Doctoral candidate Virpi Outila, who has carried out her doctoral dissertation in Aalto University School of Business in the area of international business, has studied HR management in Russia by analysing Russian proverbs.
‘Russian proverbs such as “trust but verify” and “I am the manager, you are the fool” describe the Russian world view and partly explain why Western management practices do not necessarily work in Russia’, Ms Outila explains.
Increasing staff participation and giving responsibility to employees are two of the management practices which foreign companies operating in Russia, including Finnish ones, often seek to promote. However, the Russian value system, which is reflected in the proverbs, is often in contradiction with Western values.
In Russia, employees are punished for mistakes
Virpi Outila’s research indicates that in Russia the manager’s main role is to give tasks to subordinates and the subordinates’ role is to carry out the tasks given to them. Furthermore, the manager’s supervision of the subordinates is intensive and continual. The main goal of the supervision is to support the subordinates, but also to prevent mistakes being made. ‘No two mistakes are the same’ is one proverb that describes the habit in Russian working life of carefully analysing mistakes.
Also, imposing punishments for mistakes is considered important in Russia, because it is believed that learning takes place through punishments. The Russian manager thinks that if the employees are not punished for mistakes, they will not know that they have made a mistake. ‘For this reason, it is always important to find the person who was guilty of the mistake,’ Ms Outila adds.
Showing initiative is another practice which faces opposition in Russia. The Russian proverb ‘making initiatives is a punishable offence’ illustrates the way of thinking in Russia, inherited from Soviet times, which does not allow initiative. This principle has sunk deep into Russians’ minds. If someone wants to make an initiative, it must always be first agreed with the manager. In addition, the employees making the initiatives must always implement them themselves.
‘The proverbs express traditional values which change slowly, if at all. For this reason, Western companies are recommended to take note of the local culture and adapt their operating practices to the local working environment in order to obtain the best results.’ Ms Outila concludes.
The proverbs used by Ms Outila in her doctoral study constitute a unique approach to studying both international business and, more broadly, intercultural differences. Particularly in Russia, proverbs are used extensively, so they therefore comprise an interesting way to increase understanding of Russian ways of acting and making sense of the world.
Defence of dissertation
The doctoral dissertation of Virpi Outila in the field of International Business ""Trust but verify": Translation of employee empowerment as a Western organizational practice into the Russian context" will be publicly examined at the Aalto University School of Business on Friday, 18 November 2016. The defence of dissertation will be held in the Main building (address: Runeberginkatu 14-16, Helsinki, Finland), Jenny and Antti Wihuri Hall (C-350, 3rd floor), starting at 2 p.m.
Opponents: Professor Nigel Holden (Leeds University Business School) and Professor Sebastian Reiche (IESE Business School, University of Navarra)
Custos: Professor Rebecca Piekkari