Indian Standard (Meeting) Time May Not Be about Culture

04:06 PM. An important meeting. Six minutes past the start time, conf room is full of empty chairs with few exceptions. One of them is a German.

After 15 minutes, people turn up. There is no guilt. No apologies. When meeting organizer gazes the late comers, the same standard response with sheepish smile –

“Indian standard time”

Clock-4-06-6761459411_476852e097_b

One of the late comers turns to this German participant and becomes brand ambassador and starts explaining –

“You know, this is cultural. We see that time is flexible and we do not have to adhere to the exact time. Once the cultural thing is built in, you know, it is like hardwired.”

This guy was grinning while explaining this. Not sure whether it was the sense of accomplishment in educating a visitor about the local culture or was cracking a joke.

Actually this works very well most of the times. For the people following ‘the culture’, it is easy to explain, justify and continue the practice. For others ‘outside the culture’, well. They can feel superior.

No wonder. The culture is found to be the reason for too many things in places like India – rapes till open defecation. Works well for everyone.

As our brand ambassador is all smiles explaining, the German guy is still serious. This German has little more understanding of India than the rest of typical visitors.

“So this time management is a cultural thing? Then what is Muhurtham? For planning wedding, you look for muhurtham, right? What about pooja at temple? Is time flexible there?”

Now the brand ambassador stops smiling. Indian culture has lunar and solar calendars. On all cultural occasions, the time is never missed. For wedding muhurath of 5AM, all the people involved, plan days ahead on how they would plan in such a way that time is never missed.

Clock at Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

18th Century Clock at Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

“That is really cultural. This meeting time adherence is different culture”

Our local culture expert himself is intrigued and confused. What is the real culture then?

This degraded culture can be named ‘government culture’ or ‘Independent India public culture’. For past few decades, the government culture has degraded. Along with socialism, government was the biggest employer. When a large organization is badly managed, employees tend to slack. The work culture goes bad on all fronts. This spreads across govt institutions, several public sector entities etc. Then experienced people move across companies. This work culture spreads across private and public companies. Lack of honesty, initiative, lethargy, casual approach to time & commitments etc. are all symptoms of the same.

Then there are other factors like nature of business / industry. Slow moving industries like product R&D and high speed customization projects induce different work cultures. When I look myself, I find it easy to work with people with similar industry and work culture irrespective of their place of origin and ‘culture’.

When meetings have specific agenda and when late entries have consequence, people have turned up on time albeit over period of time. When there is a need to confront, use this skill.

There is one major point – The moment any problem is labeled cultural, that subtly seals the chances of improving. Somehow the word culture is branded somewhat static. And somehow the culture also means high scale. This gives good reasons to live with it or to avoid the problem by blaming the culture. Trying to do anything to change it sounds herculean and we would end up conceding defeat even before trying.

The government culture in India seems to be changing. The accountability is getting back rapidly while several large private enterprises have high bureaucracy and mediocrity. It is high time they get back on track. This would include starting meetings on time, stick to agenda and stop on time.

Apart from time management, if you find any problem anywhere is linked to the local culture anywhere in the world, just watch out. It may not be cultural. It may be ‘curable’ in relatively shorter time. Else wrong diagnosis would lead to wrong actions and the problem will remain. It need not be so.