5.5 POST -SOVIET BACKGROUND
As we mention phenomenon of “Soviet” cultural heritage we should understand that it is less significant than Russian cultural traditions, as it dates only seventy years long while Russian traditions are rooted much deeper in history. The surprising fact is, that Soviet culture itself is certainly being built on communist ideas and also used values of traditional Russian culture, and, like any other organism, changed and altered with the passing years. So even if we mind the fact the cultural traits are at the same time new and old, we have to bear in mind they might have existed even longer than seventy years, and influence all spheres of relations between people, for example this can be noticed as non professional approach in business sphere or quite controversial behavior towards strangers showing lack of trust, or, on the contrary, curiosity and hopes for the better changes in their connection.
5.5.1. SERVICE CONCEPT
In comparison to Norwegians, Russians can hardly be called client-oriented, and in such public places as cafes, restaurants, aircrafts and government offices employees and staff may be not respective or attentive to customers, which, Norwegians may take quite personally. This makes big contrast to how Russians may see this issue, as they do not pay any serious attention to it, taking it as a normal state of affairs. Norwegians, on the contrary, often comment on the level of service, rating it as very low, and staff showing low interest in customers and mostly interested in having good relations between themselves rather than paying necessary attention to the customers and leaving very unpleasant impression.
This can probably be explained by the fact that in Russia before 1917 one point of view was domineering that business oriented people, focused on earning money were considered to be primitive and having low taste interests like earning money, profits and so on, on the contrary to the “progressive” communistic ideology, where no profit was put to the main place, the labor of soul was considered to be prevailing over the values over the physical things and objects. Thus, “people who engaged in business were often suspected of selfish, and, implicitly, unethical motives” (Puffer and McCarthy, 1995). This concept looks absolutely opposite to the one of the traditional of the Protestant church values present in Norway: here due to hard daily labor simple man becomes closer to the Creator.
Within the end of the 20-th century people were starting to realize that the values of the socialistic system were not effective and were not working in leading country and people to the prosperity as they were promised to. So people were gradually loosing their faith and trust until absolutely everything connected with the government and authorities and being mentioned about brought only frustration. As all organizations were state owned, and people obviously had no choice with their workplace, also the amount of money they were paid was often not enough to proved with enough quantity of food, so the duties were regarded as something they were trying to minimize and did not associate themselves with their job they were doing, feeling not enough desire to fulfill their duties carefully and well. Surprisingly, state ideology at that moment also helped to develop a similar way of reckless fulfilling thieir responsibilities: as people were not financially oriented, they were obviously not trying to show better results at work.(Aslund and Layard, 1993). So, this conception of labor got its root in all the layers of the society.
At present, though, many private companies being dependant on the clients demand, still manage to preserve this negative concept of attitude towards clients and customers still remains. Especially within those generations of people who have experienced the soviet regime. One Norwegian respondent, who had experience of twenty years of visiting of post soviet Russia described his experience like this: “You can hardly ever notice any service. I used to come to the store and ask if they still did not want any money that day. “He also described his being nice to them and trying his best not to raise the voice as it gave absolutely no result. He also noticed that his first stay was very often the worst for the first time, but, as he became a regular customer, the attitude changed to better.
This small detail again gives us focus to one small nuance we have discussed before: the importance of interpersonal relations. That Norwegian was able to perceive that fact this scheme worked when he did not demonstrate his disappointment with the absence of service, but instead of displaying it in a negative way he found a positive way, to laugh and get finally a positive reply. That was a changing of marketing model “client-manager”, into a model of friendly relations. Finding a way and establishing a friendly contact with anyone who is performing his/her duties, in this situation, two sides become acting and using, their feelings, certainly, in this case obtaining higher quality of service than just a “stranger from outside”.
5.5.2 Absence of necessary business skills
One more characteristics can be found in the post Soviet territory – lack of economic and business knowledge and skills. Maybe now people in Russia are better prepared for doing business than 5 or 10 years ago. Anyway, this issue should be discussed briefly rather than omitted. As soon as we speak about different forms of leadership and motivation, key functional areas, market planning, production management, international finance and organizational development – such terms even did not have the equivalents in Soviet Russian. Here we should notice the difference between the Soviet planned economy and Soviet Russian managers were not ready to deal with Businessmen from the West, having both no knowledge or experience.
