Founded in 2004, Mainstream specialises in providing the full range of services covering staff training and development, from the devising and implementing of training programmes, to delivering of projects of any scale and at any level “from scratch”. The company is based in Moscow and operates in the capital’s region, as well as throughout Russia, and in the countries of the CIS. It is striving to become the leading federal company and the pinnacle in terms of services provided on the T&D market.
A western retailer trading in clothing has opened a shop in Moscow. During the process to recruit staff (salespeople, shop administrators) the company comes up against the fact that Russian employees lack the necessary skills to offer high-quality service. Russian salespeople are usually focused only on making a sale, on hitting high figures. Customer service is far from being a priority, and often there is simply nowhere for Russian sales staff to go to acquire the right skills.
At a Russian consultancy company, for the benefit of the Moscow employees, a training programme in customer service quality standards was designed and implemented. It was named “The Good Will Programme”.
First of all, an analysis was made of the situation which had developed in the client’s Moscow outlets. A “Secret Shopper” activity was arranged and carried out: company representatives made various purchases anonymously in the various outlets, and evaluated the level of service from the staff according to a number of criteria, in particular, the way in which they were received, the quality of the conversation, the employee’s outward appearance, their knowledge of the range on offer etc. All of this was recorded in a written report. A similar exercise was carried out in one of the model, western chain-stores. On comparing the results and identifying the problem areas, a set of training measures was proposed which went into forming “The Good Will Programme”.
As part of the programme, over the course of one month, the Moscow employees were trained in communication, business etiquette and client-focus, amongst other things. As a result of the marked improvement in customer service, the client recorded an increase in turnover in his Moscow stores. Analysis of consumer websites showed a sharp upturn in the amount of positive feedback for the customer service in this particular chain of shops. Having proved its effectiveness, the programme was rolled out for clients in other regions of Russia too.
When entering the Russian market, it is a good idea to organise staff training in accordance with those standards acceptable to the parent company. Training programmes should be developed by experts with a sound knowledge of the Russian mentality.
A western pharmaceutical company has set its Russian representative branch the task of carrying out clinical trials for a new drug. They have chosen one of the medical institutions in Moscow. An ostensibly marvellous research team, they greet the western monitor like a welcome guest, treating him to tea and coffee. But…they carry out everything in the wrong way. There are an enormous number of rules violated. Protocol is not followed, the CRF (the database to which information on case histories is to be transferred) is not filled in properly, the drug is not factored in, and more. They apologise, promise to correct things, but, by the time of the next visit, nothing has changed.
What can be done? Change clinics? But, most likely, the same would happen there. It seemed to be a no-win situation. The pharmaceutical company turned to Russian HR specialists.
An analysis was made of the problems which arose in the course of the western monitor’s dealings with the clinic’s representatives. On the basis of the factual information received from the monitors and other sources, a conclusion was arrived at regarding the insufficient organisation of research carried out by state medical institutions. It was recommended to the western pharmacists that they assume control over all stages of the clinical trials using their own system. For the pharmaceutical company, a programme was developed called “Basics of Project Management” which reflected each stage of clinical trials in Russian conditions and included practical exercises covering the most common cases. Aside from project planning, the programme laid emphasis on the particularities of communicating with representatives of Russian state medical establishments. As part of the programme, over a month and a half, Russian specialists held a series of group training sessions with the monitors. A system whereby the trials team was under constant supervision was implemented without any repercussions in the relations between the team members, and the research began to be carried out within the necessary deadlines as stipulated by the parent company’s rules and regulations.
When a western businessman has dealings with Russian state organisations, he must be prepared for extreme sluggishness on the part of its representatives and to propose a system of communication whereby the progress of the duties undertaken by the partner is constantly monitored. Best of all is to utilise the experience gained by Russian companies offering HR- and GR-guidance services.
An international marketing agency has opened a representative office in Moscow, making up its staff with, not only local employees, but also foreign specialists. However, mutual understanding has not fully developed within the collective, and conflicts have arisen threatening to ruin its projects, and the planned financial targets have not been met.
A Russian consultancy company examined the situation and came to the conclusion that the root of the problem was the difference in working styles. The Russian employees were used to working at a fairly low level of intensity, paying no attention to productivity targets, only then, when time to carry out the set tasks had almost run out, to speed up abruptly, suddenly accomplishing a great deal, and working very hard for several days with hardly a break at all, even on public holidays. Western specialists are brought up with a different culture of productivity: they do their work in a methodical manner in complete accordance with a timetable which has been clearly set out.
To overcome these problems, the “Effective Team Cooperation” programme was employed. The programme was adapted to the problems which had developed within the company, with the emphasis on the smoothing over of the inter-cultural differences.
The following tasks were singled out as priorities: to get the employees to focus on attaining the company’s overall aim, to build trust-based relationships within the team, and to raise the level of objectivity in self-appraisal and the appraisal of colleagues. The programme was implemented with the help of a series of one-day team-building corporate events with game-playing tasks to be performed. The atmosphere in the collective quickly improved, and the employees of different cultural backgrounds learned how better to understand one another. Their differences, of course, did not disappear, but now played a constructive, rather than destructive, role.
The problem of cultural contradictions in international working environments is not solved by homogenisation of the company, not by strict adherence to corporate standards, but by systematic teambuilding exercises, created for, or specially adapted to, any given concrete situation.
In each of the European branches of an American producer of feed and fodder, all of the management positions are occupied by Americans. On opening branches in Moscow and other Russian cities, the company employs the same recruitment strategy. However, the Russian branches have not achieved the results which were anticipated.
Analysis showed that the problems were, to a large extent, subjective: the Americans adapted slowly to Russian reality and didn’t fully understand their local colleagues and partners. It was recommended to the company that they recruit Russian nationals to their senior management and that they implement a training programme for them.
The basis for this was an already existing internal management programme with models of leadership, strategy, missions and values common to the whole corporation. The American programme was translated into Russian, but not literally: it was adapted to take on-board specific Russian characteristics, so that it could be applied in Russia too. As regards training cases, an important part of the programme, they were completely replaced by Russian ones.
The training comprised three modules: the basics of project management, change management, and leadership in change management.
During the course of the programme, lasting three months (each module lasted for a month), the participants in the group exercises developed skills in leadership, project management, and in how to behave in the company’s ever-changing environment. One of the American company’s main requirements was that the courses be conducted by a local, Russian provider: a condition which was met. As a result, the company succeeded in instilling its leadership model in the Russian senior managers, in forming an overall corporate strategy for the Russian market, and in hitting its planned financial targets.
In running a western company entering the Russian market, you cannot get by without native senior management. They should operate according to the corporate leadership model and in accordance with the corporate strategy, but this is not achieved through the literal translation of programmes and tenets from HQ into Russian, but through a well thought-out modification tailored to local reality. It is best to entrust such modification to experts from Russia.