Business culture in Russia

The pace of change in Russian business is remarkably fast. Until recently companies were dominated by the young pioneers that made names for themselves after the fall of the Iron curtain, or the old party bosses who staked an early claim in the new environment. In addition, there were a number of academics who also struck out into business, but in all cases corporate structure was autocratic. Middle management had no authority.

However, change is starting to take hold as flat management structures are becoming more common, and women are beginning to take more senior roles.

What has not changed is the key feature of business revolving around personal contact between senior individuals. With change taking place fast and contract law having little value, relationships with senior managers are the conduit for winning and keeping business. In addition, the spoken word is more readily believed than written documents. This all adds up to the need to meet people and keep in close touch with them in person. Email communication will not suffice.

Western business executives often become unnerved in meetings with Russians. The seemingly cold attitude and lack of response is not a sign of alienation or rejection. Russian culture is based on taking time to think and the belief that meetings should be formal. A seemingly stony attitude is not automatically a sign of negative response.

Formal meetings are not always used as a decision making platform. The autocratic nature of business history means that private discussions are the place in which decisions are made with meetings used for ratification.

Another consideration is that with so much change taking place a large proportion of business is based on short term benefit rather than strategic operations. In a country in which nobody can be sure of the future a quick return is required from most propositions.