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Incredible India and breaking the hierarchy

Our interesting learnings and reflections from the incredible India.

Jaakko Hartikainen / May 31, 2019

Our visit in our office in Pune, India turned out to be a great learning opportunity for management paradigms. In consequence, we decided to change our planned blog schedule and write an ad-hoc intermediate blog for sharing interesting learnings and reflections from the incredible India.

On the way to our office

On the way to our office

During our three days visit in Pune we had several intensive one-to-one discussions and small workshops with many people in various roles participating. We wanted to thoroughly understand the cultural aspects and the feelings of the people especially from the management paradigm perspective. When we concluded our findings and learning on the final day for the whole team, every word in the presentation was generated by the teams and individuals in Pune during the 3 days  – not as one might too often see, people from Western world coming to tell how things are or should be.


Our Swedish colleague Niklas Jägerklou taking selfie with the Indian team in the final meeting where we shared findings & learnings

Our Swedish colleague Niklas Jägerklou taking selfie with the Indian team in the final meeting where we shared findings & learnings

Overall environment in India

Because of the Britain Imperialism and other things in the history, India is probably one of the most hierarchical cultures in the world. This came up in our discussion with local people and is explained in several texts like “Indian business management style” article from World Business Culture.

In the discussions we learned that the hierarchical mindset is present everywhere in different institutions and universities etc. which obviously makes it strongly rooted into systems and minds.

We all wear different glasses when looking at the world

In the discussions we learned that we all look and interpret the world through our own glasses, which we have built during our whole life journey in the surrounding cultural context. Therefore, the management paradigms obviously also look and feel different. For one person observing certain operations might feel like highly hierarchical with heroic leadership behaviors, while another person with different glasses might interpret the same thing as more flat organization with servant leadership. Our interpretations are very much relative to the surrounding environment. Many institutions and several companies in India operate with quite extreme command & control model which affects the glasses Indian people have interpreting the operations.

Cultural impact to our teams’ context

In the discussions we got several interesting concrete examples on how the prevailing culture is impacting real life business situations in our context. Some example findings:

  • Progress in own CV is important for people. We heard that there were 1.000,000 applicants for 800 jobs in Indian railways! In this context it is very understandable that people need to focus on their CV for securing their career.
    => In “Living Organism” type of more flat model people are not climbing organizational ladders and thus the CV is not so well illustrating your achievements and development.
  • Strong process orientation (e.g. CMMI). Many companies in India have high attrition. In this environment the organizations have high attention on securing the quality by focusing on strong processes and check points designed by managers or consultants outside the daily work. 
    => In “Living Organism” focus is much more on people and the belief that adaptive network of people with high autonomy will bring the discipline and quality.
  • People are used to have individual responsibility and role clarity given by the manager. Organizations are not used to collective responsibility taking.
    => “Living Organism” mindset is built on systemic value creation approach where individuals look for their best value creation and contributions. Responsibilities are carried more collectively by teams and the network of teams.

Human needs & emotions are the same everywhere  – need for psychological safety sets the first barrier to overcome

No matter what kind of glasses we wear, the deep, fundamental psychological needs and thus, emerging emotions and feelings are the same. We need other people around us. We need feeling of safety, inclusion and acceptance in the community we belong to. Furthermore, feeling of purpose, learning and personal development as well as having enough autonomy are the elements making us inspired and thrive as human beings.

We believe that in a society where the safety net is weaker, competition is tougher and consequences are stronger, psychological safety is the first key element to enable people start to behave in a new way. If psychological safety would not be in place, there is no willingness to seek for new, better ways to work. The balance of risk and opportunity in trying something new is heavily biased and your mental model rewards you for not challenging anything, just playing it safe and surviving. We had some wonderful discussions about what are the ways to increase psychological safety in our context. Increasing transparency, sharing learnings, failures & successes as well as developing leaders’ understanding about tools of creating an environment of safety are few of them. Naturally, the whole chain of command needs to support the initiative, or otherwise the next level in the ladder will kill the new behaviors fast.

Conclusions and takeaways

Despite the quite clear and big distinction between the cultural frame and the new paradigm, people were very inspired about the new way of thinking. People also mentioned that in general things are changing and operations are getting less hierarchic all the time. One finding was also that the individuals who have experience in agile development & environment in roles such as scrum master are typically much more used to servant leadership and less hierarchic operations.

On a human level the new paradigm was perceived positively. There was strong willingness to explore this further. At the same time there were clear concerns on the practical implementation due to country specific cultural aspects.

It was great to see the maturity and openness in the discussions about management and leadership in Indian context. People proactively lifted up their concerns and worries, but also at the same time expressed their belief and enthusiasm exploring this further. For moving forward it’s very important that the people in India take active role and start developing suitable variant of the paradigm in their context. It is a huge transformation and needs to be done carefully with high respect for the culture and big ears for listening the people.

Having high versatility and teams across the globe in societies like India makes this transformation journey challenging but also at the same time even more exciting!

With passion and humility,

Co-authors Jaakko Hartikainen & Mikko Virtanen


Our blog series:

No 1: Call for Paradigm Shift in Management
No 2: Magnitude of Change when Shifting Management Paradigm
No 3: Why do so many companies manage people like machines and why is it one of the biggest problems of our times?
No 4: How to drive paradigm level change?  Our learnings and one crucial breakthrough innovation
No 5: Incredible India and breaking the hierarchy
No 6: Management paradigms in a nutshell, inspired by Frederic Laloux's book Reinventing Organizations
No 7: Our unforgettable journey to trust, transparency and eventually success 
No 8: We all know that “Carrot and Stick” model is outdated — Why is it so damn hard to implement new ways?
No 9: The Power of Purpose
No 10: Finding your purpose and living your life with it can unleash tremendous potential 
No 11: Organization as living organism and complex adaptive system

Jaakko Hartikainen
Head of CEM

Jaakko Hartikainen is a senior business leader with broad experience in building next generation digital services, agile way of working and new business models. His passion is to place humanity at the heart of everything and build sustainable success for increasingly complex world by empowered people and teams.


Jaakko Hartikainen

Head of CEM

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