In the interests of fundamentally improving its business, a large Russian company decides to invite over from Western Europe an expert with a wealth of experience in managing enterprises in their industry. However, the expert who arrives spends virtually all his time trying to adapt to being in Russia. Worse still, the expat has not so much been trying to get into the swing of things in terms of business, as in his everyday life (he has brought his family with him), and has not even attempted to make the kind of decisions his employer was expecting of him. By the time this expat senior manager has adapted and begun to take the decisions the company needs, his time in Russia is up. It was decided not to extend his contract. A month later, the next senior executive to be invited from abroad arrives. And, sad to say, the same thing starts again…
There is, in fact, a solution to such a situation. Should the need arise, when an expat arrives from a country where business and living arrangements are completely different from those in Russia, a personal consultant should be assigned to him, a specialist in both the problems to do with him fulfilling his particular obligations, as well as those related to “everyday issues”. Such an assistant would bring the foreigner up to speed in all essential areas. This consultant should both assist in resolving everyday issues, as well as being responsible for corporate immersion, and explaining the social set-up and how Russian society operates (the written and unwritten rules), and monitor the personal safety of the invited expert and the members of his family, and give insights into the workings of the local mentality. This should be arranged by the company inviting the foreign specialist, or by the specialist himself.
One of the biggest European pharmaceutical companies, which entered the Russian market at the end of the last decade, set up its own enterprise on the outskirts of Moscow in 2008. And it has decided to introduce there the corporate management model it uses in the West. This model is predicated upon the desire of each employee to change the business’ activity for the better, perpetually moving it forward, and relies on the individual initiative of workers at every level in matters of expansion. An experienced manager from the country of the mother company has been installed to run the new factory. Skilled local experts have been recruited. But already a few months in, and the principal manager is faced with the fact that all his employees, senior management included, have merely raised certain issues without any suggestions as to how to resolve them. The ball, in their opinion, is in the court of the directorship...
For the managers and owners from a country with a corporate culture other than that in Russia (which means virtually all the countries of Western Europe), it is essential to spell out clearly to the staff what it is they expect from their subordinates. They must make it clear from the start that, other than their legally stated duties, they expect from them concrete suggestions on improving the business, ideally along with a preliminary assessment (pluses, minuses, potential risks) and alternatives. Then, the General Manager, having at his disposal an extensive array of information, compared with the lower and middle management, can make a choice from what has been collected. Both the shaping and support of such proposals from “below”, essential to developing the business, is the responsibility precisely of the manager (employer). Because it is precisely he, as the senior executive, who is the bearer of said corporate culture.
Having opened a branch in Russia several years ago, an American food company has encountered problems with the way information moves around the organization from the bottom up, from top to bottom, and horizontally. Information from the upper echelons, making its way down is either interpreted differently, distorted, or simply “disappears” at the middle level. This information was vital for the work carried out at the lower level. As a result, the workers have started rumours, propagated myths, and jumped to their own conclusions about what is going on and why. The western manager was under the impression that in the event of something lacking (be that information or resources), a shop-floor worker would come and ask about this. But in Russian corporate culture this is not the done thing. Cross-functional fragmentation arises. The business begins to experience problems.
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In Russia (and not only here!) it is essential to pay particular attention to the way in which information channels in the company are set up. It is important that information is guaranteed to arrive, via all management levels, at its intended targets. To ensure communication from the bottom up and the organizing of horizontal cross-functional networking, it is necessary to introduce a separate management function: information flow management. Managing the information field becomes the fifth management function: in addition to the classic Planning, Organizing, Motivating, and Controlling. These channels can take different forms: regular meetings, publishing of a corporate magazine (newsletter), systematic e-mailouts, telephone contact, regular video-conferencing, corporate information on the company website, a specialized online forum, and so on. All of this ensures the uninterrupted and orderly flow of information, and will become the basis of effective communication within the company.
On opening a Russian subsidiary, the managers of one of the Asian technology giants have encountered a problem with indifference towards information amongst the middle-management they have recruited. The senior management have attempted to involve the shop-floor in the process to improve production. And they were expecting information and suggestions from the shop-floor to make its way to them above. But in fact, everything has ground to a halt at the level of the middle-managers who, on principle, didn’t believe in this undertaking in the first place. Accordingly, on the subsequent request for suggestions from below, the already disillusioned workers make no attempt whatsoever to furnish those above with any kind of information at all. The company at the level of its key people – and that is always those on the front-line – has proved itself to be demotivated with respect to the process of change…
It is essential to take a serious approach towards the recruitment and training of middle-managers. It is precisely they who should be a reliable vehicle for the ideas from the directors and ensure feedback. But it is often the case that, on returning to their workplace after a meeting, they say “Fellas, those upstairs are cooking something up for us again…” The middle-managers ought to remember that they are the link in the chain between the senior management and the shop-floor. And that their priority is to reflect the interests of those in charge. It is precisely the middle level that needs to spell out what changes are going on in the company, what they will yield, and why they are necessary. And that just as important is facilitating feedback from bottom to top. The information which is at ground level and which the senior management simply cannot see, because they are hierarchically removed from it, should make its way to them. And it is exactly the middle-mangers who make sure of this. Otherwise the company will cease to be flexible, will react sluggishly to external developments, and will, ultimately, lose ground.