‘Bypassing power distance in India’- Agam Berry, Quantified Commerce

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A business should be like a well-oiled machine, with all the cogs and gears cohesively working together towards a desired outcome. All parts are integral to the success of the company. As with any engine, problems arise through internal and external influences. These should be dealt with quickly and efficiently in order to keep moving full steam ahead. But, if a company is dealing with a high-level of power distance, the engine could stall completely.

The power distance index, PDI, deals with the unequal distribution of power in a society or organization, and to what extent the less powerful people accept and expect these circumstances.

Each nation is ranked according to their PDI. The world average has a PDI score of 56.5. India’s score is 77 PDI. Being that India is an emerging superpower and economic powerhouse, this undeniably high PDI can be problematic for corporations.

A high PDI in a company setting can create not only a difficult and unfair working environment, it can also cause lulls in productivity, as employees are uncomfortable providing objective feedback to company heads. It can affect employees’ decision-making processes, in that they require a manager to constantly tell them what to do. A high PDI in a business setting can potentially turn employees into “yes-men/women,” by agreeing to tasks without fully analyzing all the requirements that go into them. So, when a task is unable to be completed or is poorly executed, they are afraid to be honest about their failures. A high PDI from a managerial perspective can be an even worse ordeal.

In a high PDI setting, bosses can act more like chauvinistic dictators. They can have a deep-seated superiority complex and believe they are incapable of error as they preside over their corporation from an ivory tower. They expect employees to bend to their every whim. They fail to take responsibility for their own errors, mostly because they believe they are incapable of making them. This results in employees being blamed for a manager’s incompetence.

From either end of the spectrum, managerial or employee, a high PDI within a company is a recipe for disaster. While a low PDI creates ideal and high-productivity work environments. For example, the Dutch are known for effective communication and an egalitarian managerial style, where employees are given access to all levels of management. India is accustomed to a much different model.

Currently, India is an E-commerce and technology investment hotbed. Investors are eager to jump on board but may not realize all the complications that go into a working with a high PDI. Technology companies and digitally native brands also tend to have a flat-management style which thrives in a low PDI environment. So how do they bridge the gap?

Quantified Commerce is a vertically-integrated company of world-class talented individuals who manoeuvre around the ingrained struggles that come with power distance. Agam Berry, the founder of Quantified Commerce, knows what it means to deal with the power distance with Indian employees. “People afraid of being honest with execs in a flat management style,” he says. “Bypassing power distance in India can be difficult, but our company encourages people to have a voice.”

Quantified Commerce is a rapidly-growing vertically-integrated company (100-300% growth per year over the last five years), that uses an egalitarian approach when it comes to managing its Indian employees. “We push them to speak up and be held accountable for their actions. The execs hold everyone to the same standard that they hold themselves, “We made speaking up and having backbone one of the core values so that people feel confident bringing up issues to their supervisors and we are constantly trying to drill that in,” says Berry. “We will always make mistakes, as any company does, but they will be a lot easier to fix if everyone just speaks up and points them out.” Quantified Commerce focuses on open communication and continuous education within a constantly changing digital environment.”

“Everyday, our Indian employees go through 1-2 hours of education,” Berry says. “Keeping them up to date not only with constant tech advancements, but training them in our workplace culture, is of vital importance to our company.” Because of the Quantified Commerce’s commitment to the continuous development of its employees, the company develops in a positive direction as well.

High PDI may take a lot of work to overcome, but the end goal of creating a cohesive and well-run digital company is worth it. It’s important to encourage employees and upper-level executives to all be held accountable for their actions. All employees should feel like the have a voice in their company since everyone’s role is crucial to the company’s continued success.
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