“If you can impress the Russians then you have indeed succeeded. They have a very different life experience compared to Western Europeans and do not like to show emotion”
This is what Liz Kirkwood the American CFO of Metro Cash & Carry (Russia) told me whilst giving me a briefing over the phone before our trip to Russia
We have worked with loads of different nationalities in Boston, Berlin, Brussels and Barcelona but Moscow that was a very different challenge
Metro Cash & Carry (Russia) was going to be quite an experience so we approached it as we would if we were going to deliver a presentation
So lesson 1:
Research (know your audience)
This is a big company employing 120,000 people with over 700 stores in 29 countries. And I had never heard of them! Metro Cash & Carry (brands are METRO & MAKRO) are based in Düsseldorf and international expansion is an essential element of their corporate strategy, particularly in emerging markets including Russia
Metro Cash & Carry (Russia) is based in Moscow and employs over 28,000 people
WOW that was a great start but what now? We needed to find out more
One thing I did find out is that Russians love filling in bits of paper………you have no idea how long it took to get the visas(top tip…employ and agency to do that)
So BIG picture we found out that although most Russians love a good story (and you know how much we love a good storyteller) culturally if a person is in a superior position, “The Boss”, this is something they would not do as in their view of the world this shows weakness.
They are very authoritarian and greatly respect authority
How were we going to get them to open up?
On the workshop we were going to have the multinational Board of Directors including one American, one French, one Dutch and the rest were Russian.
Give them a good reason why
This group needed to engage with both a multinational audience of bankers/ investors and their Russian colleagues who were mainly store managers
So one thing they were happy to do was to talk about was to tell the story of Metro Cash and Carry….. so a good start. They could use their personal experiences of Metro and talk about that
We took along a few good props including a Russian doll (you need to look inside to find out what is in there) and a book of Russian Fairy Tales to use as a metaphor.
Liz their CFO recognised that to get better engagement they needed to develop an emotional sell and develop trust. To hit the right emotional level and to get into the minds of their audience in order to connect with them
So I got on the phone and spoke to them all in advance. This worked well as I could both encourage them and deal with many challenges up front
Don’t mind read or make assumptions
We arrived at the airport to be greeted by Mikail our driver for our visit. He grunted at us and set off into the freezing cold night lighting a cigarette as he went. It was December, minus 15 and there were great lumps of frozen snow everywhere. Steve and I both had heavy suitcases (mainly full of camera equipment and props) and Mikail did not offer to help in any way. We struggled along behind him.
Mikail was like this for 2 days. He did not smile or interact. I am a very friendly person who likes to talk to people and always smiles a greeting. This did not go down well in Moscow most people looked at me as if I had gone mad.
So I decided to learn (phonetically) some Russian phrases. I tried them out first on Mikail!
The results were remarkable. It turned out that he spoke pretty good English and my alarming attempts at Russian literally broke the ice. A lot of Russians believe that you have to meet a person a number of times to develop a level of trust and until then…..you do not even smile.
Mikail turned out to be a good guy who was warm and friendly once we got to know him. So don’t always make judgements based on first impressions
Develop flexibility and thinking on your feet
So back to the Board of Directors
Business in Russia is still very hierarchical so the Board had a private dining room just like the good old days in the UK
On the morning of day 2 of the workshop they announced that not only were we having a 2 hour lunch we would also be tasting some new wines they were introducing into their stores
Very nice you may think but a challenge when we usually take 40 minutes and drink tea
It would have been rude not to and we did enjoy it
The result we dropped some stuff that was important but not crucial and they never knew
(One of the things we talk about on the workshop is that unless you tell people you have missed some stuff, they will never know)
It’s important to understand a person’s view (beliefs) of the world
Where to start with Tatiana???
I would like you to imagine what you may perceive to be a “typical” Russian older woman.
Think of the Bond film From Russia With Love
Matching (real) fur hat, coat, gloves and boots, very glamorous with a gorgeous Russian accent
That was Tatiana our tour guide who greeted us in the foyer of the hotel on our last day
We had decided on the advice of our American CFO to hire a private guide…. A very good move
We got to do things in a day that would have taken us ages to figure out. Starting with the amazing metro and visits to Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral (the one with the amazing spires) and The Kremlin (where we saw the mind boggling famous Fabergé eggs).
Red Square was a surprise mainly because there was a Walt Disney themed ice skating rink in the middle and loads of gorgeous Christmas trees
Tatiana was also a surprise. Very well educated and had travelled to Spain. She spoke fluent Spanish and English and had been a tour guide for many years so had met a lot of foreigners.
She had been educated for free by the communist regime and regretted the fall of communism and the Berlin wall
Here are some of her beliefs:
She spent most of the day talking to Steve and ignoring me. She had spent most of her life in a patriarchal society
Over a stop for coffee she thumped the table and announced that everyone knows that Obama is a Muslim
She nearly worships Putin and loves his exhibitions of strength (appearing bare chested or horse riding) “Good men are strong”. Please try to imagine that said with emphasis and a strong Russian accent
Although she is Ukrainian she supports the Russian treatment of the Ukraine
She was great. We had a fantastic day although we held virtually opposing views/ beliefs about the world….. so…. who was right?
It doesn’t really matter so long as you get it that what you believe to be true affects how you behave
Our favourite saying from Tatiana “When a Cossack gets back home he feeds his horse before he kisses his wife”. I think that sums it up!