The South Asian Times

20 February 2019 11:03 AM

Harvard Dean Nitin Nohria seeks change in Indian work culture

By Special to The South Asian Times

New York: Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, pointing out the culture of procrastination in India, has said that employees at different companies don’t do any good for the country with that kind of attitude.

He was asked about the widespread Chalta Hai work culture in the country.

“It’s very difficult [for foreign investors] to operate in this kind of environment, where there is no time commitment and in which all major things are put off till the last minute. Employees, without taking the initiative, work only when given orders by their supervisors,” Nohria said last week at the Consulate General of India where he delivered a lecture on ‘Doing Business in India: the Good and the Bad.’

Aparisim “Bobby” Ghosh, a former editor in chief at The Hindustan Times, moderated the discussion while Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty introduced the guests to the roomful of audience.

“In the US, the relationship between employers and employees is transactional, while in India family businesses dominate,” Nohria said. “The employer-employee relationship begins with one of familiarity. They (the employers) think that the business itself is their ‘parivar’ (family).”

He had a word of advice for banks, asking them to shun the habit of extending loans on the basis of ‘parivar’ culture. “They should get into the mode of banks in the West where transactions are done with rigid collateral rules,” Nohria noted.

Nohria’s was the second in the New India Lecture Series at the consulate. Arvind Panagariya, formerly vice chairman of the Niti Aayog in New Delhi, delivered the first lecture in January. The third in the series will be delivered this month by Hussain Haqqani, ambassador of Pakistan to the US 2008-2011.

In 1988, Nohria – who studied at IIT, Bombay and MIT -- joined the Harvard faculty and is now the 10th dean of the business school. He hails from Rajasthan, but was raised in Ludhiana.

The dean, who has written 16 books, spoke about the concept of ‘jugaad’—the art of improvisation prevalent in India and other developing nations – and said that it is a smart business tool used for the good of society. Nohria, however, cautioned that this might pose hurdles to foreign investors who want to do business with confidence.

Worker training, more qualitative education, laying off teachers that are not efficient and productive are among the measures suggested to improve the system. “Indian IT companies did well because of extraordinary training programs,” he said. “Infosys and Wipro have extraordinary training programs.”

Nohria also praised Paytm, “If there is a company that has the opportunity to be the next Infosys and the next TCS, it’s Paytm,” adding that in China, where people mostly used to depend upon cash for transactions, many cash deals are now done digitally.

On the issue of graft raised by this writer, the dean said, “The level of corruption prevailing in a society influences foreign investment decision making. The higher the level, the lesser is the potential investment.”

Update: 10 March, 2018