HBR: Different Cultures See Deadlines Differently
In order to understand how a supposedly black-and-white concept can be interpreted in different ways, you first have to understand how different cultures perceive time. Western cultures tend to view time as linear, with a definitive beginning and end. Time is viewed as limited in supply, so Western people structure their lives, especially business operations, by milestones and deadlines. Failure to meet them could be interpreted as having a poor work ethic or being incompetent.
Other cultures perceive time as cyclical and endless. More importance is placed on doing things right and maintaining harmony, rather than worrying about getting things done “on time.” In India, for instance, deadlines are viewed as “targets” to be met in the context of competing tasks and priorities and the potential damage a delay would have on a particular relationship.
This isn’t to say deadline-oriented cultures aren’t concerned with doing a job well or nurturing relationships, but getting the job done on time is the primary capitalistic driver of being first to market. It often takes precedence over whether relationships may be negatively impacted. Time often literally equals money, in terms of costs, profit margins, and beating the competition for market share.