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Your company: do you respect it?

I have always been interested in the relationship between an individual and the company he/she works for. There is no need to prove there is much in common between the two. To some extent a company is a living organism. Both the company and the employee have the date of birth. Both grow, advance in development and compete with peers. Both follow a certain set of values and the code of ethics. Both can squander the money or invest it in development, get profits or bankrupt. Both go through ups and downs, overcome failures or enjoy prosperity. Both their lifetimes are limited.

Companies and individuals do interact. Their interests and goals do sometimes coincide. And there are life periods when they are deeply interested in each other. Their joint life lasts until the person leaves the company. If to compare a job to married life, sooner or later the question of faithfulness or loyalty arises.

Let us examine an employee loyalty. Observations suggest that loyalty is related to the national peculiarities and traditions, e.g. the Japanese with their life-time contracts. According to Mr. V. Dominyak’s definition, Trainer-Consultant of the Centre for Management Consulting «Solution», loyalty is a «friendly, tactful, sincere and respectful attitude towards the superiors and the employees, their actions, and the company itself; it also denotes implementation of duties and obligations in line with the company’s strategy and goals, as well as adhering to the standards, rules and requirements, including the informal ones, with regard to the company, colleagues and other people».

Let us speculate on the peculiarities of the employees’ loyalty in Russia.

Going back to history: Russian companies were state-owned for over 70 years. Any competition between them, except for very special cases, was forbidden. There was no notion of a «brand». Advertising was considered bourgeois. In general, all Soviet companies employed common rules and regulations in terms of positions, job instructions, range of salaries, internal procedures — they were identical for all existing companies. Job changes were regulated by the state too. In brief, the state itself was a mega corporation.

Were employees loyal then? There is no straightforward answer to that. Brand loyalty to a company was very low. But there was loyalty to the state or a branch of industry. It was especially noticeable in military industries: «I work for the Soviet space», «I produce Soviet submarines, the best in the world». Such definitions inspired pride and patriotic feelings. The so-called industrial loyalty was fortified by state holidays. We still have such holidays as the Builder’s Day, Railwayman’s day, Fisherman’s Day, etc.

Like today loyalty to top management depended heavily on the personal qualities of the manager. However, loyalty to big or small work teams was more significant. Such teams had specific values, standards and norms often different from official ones. The risk of being neglected by colleagues had the same effect as the risk of being dismissed. The state tried to enhance the historic and national collectivism of Russian employees by holding numerous meetings, labour team councils etc.

The loyalty with respect to the implementation of rules and procedures was rather low. The overwhelming majority of employees presumed (and reasonably) that the state underpaid them. To sneak something from work was considered a fair thing. Strange as it may seem, non-official public opinion did not consider it a theft.

Each enterprise applied rigid safety rules. However, blue collars violated the rules and the superiors disregarded the violations. Other industry-related standards were also ignored, for example, substitution of necessary materials, change of technologies etc. Plans had to be hit, while the country experienced shortage in each sphere. The latter inspired the Russian creativity.

The Russians have a joke - ask an American and a Russian to assemble some vehicle and not provide them with necessary spare parts. The American either would do nothing or go on a strike, since it would be unacceptable for him to break technologic standards. As for the Russian — he would curse the boss, the vehicle, and then would start looking for the gadgets so as to replace the spare parts with them and produce the required machine out of these gadgets. He would be proud that such a device made of nothing would function in defiance of common sense. He would be stating with pride that an American will fail in such conditions. It is another story for how long this machine would work and how well. But who cares about that now?! And now it really works.

Such attitude also affected the quality of products. Opposed to flawless examples of our space rockets, aircrafts, satellites etc., the quality of consumer goods left much to be desired. This was also related to specific attitude of Russians to the law and rules. It’s common knowledge that Russians take any law, including corporate law, as something invented by someone and enforced upon them against their will. Any Russian can justify the breach of law if it is not in line with their moral logic. It does not mean that they neglect laws and rules. That is not true. Laws are treated adequately. But only in general. It is not in the character of Russians to follow all provisions of law. They see in each particular case some range of circumstances which are destined in their opinion to adjust the law to each particular situation.

In the Soviet past there was a double standard of employees’ behaviour. High loyalty in the official environment contrasted to the behaviour in informal conditions. It was considered normal to curse the management in the friends’ and colleagues’ circle, to criticize rules and procedures, to treat the company’s brand sceptically.

Over 10 years have passed since a new life came to Russia. Most enterprises are privatized, many of them belong to foreign companies, and competition is growing. Such notions as company and product brand start playing a major role in the process. More and more companies take efforts to develop the principles of the corporate culture, corporate values, rules and procedures.

As before, enterprises need loyal employees. Naturally it is hard to compare the loyalty of budget sphere employees, where the smallest salary is paid, to the loyalty of the top manager of the leading Russian oil corporation or the western company. However, analysing the loyalty of the Russian personnel in modern conditions, along with new we would definitely face the remains of the past. For instance, in Russia people still tend to be more loyal to the boss and the team. In my job I faced several times the situations when in Russian companies with western capital the employees were more loyal not to the western company but the local staff, following the principle “They come and go and we would stay here forever”.

How to raise the loyalty of the employees? Let us focus on psychological aspects of the problem instead of the financial ones although no doubt it plays a big role. In my opinion, to make a Russian employee truly loyal to the company, he should be absolutely sure that the company treats him right. Such an attitude is linked to the internal transparency of the company, access to the information about it, due fulfillment of company’s obligations towards the employee, the equality of rights between the co-workers, sharing the same positions, acknowledgement of employee’s successes and achievements, concern of the company about the improvement of skills of the employees etc.

Such factors as mistrust, suspiciousness, under-estimation of opinions and initiatives of the employee, indifference to his professional growth and career paths or the considerable salary gap for the same kind of job, do provoke protest and do not contribute to the appearance of true loyalty and faithfulness.

We should bear in mind that the Russian person is still sceptical about alien values and order. To make him accept them he should believe in them. Only thorough and patient explanation of the values and principles can give birth to true loyalty. This also relates to corporate culture, technological rules and procedures. As far as Western companies are concerned along with these approaches, and not departing from principal convictions, we should not be afraid of adapting the corporate culture to the local conditions. Adequately understood and respect-inspiring principles and order are fundamental aspects of the true loyalty of the Russian employee.

The candidates’ loyalty towards their companies is highly valued and appraised by our clients. A person proud of his past always produces a good impression. Negative assessment of the former employers, companies, superiors, voiced at the interview, normally lowers the overall evaluation score of the candidate. Striving to learn more about the candidate, our clients normally treat with respect and understanding the cases when candidates for some reasons or others omit the details which might somehow harm their ex-employers.

It’s common knowledge that if the candidate we approach is not interested in the emerging vacancy, we ask him to recommend someone else. Is it loyal of him in this case to recommend his present colleagues? Although the candidate’s aspiration to assist his friends is of course understandable, I would nevertheless answer in the negative.

The attention should be paid to the objective dimension of employees’ loyalty. Briefly, I would like to stress that one can be easily misled on that account. The above-mentioned double standard of Russian behaviour is still quite popular. If you are not aware of the true loyalty of your employees, they may bring you a lot of unpleasant surprises.

In my article I did not profess scientific approach and the full description of the issue. The voiced opinion is not reflecting the results of the systematic studies. These are just my thoughts and evaluations raised out of my professional experience.

By Viacheslav Volkov
Managing Partner
Slava/IIC Partners
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