New Russia, new rules

Sep 27, 2016  · by

New Russia: Moscow business district

Topics: Cultural change, Cultures, Russia

The new Russia has new rules. There are classic mistakes that foreigners in Russia make, and some new ones too.

Western and Asian people could be doing great business with Russia, and some are. But many go through a painful learning process before achieving success.

We’ve just finished renewing the advice in CultureConnector for working with the Russians. The new Russia has new rules. There are classic mistakes that foreigners in Russia make, and some new ones too.

Working with the Russians
  • Work personally, not contractually
  • Build towards negotiations, don’t start with them
  • Show emotion
  • Talk to the boss, not to the team
  • Demonstrate the personal benefits
  • Show your strength

I work with Western companies operating in Russia, and vice versa. The success stories are with those Western people who do business in Russia according to local practices, sometimes stepping out of their comfort zone and leaving behind Western ideas of project management, contracts, business-school logic and other assumptions.

Here are some of the key rules for crossing the cultural boundary:

Work personally, not contractually

Don’t overestimate the power of rules and contracts. A lot depends on how strong your personal relationships are with your Russian counterparts.

Build towards negotiations, don’t start with them

Be prepared to invest some time if you want your business to succeed.The classic mistake would be to try and jump into negotiations straightaway without establishing some common ground first. No deal, however great it is, is good on its own without a friendly relationship established first.

Show emotion

Don’t underestimate the power of emotions! The mistake would be to appeal to logic alone, and not emotions, when speaking or pitching to Russian counterparts.

Talk to the boss, not to the team

When negotiating a deal, a contract etc. one should identify and address to the key figure in charge, as he/she would be the key decision-maker on everything, not the team.

Demonstrate the personal benefits

Many senior people are best motivated by the power of authority – and financial rewards. Not by the project itself.

Show your strength

Asking too many questions (instead of being assertive), welcoming multiple opinions and being overly polite are all perceived as signs of weakness. A strong leader figure is authoritative and assertive.

It’s not enough just to be nice and customise your PowerPoints

In my experience, business ventures succeed when the participants are genuinely committed to localising their approach. That goes far, far beyond changing wording and emphasis of PowerPoint presentations, product packaging, or even ensuring local representatives on the team.

Committing to succeed in Russia means finding common ground at a personal level, seeing differences and judging in which areas you can really change your approach.

Russians admire strength, so this is not about being nice and always adopting Russian ways in Russia. You should use your position to do what you do best. The greatest results in cross-cultural business come from building on the core characteristics of both cultures.

Updating your knowledge of Russia

I joined the CultureConnector community of cultural experts to take on a challenge set by the Argonaut team: to bring to CultureConnector the most up to date cultural profile of Russia available anywhere online. I saw immediately that advice on the Russia of 2016-2017 needs to be firmly based on the practicalities of the real Russia of today.

If you are getting your tips from a “how to do business in Russia” book that was was published 10 years ago, or getting reports from people who formed their approach during the Communist period and left Russia a long time ago, you may be getting advice that is out of date. Russia is not a Communist country and it’s not even a post-Communist culture. The business environment, political and media culture, online behaviour, relationships with neighbours have all changed fast during the 21st Century. Russia is new Russia and the unwritten rules are still emerging at a time span as short as 2-3 years!

Pride in history and determination not to chase Western models

Examples of rapid change in the last couple of years include the increase in Russians’ pride in their history and heritage and their increased focus on driving Russia’s own “world mission” and building a “cultural civilisation” on its own terms.

Check out our renewed guidance in CultureConnector by comparing your own profile with the new Russia. Speak with your Russian contacts who operate actively in Russian culture today.

We Russians say Ничто не вечно под луной (nothing is eternal under the moon). So while the cover of your ten-year old guidebook may look up to date, the pages inside may be describing an old Russia that does not exist anymore.

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