Working with managers from the Former Soviet Union (FSU)-revised

This post will describe my experience is working with people from the former Soviet Union. I do not suggest that I describe anything more than my experience. Every pattern has exceptions, we all have met worldly Americans, disorganized Germans, loud Thais and humble Israelis. But there are patterns of culture.

I have worked with about 120 people from the FSU in intensive consulting relationships. Over time, I began to see things that repeat themselves despite different types of business, different ages, and a different time frame for having left the FSU. The people I have worked/work with are based in Germany, the UK, the US, Canada and Israel.

I certainly stand against political correctness. However, the goal of the following list is to characterize, not stereotype,

1) Relationships start from deep mistrust, then migrate to trust very slowly.

2) There is a lot of cynicism, and most of it is healthy. Cynicism is the parallel of the American yes-we-can, except it is no-we-can’t. However, it is a starting point from which to move on to: how can we do it anyway.
This stands in sharp contrast to yes-we-canners, who suddenly develop cold feet.

3) There is a lot of compassion and true caring, masked by toughness. The talk is  hard and the heart is compassionate.

4) There is a lot of passion, a lot of investment in problem solving, and a lot of emotion. 

5) Organizational life is about details, not high level abstractions. There is very low tolerance for sloganeering. It is all about pragmatism. Idealism and Utopian ideas are severely scorned.

6) Transparency is viewed with deep suspicion; it is often viewed as pure stupidity. People need to protect themselves.

7) Things are thought out and thrashed through in informal meetings with trusted people. Formal meetings are more ceremonial.

8) Communication style is slightly dour with little place for humour in formal setting, although informally, the dourness melts away!

9) Win win is seen as a western quirk. If I win, you lose. If you win, I lose-is far more prominent.

10) There is a deep pride in professionalism. There is far more respect for experts than for branding, to be sure. And certainly there is more loyalty to maintaining one’s reputation as an expert than managing one’s career.

11) Political correctness -forget it.

12) When something goes wrong, there is more focus on solving the problem than fixing the process or lessons learned. People accept that shit happens.

My satiric Gloria blog has an absurd character called Comrade Carl Marks. Many former Russians love this colourful character, yet Americans/Canadians have told me that Comrade Carl is a bit insulting. Very telling difference. (By the way, readers of the Gloria blog as me if I speak Russian. I do not. But I do know about 200 swear words).

And finally, I LOVE working with this population. It is very hard to break in and gain access to trust, especially for someone with some semi -Anglo like type like me, but once you break it, things get done.


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5 thoughts on “Working with managers from the Former Soviet Union (FSU)-revised

  1. Many of your comments remind me of Rachmaninov’s music: “There is a lot of passion, a lot of investment, and a lot of emotion”.

  2. Allon, did you mean “The talk is soft and the heart is compassionate.” or that “The talk is HARD but the heart is compassionate”?

  3. My experience was largely in a social services context, & not nearly as broad as yours Allon.

    What I saw was many people who were akin to what you see in prisoners released from long prison sentences. hey were coming from a total institution” where all decisions were made for them, they had very limited options or choices, etc.

    Upon coming to the U.S., they were suddenly in an environment where they had to make every choice for themselves & even the simplest daily tasks involved more options than they could previously imagine. Many found it all completely overwhelming & had great difficulty adapting.

    They were also coming from a culture where often the person who kvetched the most & loudest got what they wanted. & in the Soviet Union, there was no such thing as private social services, so in their perspective such services were both entitlements & it was perfectly acceptable to manipulate & abuse them.

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