).
  • Malays (the second largest group) are Muslims (14,3% of overall population).
  • Indians (the third largest group) are Hindus (5,2% of overall population), nevertheless, there is a significant number of Muslims and Sikhs within the Indian population.

Now let’s bear in mind that Singapore is an island measuring 28 x 14 miles. Having such religious diversity within such a confined landscape makes religious tolerance “a mandatory social characteristic”.

On Outsourcing

When you decide to Outsource a given task, besides having in consideration the specific required expertise, you should also map the cultural perspective inherent to the potential Outsourcing geographies.

Nowadays getting assertive information about any given geography cultural attitude is easy with all that the Internet makes available. Just be aware of the previous advice; have an open minded attitude and get rid of your assumptions.

One controversial hot topic when speaking about Outsourcing is India, not because they are cheap because the Pillipines are even cheapest, but exactly because they are different.

The main Outsourcing focus of India is Call Center Support and Software Development and from my perspective, there are four main cultural rules that one needs to take in consideration when considering Outsourcing to India:

  • Process – the culture in India requires a clear set of instruction which will then be followed in detail. So, the outcome will be (in the overwhelming majority of the cases) high-quality code that obeys’s as per the requisites that you have defined. The problem is that there is little if any flexibility for “change”, so unless you make sure the requisites are immutable, you will most likely run into trouble. You can hire development from India, but the way to be sure not to run into problems and make the most profit is to hire bug fixing or error correction from them; one single requisite (make it works) and a low cost intervention to solve a “huge pain point” from the client side which will return good revenue.
  • Language – although English is widely understood and spoken in India it is, in fact, a very specific, strong accent “English flavor”. This is most problematic when the needs arise to have the developer in direct contact with the client. An unsettled client, who is complaining about a project that is not meeting his requirements having to speak with someone that is not able to make him/ herself understood is a recipe for disaster, while the alternative of having someone else as the middleman has proven not to work either.
  • Wages – low wages are in fact more of a problem than a high potential for profit. It is commonplace in India for a skilled expert to leave the company or the project without any previous notice or even signs because someone else just offered $1 raise. The local culture, as well as the very low living standard, refrains them from talking to you and asking you to cover the offer they just had from another contractor.
  • Origins – another key aspect to take into account with regards to India is the fact that in this culture your origins matter, a lot! One former colleague of mine once setup a project in India and everything was going fairly well until he had the need to place someone ahead of the local team. He looked for the team member who had the best soft skills and English accent and … all hell broke loose with half of the team vanishing overnight. Now, it was not an issue of having chosen someone the others hated … it was the problem of having chosen someone to lead who is locally perceived as being of an inferior social standard.

Now there are other specifics towards so many other geographies, but that is exactly the point; in your decision-making process carefully consider both the Technical perspective as well as the Soft skills of the target geography you are about to hire from.

Culture matters! Do your homework and choose wisely.

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