Managers from Norway found Russian style of business very primitive, for instance, if Norwegian side claims the price is 100$, Russian side would say it is 50$ and try to achieve 75$, and then Norwegian side would spend 2 hours trying to get 75$. In this situation it has to be mentioned, that it would be possible to achieve the goal of 90$, if altered some conditions, but still Russian managers opted to use the most simple way.
What is more, staying profitable at any moment of the time was not the main issue, as companies’ first duty was to deliver the amount the certain amount of products requested by the state. Companies have no freedom in choosing suppliers of raw materials or plan systematically or efficiently. The effect still remains even now: they have difficulty in forming the price. One more trait of the planning system is that more human resources are added if it is not possible for them to be on time. For Norwegian partners this lack of knowledge means enlarging amounts of work in all spheres of partnerships to be done like providing Russian partners with necessary business knowledge, economic information.
5.5.3 Lack of trust towards strangers
The very curious side of Russian character is that Russians on one side certainly lack trust towards partners from the West, at the same time this can live with the belief that they will help Russians in a difficult situation. Norwegian partners often notice that Russians are not that unfriendly but seem to seldom share their plans about future or information and may be think that Norwegian part are doing business with them and trying to find profit everywhere. Norwegian partners understand that Russians feel they lack funding on the post Soviet territory and probably people from other people are trying to come and get much out of the country without leaving much behind. Such propaganda image exists in minds especially of the people who used to live longer under the Soviet government.
Such relation towards capitalists could be formed not only during the short Soviet period, but even before, as Vasiliev (quoted in Aslund and Layard, 1993), being a Russia’s leading economist, found main characteristics: such characteristics as communal spirit, despised commerce, a grunge against wealthy neighbors have even more perpetuated under the Soviet Government.
Still, Russians at the same time expect the Norwegians to solve all the situations where Russians lack funds, knowledge, technology or have taken the wrong step due to the lack of knowledge. One of Norwegians shared the experience that, in some situations, both Russians and Norwegians did not live up to each others mutual hopes. One Norwegian sales manager has shared a situation of selling products to the farmers in the Russian countryside, explaining that they came there to get money to do business, and their counterparts very often had very different perception how that should be paid for. The contracts were not always fulfilled or even signed.
During the last years the Western Europe has advanced in financially, in technology and technically, so Russian partners expect help from Westerners in all situations. These childish hopes make work even more difficult for Norwegian partners, because Russians think money is not a problem, and Norwegians need to explain, that they have to earn money in a really hard market, which, Russians completely fail to understand.
The concept that the Norwegians are rich, is also supported with the concept that they are “bad capitalists from the West” and consequently leads to a conclusion that it is no need to use ordinary ethic in this special situation, and it would be a normal situation to fool a Norwegian partner and there are examples of treating people in this particular way.
There are numerous cases demonstrating such attitude. One on which to be shown here is Archangel case. One Norwegian Partner decided to invest money in a joint venture with Russian partners, establishing a factory producing doors and windows. To his surprise, he soon got pushed out of this business, when his Russian partners claimed that he had fooled them claiming that Norwegians have fooled them with very low quality of the machinery. The Norwegian partners took the case to the court and won it, but the verdict was never fulfilled, as government did not control this absolutely, making the Norwegians realize that such attitude exists in all layers of society.
As, can be seen from this example, the Norwegian side was absolutely unprepared for the possible trap and when being pushed out, lost most in this case, the case of another company looks much different.
That Norwegian trading company was well experienced working in the North of the Russian market.
In 1990s, the company established a joint venture with a Russian partner in Murmansk: they were an agent company and performed agent work for vessels. The Russian partners acted just like the owners of the furniture company: they started doing business just on their own. But the Norwegian manager acted differently in comparison to the leaders of the furniture company.
He decided to behave calmly, accepted it in a kind of way, saying: Ok, you have taken a lot of my property, I lost a lot in it, So you should pay me back by treating my boats well in Murmansk harbor. ”
Then, he built a working network which helped him to realize the way out of a hopelessly difficult situation.