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With India being seen as a virtual treasure trove of skilled workers, especially in the computer industry, international firms have gone a-recruiting there as never before. If you have the right training and experience the job is yours. It’s that simple. Or is it? Your employer expects you to be in your office in London or San Jose or Frankfurt in a few weeks, functional, acculturated and fully conversant with office etiquette. She expects you to hit the ground running. Suddenly that brilliant resume doesn’t seem quite enough. You need more. Like learning how to function in a foreign country and navigating the ins and outs of an unfamiliar society. You need a helping hand.
Global Adjustments, a Chennai-based company does exactly that. “We help clients to acquire the soft skills, the cultural skills, necessary to function in a foreign country,” says Ranjani Manian, founder and director. “We recognize that everyone has trouble adjusting to a new place and we think just exposing people to some of the situations they’ll face, is a learning experience.” In the past four months over 260 people went through Global Adjustment’s two-day sessions. About 85 percent of them were headed for the U.S.—to California and the Silicon Valley.
The average client, according to Manian, is sent for orientation by his company. He is male, between 25 and 30 years old, comes from a small town in the south like Guntur or Coimbatore and speaks English well, albeit with a thick accent. He is a quick and enthusiastic learner and while he is good at what he does professionally, he is often not familiar with the Western customs like eating with a fork and knife, or with the niceties of the language or with what to wear to the office—all of which might become major roadblocks at work and at play. Manian views this as a challenge, “Okay, so here is this person. We have to ask ourselves how can we turn him into a cultural ambassador for our country? How do we undo all that bad press about Indians abroad?”
The answer is Global Adjustment’s “Western Culture and Etiquette” course. The two-day sessions are designed to be instructive and interactive. They include lectures, videos, role-playing, and games designed around real life situations in the West.
Manian gives an example: “We do mock phone interviews where the client gets familiar with telephone etiquette. When your would-be employer asks you if this is a good time to talk, he is being polite. Say yes. Don’t tell him what the time is or go `hmmm’ or `hello? hello?’ as if you can’t hear.” In other sessions clients have to learn to eat correctly with a fork and knife. They are educated on dress codes—formal and casual. Office protocols (your secretary will not get your coffee and please make your own photocopies); body language (look a person straight in the eye when talking, shake hands firmly); report writing (yes, you have to complete a progress report every week, so spiff it up using those action verbs); and gender conventions (don’t stare at cleavages or at exposed legs) are stressed.
For the benefit of those leaving the shores of their country for the first time, there are lectures on pre-departure preparation and in-flight etiquette. “Many of these people have not been on an airplane before. So it is important to educate them on what to expect,” emphasizes Manian. There is information given on customs and immigration rules and on ground transportation.
Participants leave the course armed with a formidable “survivors” handbook covering everything they could possibly want to know to function in their home away from home—from ordering food at restaurants to shopping at grocery stores, from using toilet paper, to answering questions on Indian customs.
Most of Global Adjustment trainers are expatriates living in Madras. Through them clients get an idea of the “real thing”—accents, dressing, speech pattern and mannerisms, thus enhancing the quality of the program. The sessions are also constantly being fine-tuned based on feedback from clients and from Manian’s frequent trips abroad. As a result the company consistently gets excellent evaluations from participants.
Actually, Manian started Global Adjustments in 1995 primarily as a consultancy to help foreign business people relocate to India. She designed and conducted orientation programs that helped foreigners adjust to the culture and the geographical realities of settling in India. “The Western Culture and Etiquette” session was born when the demand for skilled Indian workers overseas reached a peak last year. It has since become one of the most popular courses in Global Adjustment’s repertoire.
Global Adjustment’s corporate client list reads like a Who’s Who in the international business world. Companies such as Ford Motors, Bayer AG, First Data Corp., Mobil, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, and Toshiba use their services on a regular basis. In India, companies that routinely send their workers abroad like Tata Consultancy Services, Hexaware, and India Software Group are repeat clients as well.
But then Manian is a dynamic woman, with an excellent network of contacts in Chennai where she resides, and overseas. She was recently in the U.S. attending the annual conference of the Employee Relocation Council of which she is a member. “I attend (the conference) every year,” she remarks. “It helps me catch up on latest trends and validates what I am already doing.” She also made a routine stop in the Bay Area to establish contact with some of the Silicon Valley companies “for tie-ups on this end.” And visiting the U.S. is always a learning experience. This year, armed with a video camera, she shot street scenes, home and kitchen layouts for the next session—”anything to familiarize our clients with what they will encounter out here.”
What does she foresee for Global Adjustments in the future? Manian has definite plans. “We would like to expand for sure. There were 200,000 H1 visas granted to Indians last year, and if I’m meeting only 250 (of the visa holders), there is obviously room to expand. What I would like to see is this (orientation) being the next move after getting your visa.”
She emphasizes that the international labor market is very competitive and right now India is center stage. “We have the golden pot at the end of the rainbow. We need to make sure we don’t lose it. If India wants to be a global player, it needs to take the extra step.”
Global Adjustments can be reached at www.globaladjustments.com.