Company Culture and the Universal Workforce

I was reading this great HBR article on how praise and how it is delivered is very important. The article highlights the importance of this via an example of a manager from Germany working with a universal work force. As widely perceived, German culture is heavily result and detail oriented and quantitative. Praise, is often offered as an acknowledgement of the quantitative work delivered. The article described the manager as not being very comfortable with the american way of praise – such as saying “Good job” etc. And this lack of praise got folks to leave.

I do agree with this a 100%. And I would like to extend this to general cultural sensitivity. I work from India in a company spread across at least two geographies. And the folks on the US side are from even more diverse geographic backgrounds (such as the middle east). It is super important to understand the cultural context of the specific team you work with. In the current environment, there is no way, this can be generalized across the company.

Company culture cannot be decentralized either. Local managers (like me) are expected to handle the cultural implications of the local geography. While this is a noble idea, assuming that the local managers know best, it is necessary but not sufficient. This is because, given the increasing amounts of participation from remote geographies on larger projects, it is not just the local manager that the individual contributors work with. More often than not, on a day to day basis, engineers work with other engineers (or their engineering managers on the other side of the ocean). While the local managers tries his or her best to accommodate these cultural conundrums, if the relationship with the others are suffering, there could be bad side effects. This could work against the effort put in my the local manager, and hence making the local manager unhappy as well. Classic examples of cultural differences in the Indian context would be religious festivals (or pujas or functions) where the entire family congregates. In the American context, other than Christmas and Thanksgiving, there are probably no other similarities. Another example is the case of a close family member recuperating from surgery, where the employee would take some time off, or work from home. Again, in the American context, the love and affection is reflected in the quality of health care and care givers that the family member provides.

In closing, my firm belief is that, management in the 21st century is not just project management or technical management. If you are working in what we, in India, call an MNC (or a multi-national-company), management includes educating your peer managers in other geographies on your local cultural context. It also includes you learning from your peer managers about their cultural context and propagating to your team. The more the engineers in your team understand this, the more comfortable the work distribution and interactions become.

(reblogged from

tourism travel

New life into old towns …

This can be replicated in India. I can draw so many similarities to similar towns down south in India. The rich temple culture of the Tanjore district. But somehow the villages are vanishing. The temples are sometimes dilapidated. People want to go there. But there is no comfortable way to do this. They have stay in a distant town – Kumbakonam or Vaitheeswaran Kovil, or Mayavaram, and take a taxi to some of these beautiful centres of culture.

This should happen here as well. This will happen. Some day. Some day ……

(Video source:

leadership Management software startup technology

Right after the acquisition …

I was reading this great article from an ex-Flickr employee on how Tumblr (and its employees) should ride the acquisition wave. In specific, I think some of these points are awesome, immaterial of the current scenario (Tumblr + Y!). These are applicable in almost all big company buys smaller company scenarios. I am reproducing the four points below with some of my observations that I went through during the one acquisition I went through and a few which I have closely seen happen.

Don’t pretend it’s not happening or that it doesn’t matter.

Totally nailed it. It matters. You need to soak it in. You need to absorb in some of the acquiring company’s culture. Make new friends. Get some folks with whom you can gut-check processes. Most importantly, make friends with the non-tech crowd at the bigger company – HR, Finance, Facilities. You will soon realize you would need their help. And help is so much easier to get if you are on their side.

Don’t forget you’re awesome.

You got acquired because the parent company felt that either your technology is awesome, or your talent is awesome. Either ways, you are important to them. Acknowledge that. Dont succumb to giving up everything. A good merger/acquisition is a layer-by-layer mixing of what is best for the joined entity. Do not give up silly little traditions when you were smaller. At the same time, embrace larger cultural practices from the bigger company.

Plan for the Bear Hug.

I think the original article nails this one beautifully. In the initial stages, everyone will jump in and give you ideas. Embrace this togetherness, but have a point-contact for traiging these requests. Else you will get in to a rat hole.

Think bigger.

Now you can. You can think beyond the local market. You can think beyond the handful of customers you have now. You can think beyond restraining marketing budgets. You can ask for help in designing UI. You can ask for data. You can do so much more if you start thinking bigger.

Know how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Now this is one thing, that I have seen happening right in front. After the acquisition happens, there are a certain set of things that happen either due to standardization (example in the article is moving to a common data center, which happens everywhere now), or something that resulted from you thinking bigger. Some things might seem easier when doing it on a larger scale, but along with, comes a ton of headache. Localization, internationalization, local laws, patent disclosures. And I fully agree with the advise in the article about – “Dont be afraid to get a gut-check from someone in the parent company.” These headaches have a thing for magically appearing only  mid way through the project.

Read the original article here.

misc Opinion

Temples in India

Priest in the local temple (to me): Where is the kid?

Me: Oh, he has gone for his summer vacation. Wife’s parents place – Kumbakonam.

Priest: Ohh, Kumbakonam. Where is this?

Me: Down south. Near Tanjore/Trichy.

Priest (with a hint of recognition of the nearby landmark towns): Ok. Ok. Famous for which temple?

Me: (Flummoxed). Lots of temples. Temple town. But a couple of very big Shiva temples.

I came back home and thought about this. Wow. Temples play a huge role in the culture of India. Sure, he was a priest, and he attaches a religious significance to everything. But on hindsight, I have seen a lot of people ask me this question. Or sometimes, offer it as part of the answer. “I am from Sirkazhi. Famous for its Shiva temple. Also where Gnanasambandhar was born.” “I am from Chidambaram. Where Lord Nataraja dances his cosmic dance. “

software startup technology

Reddit Culture

Very very nice video by PBS on Reddit Culture. PBS always makes the best documentaries.

misc news Opinion

Media rant

There are two things that totally ticked me off yesterday. Early morning, I open the door, and take the newspaper and walk in. I am usually a first-page guy. I read the whole first page, and if there is anything more that interests me, I open and read further. As much as I would like to read the paper fully, time constraints me so. So what did I see yesterday that irritated me so much.

There is no front page.

The whole front page is an advertisement from Thomas Cook or some such travel agency. I am seeing this more and more. There are other irritating variants of the same thing that I am seeing in recent times. Some time earlier this month, we had a hole in the front page. Yes. No figuratively, but quite literally. The hole was a cutout in the shape of a VW Beetle – that was the day Volkswagen introduced the beetle in the India. The other variant of this irritating new phenomena is an whole page advertisement in the whole front page, with news interspersed between it. You get my drift. I am sure you empathize with me, when I say, that I had to search for the news that day. (It is already a popular joke, that in Times of India, there is more sleaze, and you have to search for genuine news).

Second irritant: “See culture, See Europe”. Or something almost similar. This is the bold fonted advertisement of some travel agency. *Deep breath*. Does that mean, we do not have culture in our country. Oh, we are in such dire straits, we have to travel to another continent to experience culture. That has been my pet peeve for quite some time. When people come back from an European holiday, and tell me that they saw so much culture,  I sometimes ask them, have they seen all of the culture in India? Have they seen the temples of Tanjore, the Ajanta caves, the ancient city of Varanasi, the ocean temple at Kanyakumari, the beautiful rock carvings of Mahabalipuram? Most of them give me an absurd look, and walk away. But when I saw that front page ad, that ticked me off.

Well, that is my rant. And people object to it, this is my opinion, and you have the right to have yours. This is one of my objectives of this blog. And this is my space. ;-). Why am I sounding a little arrogant here. I have had people shouting at me in my comments, when I make some of these rants in the past.