My Observations About Russian Management Practices and Challenges
I have visited Russia the first time in 1991. I gave some lectures but showed no interest to continue working there. I found that my theories and practices were premature for Russia at the time. It was time where people were busy grabbing as much of the government properties for themselves as possible and to talk about mutual trust and respect would have been a joke.
Due to the efforts of Sergey Muyasedof and Ashot Seferian of IBS, Academy of Economics of the Russian Federation, I came back in 2008, got my books published in Russian and I started lecturing and consulting intensely in Russia.
Here are some of my observations from my field experiences.
Not challenging authority
Once I was lecturing in Kiev to top executives. By mistake I moved the transparency on which I was writing sideways. It caused the audience to have to tilt their heads almost ninety degrees to read what I was projecting. Only at the end of my lecture I noticed my mistake.
The interesting phenomenon is that no one, not one of the people in the audience, and these were top executives, pointed to me my mistake.
I tried to repeat this mistake in Russia where I lectured to eight hundred students of management and executives. This time I made the mistake on purpose. Again, no one corrected me.
My hypothesis was that people in former communist countries do not dare to challenge authority.
I found evidence to support this hypothesis in my work. More than one CEO told me that he should not attend my sessions where a discussion was taking place as to what changes the company should take because he felt that if he was there, no one would dare to discuss anything openly.
In one company, high-ranking executives are financially punished if they do not return calls of the CEO within fifteen minutes. Some executives tell me the accumulative penalties sometimes are higher than their monthly salary. Some executives travel two hours each way to get to work not because of the distance, but because traffic hardly moves. There is no uproar of disapproval. No sit-downs. No challenge of the authorities.
Workers rights in Russia resemble the workers rights in America in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Not too many rights and no much protection. For a country where the proletariat was supposed to be the dictator, this development is one hundred and eighty degrees in the other direction. How come one does not hear about strikes?
Corruption is rampant in Russia. People complain in private. But as I listen to them, it is not complaints with energy behind them to fight it and change it. It is a meek expression of the fact, shrugging shoulders as if what is, is, and there is no much that can be done.
Lack of Transparency
An OD consultant told me about a very interesting incident. For a warm up exercise he told the participants in his session to tell the group something no one knows about them.
There was silence.
During the break he tried to find out why the exercise failed.
“And how are you going to use the information?” he was asked.
Fear is one of the characteristics of the system. People are afraid to share information. To talk freely which is another factor hampering innovation, flexibility and healthy management of companies.
The communist era has left its print on the culture and it is going to take some time to change the culture of fear.
Why is it important not to have fear of authorities? Because Russia wants to be innovative, entrepreneurial. President Medvedev is making this one of the major priorities of his regime.
Without openness, willingness to discuss and debate, innovation and entrepreneurship are limited at best.
But that is not happening. At least not as evidenced from the management education provided today.
Copying the wrong model
There is no literal translation to Russian of the word “management.” The English word is used.
But not only the word is being copied from the United States. The whole management ideology of how to manage companies is being copied. Why? Because the top down practice of management that characterizes USA fits well with the Russian culture of authority domination. The profit motive as the dominant factor in directing the choices managers will make, is another attractive feature of American management practice. It is a response to the lack of profit motivation, which characterizes the socialist practice; one they are trying to go away from.
The Russian Business schools are enamored with the Harvard Business School, not realizing that management theory is not a science. It is a system based on values, on a certain ideology of individualism, competition, and profit motivation overruling human concerns. It is a Hobbsian philosophy of “man to man is a wolf” in action.
I believe that this wholesale copying of American theories of management is dysfunctional to Russia. Russian culture requires practices that will change their culture of fear, of authority domination, not reinforcing it. Russia needs to develop its own managerial theory and practice. The Japanese did and the Germans did with their co determination model.
The above need for genuine Russian home grown theory and practice of management is manifested in the Russian language. I found many words in English, which have no literal translation in Russian. If a word is missing, than a certain phenomena is missing too, otherwise how come there is no word for the phenomena.
We already discussed that there is no translation for “management”.
There is no literal translation for “efficiency” either. It is translated as efektive which is effectiveness and effectiveness is translated as resultativno, result generation.
But not all results necessarily make the organization serve its clients well and thus make the organization effective.
The whole concept of effectiveness and efficiency is very confusing in the Russian culture, so I believe.
There is no direct translation to the concept of “accountability“ or “privacy” either.
How can one copy managerial theories where those words exist, into a country whose language does not have these concepts?
Listen to these Russian expressions, which manifest the culture I was referring to before:
Я начальник- Ты дурак, Ты начальник – Я дурак (I supervisor, you stupid. You supervisor- I stupid.)
С горки виднее. Сверху виднее (From high up you see better)
Please notice the authoritarian culture being expressed here in expressions used in this culture.
Instead of copying Harvard management education Russia needs to look at other managerial practices, which promote openness, freedom of expression, entrapreneurship, participative management, teamwork.
There is much to be learned from the Japanese. And the Germans.
And much to be developed to be genuine Russian.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes