Russian Radio Interviews Dot-Connect Managing Director Rana Sinha on 23.4.2007
Theme: Challenges in Russian cooperation with Finnish companies and Finns.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FINNISH AND RUSSIAN WAYS OF DOING BUSINESS
Question 1: Your work sounds very interesting, but what exactly do you do?
We help people from different countries adapt to a new culture and learn to work better with the locals. You have to learn the mindsets of people before you can understand them. If you can't understand others, how can you work with them? Then we coach people skills for presenting themselves effectively and professionally. Many people are experts in their work but they can't present themselves so everyone gets a bad impression of them. With our training they learn skills to develop their own natural style and get their message across clearly. Then they get recognition and become successful.
Question 2:Tell me, how are your services relevant to Russians? Have you had any Russian clients?
Oh yes, many Russian clients. I remember one elderly gentleman, Mihail Ivanovitch, the country manager for a large multinational in Russia. He was a very interesting student. As an engineer, he was better with machines than with people and it took some time to develop his presentation and style of communication. Another young man who came to work for a large bank in Finland was a delightful student as he had so many unusual questions. In spite of being neighbours, Finland and Russia represent two entirely different cultures and value sets. This creates very big communication problems on both sides. The Russians can be very messianic and believe that Moscow is the "Third Rome" while Finns believe that their model of Welfare state is the greatest achievement of humanity. Russians are hierarchic while Finns like everyone to be equal. So both sides have to learn how the others think, what are their mindsets before they can work together. Look at the words of this year's Finnish entry for the Eurovision song contest "Leave me alone". No Russian can ever understand this, except if they come from a shamanistic tradition in deepest Siberia.
Question 3:What do you mean by "Russians are more hierarchic?
By hierarchic I mean that in a Russian company there are many levels of power and authority. The big boss there is a real big boss who has to take responsibility for everything. Nothing important happens before the big boss formally gives the green signal. In a Finnish company, power and responsibility is distributed at different levels and even lower managers and teams can make decisions after discussions. Any employee could walk up to the biggest boss and speak up. This is not usually done in Russian companies. If you want to reach the biggest boss, you have to get through different levels first.
Question 4:What do you see as the main problem for Russians working in Finland?
Well, we can say that the main problem for Russians working in Finland is old stereotypical attitudes on both sides! If one Russian has done something bad, Finns tend to think that all Russians are like this. Similarly, if one Finn has done something stupid, it does not mean that all Finns do the same. The media usually reports bad news easily and people generalize quickly. You know, in winter when the railways have problems with trains being late, they say, "We had the wrong kind of snow". You can easily see how the wrong kind of experience of people give a bad name to the whole culture. So it's very important to have your own experience of meeting good decent people, which most Finns and Russians are.
Question 5:The other side of the coin - what do you think are the main problems for the Finns working with Russians?
The main problem for Finns working with Russians is the big differences in culture. Also the history of the wars etc., have an effect still but mainly the problems come from the individual's relationship to the official system. An ordinary Russian sees the official system and bureaucracy as making life harder for him, so he has to always find ways to get around. When a Russian sees official information, he says "OK, this is the official version, but what might be happening behind the scenes?" Now, a Finn seldom thinks like this, for him the official version and reality are the same. As you know, in Finland the scale is much smaller and the system actually can take care of the individual and for Finns, it is better to cooperate fully with the system. Thus in Finland, you have no need to develop the blat mechanism or try to get around the system.
Question 6:So how do you see the future of Russians cooperating with Finns?
Finnish and Russian cultures share many many things. You can easily see similar drinking habits and even customs except the lovely speechmaking traditions in Russia. When a Finn dies, the relatives he leaves behind make a list of what he leaves behind. This is called the perunkirjoitus in Finnish. Very few people know that this is a remnant of an ancient ritual from old Russian pre-Christian mythology, where you give Perun, the god of thunder and bringer of rains an offering so that he will give good crops and good life to the dead person's live relatives.
Another successful example of Finland and Russia cooperating is the arts, especially music. But, very few people know that one Finn, Marion Rung (of Russian origin) actually won the Intervision song contest (i.e., Sopot or the East block version of Eurovision) in 1980.
The Internet, mobile technology has changed the world and we are very different from our fathers and grandfathers in many ways. We meet more people and visit more places than them and thus we need to manage with different people. Things happen much quicker nowadays. Of course, like our ancestors, we need to eat when we are hungry or we need to feel respected and loved. I was giving seminars in Saudi Arabia, which is a very rich country. Many foreign workers there told me that even if you are rolling in money, you have this empty feeling much worse than hunger, if you feel you are not valued and respected. Now, people have different values and respect others for different reasons. It is not easy to earn respect from others if you don't know what others respect. This is also the case between Finns and Russians. But as Finns and Russians are neighbours, we learn to find unique solutions, as the Beatles song goes "I get by with a little help from my friends" - and in our company we try to provide just this little help, as we believe in a better future for everyone.