Russian management tend to have a a strong trust and even an admiration towards foreign consultants, being at the same time rather suspicious about consulting in general. It applies both to strategic consulting and to industry specific operation improvement services. Add here that everyday practices at Russian mills are in many instances far from optimal. So there is a need, there is an understanding and – there is a clash… Because even when the idea of let’s-use-consultants is there, it is quite different from what foreign consultants are ready to offer.
Let me give an example…
“A good specialist” in Russia means “a guru, someone who knows everything in his field”, and his presence at the mill or in the office might not mean actual engagement in work. That is, he is “so good that he is paid just to be present”, like an emergency kit (i.e. kind of an internal consultant). At the same time, “a good specialist” for the Russian mentality also means “a much needed specialist”, i.e. “a busy specialist”. I know, these two qualities sounds contradictory, but few people really pays attention to this contradiction (in fact, it was a cool thing for me to learn it about myself).
Thus, the management of well run Russian mills would tend to have key specialists like this guru – who knows everything from inside out, is always ready with all the answers, busy all day long and slightly unhappy about it. At foreign mills, on the other hand, this “one man show” approach as a cornerstone to the mill’s prosperity is regarded as a sign of poor management and lack of proper delegation of responsibility. This is where the mentality clash originates:
any Russian mill manager will tell you that he admires the Western standards and aims at establishing those in his mill but at the same time he subconsciously cannot imagine how his mill would survive without a person who knows everything.
Applying the aforementioned to the expectations towards consultants, we see that such consultant(s) is/are expected to be someone like this guru but with an even broader experience and a wider picture in mind. The first move of result-oriented let’s-not-make-ourselves-be-drowned-in-discussions foreign consultants “the mill is a profit making enterprise rather than a purely manufacturing enterprise” is thus fascinating for the Russian mill management as a fresh wind full of hints of future opportunities. But then – in the Russian eyes – this slogan is quickly reduced to “a prison with even stricter rules”.
For Russians, “an ideal consultant” is someone to invent something tricky “to put less everyday efforts but receive more profit”, whereas for Europe and North America (I am assuming) “an ideal consultant” is someone who would help “to work more intelligently and efficiently, so that not a single minute is wasted, thereby giving even more value to every minute of every day”.
Both sides are learning to adapt. And the adaptation here – from the both sides and for the both sides – in some respects defines future leaders in the field.