I feel privileged to live in beautiful Budapest: every day I walk to work across Vörösmarty tér, where the city’s largest and internationally renowned Christmas market is now on show. On my way, I feel tempted by the many culinary options and the luring smell of mulled wine and fried sausages.
This culinary and cultural diversity is what attracts so many visitors from year to year. Diversity creates competitiveness. The strength of variety is not only the secret of the Christmas fair, but it is also the reason why – over the past decades – so many foreign companies have started to do business in Hungary and the region. After the initial start-up difficulties they have realized that national-cultural differences across the CEE region strongly influence their businesses.
But do these cultural diversity elements still exist today? In what ways are Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians and Bulgarians different in their business practices?
Together with TARGET, a leading head hunting firm and GfK, a leading market research company, I have asked 60 such questions in a recent survey. We analysed the answers of 1,100 expatriate managers in six CEE countries about their experiences in working with local management.
Expatriates reported to us that, in all these countries, the business culture has become more static and risk-averse over the past few years, except in the case of Hungary. But most of them felt that meeting deadlines was a general problem and that local businesses were relatively unorganized and inefficient, Poland and Czech Republic being the best in the pack. Being able to rely on agreed decisions was most difficult in Bulgaria and Romania. Expats with a non-CEE origination also clearly stated that humor is essential in the business context, and this score was highest for Romania.
The 1,100 managers reported many other strengths and weaknesses they had experienced in each of the six CEE countries. Some quick summary statements we found: Bulgarians are dedicated to outstanding customer service solutions. Czech managers are very creative and good in problem solving. Polish managers tend to take a wider, strategic view on business matters. Romanian managers understand their competitive markets very well. In Slovakia, it is a key feature to have a good personal relationship. In Hungary they wrote that women are particularly good among the local managers.
So which country would you chose for your operations? And what feature would you build your company’s strategy on? These questions and the resulting operational dilemmas are the challenges of good cross-cultural management. Fostering a useful level of diversity can only happen with good leadership and people-management skills. For me this means creating a work environment in which employees are motivated and can experience the state of Flow, a core concept of modern positive psychology.
Achieving the best from your CEE operations comes – just as in the case of the many different sausages, food delicacies and the mulled wine – not just from one, single recipe; they are the results of the skillful work of various inputs and people.
This column is part of a continuing series of opinion pieces from experts at the CEU Business School in Budapest. The opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of the Budapest Business Journal.