Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Five things India can learn from China - 3. Work Ethic

The word “follow up” is rarely used in China – at least by me. I would like to dreamily believe that there is no word for follow up in Mandarin (not true of course). The Chinese work hard, but with a difference – and therein lies a lesson for India to learn.

In the office, once the job is well understood and within the capability of the individual to perform, you can leave him alone. He needs little supervision. The job is done precisely as it needs to be done. No short cuts, no scrimping on the edges. Nobody needs to look over his shoulder. No lounging around over coffee, no extended lunch break, no going missing. In the BPO business that I was involved in, you could rely on the team in China not to deviate from the standard process. And you didn’t need to check on it.

At home, the maid does not bunk. If she’s not able to come , she tells a day before. If she’s to start work by 9.00, she comes at 8.55. If we call a plumber or an electrician, he comes at the appointed time. And finishes his job before he goes. You rarely have to phone twice.

Now this is not , of course, unique to China. In many countries in the west, you see a similar phenomenon – people are very professional. The difference in China is that people achieve this AND work incredibly hard. The hours that the average worker puts in China will be way above what it is in the west.

In India, too, many people work very hard. But “follow up” is ubiquitous. Nothing will be achieved without follow up, even in a white collar setting. More than 50% of my professional life has been spent “chasing”. Standing on somebody’s head and getting it done. I am willing to bet that there are far more “supervisors” in India than in China.

Why is this so ? One of the most heartening things about China, is that many people consider work “sacred”. They take pride in working hard – not grumble and do it because of having to earn a living. How many times have I thanked somebody for doing something and she has responded back surprised saying “Why are you thanking me ; It was my job” ! In China, until recently tipping was an unheard of phenomenon. Even now, its not very common, although foreigners have come to pollute this atmosphere. The worker feels he is doing his job, for which he is receiving a salary. So the tip is completely unwarranted ! When I was new and I offered a tip, very often the guy looked pained and returned whatever I gave him.

In India, amongst many people, work has lost its sacredness. Its considered OK to scrimp. Its OK to cut corners. Its OK to look for “easy money”. Its OK not to do it, until chased. Its OK to demand an entitlement, before doing the job. The Vishwakarma Puja has become a ritual and lost its true greatness. I know this is an unfair generalisation; many Indians are not like this. And not every Chinese is the opposite either. But there are far more Indians in this mould than Chinese.

So, my call to India, is to “reinstall work is worship”. Its an irony of sorts, that an Indian has to learn “worship” from a Chinese !