India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world today and is expected to continue growing strongly over at least the next decade, according to a report published in 2003 by Goldman Sachs, "Dreaming with the BRICs: The Path to 2050." As a rapidly emerging market, it is not surprising that India has adopted an amalgam of "what has worked in the past" when it comes to training—combining both Western and traditionally Indian approaches.
In ancient India, the Brahmins (teachers, scholars, and priests), were the highest caste. The current culture retains the value of a good education, which has several impacts on training in India today. First, the most commonly used university teaching methodology is lecture followed by a few minutes for questions and answers. In all but the most prestigious universities, students often are sanctioned for being "disruptive"—asking too many questions, doing things in any way different from the ways being taught. As they join the workforce, the young Indians of today are becoming more used to Western (more participative) approaches. Typically, it is those Indian graduates who demonstrate they can think outside the box who rise to the top in business.
Second, because of a strong emphasis on the importance of education, programs linked to professors from Harvard or other prestigious Western institutions that have leadership programs are perceived as the best and, therefore, are easy to sell. Programs such as motivational training are difficult to sell unless the founder/Western "guru" is delivering the program himself/herself.
Third, when learning, program participants often value frequent testing to demonstrate "who's best" (separates out the top performers). For one call center redesign project, Indian participants requested that the redesign include daily tests over the four-week training period.
Last, it may be the value placed on learning that explains why, for the same courses, training in India is usually longer than in the U.S.
Many companies train "everyone on everything" for two reasons. First, there is high turnover or churn of those seeking higher-paying positions, and, therefore, more open slots than in Western companies. Also, training can lead to retaining talent because if employees have been trained for multiple positions, it is easier to move them up in the company.
In India, because of the rapid expansion of the economy and the high turnover rates, there is a strong focus on selecting the best from the candidate population, and onboarding. ITAP India's experience has been that the style indicator tools—used to help employers identify good candidates—are the best selling tools.
Training requirements (64 to 80 hours of such skill-building training) often are provided by employers in these ways:
- Employers define eight to 10 critical, but generic, organization skills that need improvement within the company. Programs in these topic areas (such as writing, presentation, team-building) are offered for junior and senior-level employees.
- Employers offer leadership development programs at the middle management level or for identified star performers who have a defined career path.
- Employers also provide training for corrective reasons. Specific problems are identified and solutions provided through training.
Within the last six months, there has been an increasing change in the acceptance of coaching for top management. Many previously perceived coaching as "I must be doing something wrong. I do not want anyone to know I need a coach." In coaching situations, assessment tools also are valued.
Because India's economy is emerging, training prices are considered low by U.S. standards.
Type of training (range in USD):
*Off-the-shelf programs: $500 to $1,500 per day
*Customized programs for middle managers: $ 800 to $ 1,200 per day
*Senior management programs: $1,500 to $2,500 per day
NOTE: Onboarding training for call center employees often is paid at a rate as low as $200 per day. Instructional design rates are about $800 to $1,200, with the rule of thumb being that it takes 4 to 6 hours of design for every 1 hour of finished classroom program.
In one client example (U.S. credit-card company new-hire call-center training), we audited the current training program and made recommendations based on instrument-assessed cultural differences. These recommendations, later adopted by the client, included:
1. Adding more experiential, behavioral, and inductive approaches.
2. Due to a preference by the trainees for structure (technically called a "need for certainty"):
- Developing behavioral objectives for each instructional segment.
- Providing a high level of detail for instructors of the training segments.
- Explaining Americans' preferences for "good customer service" (a cultural-specific preference).
- Describing the differences between Indian and U.S. attitudes toward debt.
3. Providing context, especially around cultural issues (such as how to achieve customer acquisition and retention).
4. Using simple English and simple English terms, avoiding slang and examples taken from U.S. sources that might not be understood. For example, using pictures or names of Indian stores instead of Kmart or TJMaxx has more meaning for Indian call-center operators.
On a final note, in India, the formerly in high demand "feel-good" training now is of less interest. Larger Indian companies are demanding accountability; consultants/trainers need to demonstrate the ROI of training. Companies are demanding training that addresses competencies and skill development linked to job requirements and corporate strategy.
As Indian firms increase their global reach and sharpen their competitive advantages, training is likely to continue to prove important to an economy in which the number of jobs is outstripping graduates with adequate entry-level skills. Those firms that can provide culturally focused training that can demonstrably improve results are likely to find a growing market in India.
Catherine Mercer Bing is executive director of ITAP International, and Pradeep Arora is managing director, TASMAC Management Training Resources (TMTR)/ITAP India. For more information, visit www.itapintl.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.