Organizational Culture, Russian Style
Published: April 3, 2013 (Issue # 1753)
At an employment interview at the Russian branch of one transnational company, candidates were asked what they thought an employee should do in case of fire. The answer that HR managers were looking for was “to follow the instructions.” The most common answer received, however, was “to put out the fire.”
“Only one in five candidates gave the right answer,” said Oksana Pochtivaya, senior consultant at Psycon Rus, a consulting company specializing in recruitment, personal assessments, strategic resourcing and leadership development. “And it is this [type of person] who related to the corporate culture of the company and who also accounts for its success.”
This is just one of many example of the differences between Russian and Western outlooks that have an impact on organizational culture. Corporate culture — the values and norms shared by all employees of the organization — exists in every company and influences the efficiency of the business. In cases where it is not specially formulated, corporate culture emerges spontaneously and consists of the vestiges of past working habits brought to the company by its employees — which often may not correspond with the goals of the enterprise.
Another instance of misunderstanding between nationalities, provided by Psycon Rus, concerns the financial director of a large company who moved to Switzerland from Russia and faced difficulties with staff who were not prepared to work a minute past 5 p.m., despite the fact that there was urgent work to be done.
“Russians are usually ready to stay late into the evening without demanding any compensation. To be successful, this director had to adapt to the new culture or leave the company,” said Pochtivaya.
The understanding of organizational culture in Russia and in the West is developing in a broadly parallel fashion, but with the Russian market lagging behind in several key areas. This is because new models of both market and labor relations emerged in Russia little more than 20 years ago.
“Corporate culture in Russian companies is young and is still in the process of being formed. Foreign companies bring us a culture that has been developed over decades,” said Alexander Yegorov, division director at the northwest branch of the Ancor recruitment agency.
“The general differences include the fact that foreign [organizational] culture is more transparent, while there is more impulsiveness and uncertainty in Russian companies,” he said.
“The local approach to forming and managing a corporate culture is characterized by being a young, ambitious and dynamic but anarchic process, while in Europe and the U.S. there are a number of standard practices,” said Olga Shmatko, head of the press office at HeadHunter St. Petersburg, a recruitment agency.
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