Cross cultural management: Poland – Pt1

/ March 30th, 2011/ Posted in Management Innovation / No Comments »

polish flagHere’s an introductory briefing for managers who are posted to Poland. It is based on my personal experience visiting Poland, and research cited.

An excellent site for country facts, including historical, political (well, maybe not political) economic and social data is the CIA World Factbook. The entry for Poland indicates that despite “one of the most robust [economies] in Central Europe… Poland still faces the lingering challenges of high unemployment, underdeveloped and dilapidated infrastructure”. Yes, they are still rebuilding after the devastation of WWII. But Poland has some stunningly beautiful architecture (especially the colours chosen to paint the old town areas in, for example, Gdansk).

Another source for a synopsis of country facts is the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) Travel Advisory. But in the DFAIT advisory for Poland,  there is one deficiency: it does not give an adequate warning about the highways. In a September 2010 article entitled “Polish highways: Europe’s deathtrap”, Jan Cienski reports: “Poland has the highest number of road deaths of all 27 European Union countries — 4,572 people were killed on the roads in 2009.” I drove some 600km from Katowice in the south all the way up to the Baltic, and back. I’ll never do it again. Road conditions are part of the problem, but mad passing behaviour puts you in a deadly game of chicken about every 15 minutes. Therefore, if you are managing people in Poland, I would issue directives to the effect that expats should stay off the highways and take the train for inter-city travel, and on no account should a group of essential personnel travel in one vehicle on Polish highways. Driving in town is OK, but you have to know how to drive manual shift.

The younger generation speaks English (well) but you will need the essentials of Polish to get along in any number of situations. Hands down, the best source (for English speakers) is Dr. Alexander Schenker’s Beginning Polish. Others don’t come close, because they assume, rather than explain, the phonetic system, the orthography, grammar, and syntax. You start speaking right away (mp3 drills online). The only criticism is that the vocabulary is a bit repetitive – but you can pick that up anywhere. Still on culture, particularly if you are male, it might be a good idea to learn how to drink vodka – properly. This means drinking quite a bit while maintaining your composure. (Don’t even think about drinking and driving – Polish strictly enforced laws are zero tolerance.) The coffee is ordered ‘white’ or ‘black’ and is universally excellent.

Polish culture is quite conservative, which means that you need to be aware that progressive social issues like sexual orientation and gender roles are not viewed as they are in Canada. (Of course, experience with individuals will always belie these sorts of generalizations.) The religious devotion is deep; people do pilgrimages. Family orientation is very important, and we’ll see that showing up in some studies I’ll present in the next post.

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