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Five years ago, the independent film Outsourced won over critics with its comic portrayal of "Todd," a manager who is transplanted from Seattle to India to improve the performance of his company's call center. In the film, Todd survives numerous cultural misunderstandings, including being pelted with colored powders and water balloons by villagers during a religious festival - all while helping the underperforming unit boost its productivity by 50 percent.
As amusing a movie as Outsourced is, in the years ahead the joke will be on companies that think they can rely on Western expatriates such as Todd to manage and lead operations in emerging markets. Expat managers are notoriously bad at adapting to local culture. What's more, the presence of these foreigners often fuels a belief among local employees that there is a ceiling on their own potential in the company.
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