It was in October 2012, when Nick Williams landed in India for the first time. Nick’s visit was a professional one, as his employer of 10 years had transferred him to this new territory.
Fortunately, he arrived on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, October 1st. His second day at work was a public holiday followed by a strike the next day, which helped him settle down easily.
“The adjustment period was fairly significant but smooth-sailing,” quips Williams.
Recalling his first day at work, Williams says, “I came into the office and was shown around. Everything was prepared and ready. I met with my team and introduced myself. Everyone was so warm and welcoming. That really helped me feel settled and at home!”
Williams did not come to India with any pre-conceived notion. And that helped him explore and build an independent opinion about the Indian workplace.
This director - people & corporate communications at Tesco Bengaluru has been in India now for the last three years and is to stay put here for another two and half years.
“It’s only after coming here, I realised how vibrant and rapidly developing this country is, with so much diversity and potential,” he adds.
Williams who moved from the Tesco UK office, is now well versed with the Indian work culture almost like a seasoned professional. It also remains a fact that his job as the HR head allowed him to interact with people much more and the reason for this acquaintance.
Ask Williams, about what differentiates the Indian workplace from the rest of world, he says – passion and diversity. In fact, he is just fascinated by the endemic richness of diversity in the country, be it religion, language and culture.
He says, “The culture in India is less direct when compared to my previous workplace – United Kingdom.”
According to Williams, relationships are often seen as more important than the task at hand, which has also been corroborated by several culture-based researches.
“I find colleagues in India to be very respectful, courteous and polite. There is often a lot of debate and importance put on discussion as opposed to getting to a consensus quickly,” quips Williams and frankly this has been a big learning for him at a personal level.
Besides what left him spellbound was the real passion for learning, progress, taking on challenges and engagement that he saw in his Indian colleagues, which according to him was just unparalleled.
However what bothered him often was the reluctance among his colleagues to share their ideas freely. They were almost hesitant to open up.
To deal with this, Williams had to adapt to the culture and also bring in a change slowly. He developed ideas to encourage the team to express themselves freely, share their opinions. In fact, he also challenged his own perspective as and when required.
“I had to find ways to enable them to do this in a non-threatening and non-hierarchical manner. I guess it was about being open, and also letting them understand that they had complete freedom to express themselves and encouraged more interaction,” Williams comments.
While Williams has encouraged people in his company to be more direct and frank in this approach, he himself has learnt to be a little more diplomatic.
When asked about what he dislikes about the Indian work culture and things he would like to change, Williams says, “I wouldn’t say I strongly dislike anything in particular, but there is obviously some scope for improvement as far as the roads, infrastructure and general cleanliness go, particularly in Bengaluru.”
Williams believes that for anybody who works in a different country, whether India or not, they have to adapt to a different work culture and lifestyle.
If they choose to operate the way they do in their home country, things may not work out as successfully in a different context. “I think the indirectness and respect for hierarchy are things that expats are likely to underestimate,” he says.
“In India, the focus on forging relationships as well as colleagues wanting to spend more time with leaders is very different. The expectation is larger if you are a leader in a function or team. It is a challenge in terms of managing aspirations of colleagues to progress and move quickly through an organisation,” he concludes.