Why Poles do not like imperialism and why they still choose the West

Physical environment and the nation’s history are the elements which are crucial in determining national culture. Therefore, in order to understand the nature of the Polish culture it is necessary to look back in the history and important events which shaped certain behavior and values of the Polish society.

While analyzing recent events in Poland we can observe a dramatic change that the Polish society has been going through. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions might be helpful in describing national culture and capturing those changes. However, Hofstede did not carry out his research in Poland. Other scholars made some attempts to do it. The results depended on the time when they were taken, which shows that it is difficult to provide a clear-cut analysis of cultural dimensions in Poland. This might be due to the generation gap, very high level of migration and the general volume of changes in the society. Poland has developed unique channels of cooperation between people which fits neither Western nor Eastern model. For this reason analysis of the relations between society and economy of Poland might be helpful in catching some characteristics of the Polish cultural frame.

From the end of the Second World War Poland was under the communist rule for 45 years which was imposed by the neighboring Russia. The laws of communism did not allow people to run private companies. Consequently, the ownership of all the major enterprise in Poland was the hands of the state. As the Polish society (especially its intellectual elites)  were decimated by the Russian and German army during and after the war, many people from small villages moved to the cities to rebuild or build them from the scratch and work in state owned enterprises. Consequently, many of those people lacked education and intellectual tradition.  It was taking part in the meetings with the members of the communist party (so called PZPR committees) and drinking alcohol with them that determined the successful career. It was proven by the fact that the employees who were dismissed were negatively judged by the PZPR committees (communist party memebers’ organizations) which consisted of people who were not professionals. The real skills were not worth much unless a positive relationship with the members of the party was built. In the later years it was necessary to improve the skills of directors in state owned enterprises (SOEs).  Training and participation in American foundations such as Fulbright, Ford and Eisenhower enhanced the education of many Polish directors and in the late 70’s many of them gained PhD diplomas.

However, the communist model of managing enterprise remained consistent with the one used in the Soviet Union. It was a bureaucratic model, autocratic and centrally planned. We can raise the following question here: how did the system affect the national and business culture? Many scholars who currently analyze the situation at that time point out that certain responsibilities were not taken up by people. Only 50% of decisions in enterprises were made by regular employees. The reason for it was a lack of trust towards the qualifications of subordinates and a lack of ability to concentrate on important decisions. This resulted with too much information flowing to the management and not enough responsibility being given to the regular employees. The employees ended up being given too many regulations which were impossible to follow and were not put into effect.  The results of the communist system on behavior of people were repetitive behavior, dislike of taking risks and benefits going to the managers before employees which characterized the Polish employee relations. In the past the organizations were created to apply political influence (intervention and regulation) and some people say that nowadays this influence is still present in economic and society regulations. Additionally, many entrepreneurs come from ‘nomenklatura’- they run enterprise converted to private from public and want power and quick high profits using dishonest activities.

The natural consequence of such ways of running the enterprise is low production and wrong decisions which resulted with the scarcity of goods during the years of communism in Poland. Scholars Kostova Huffman and Johnson (2004) list shortages which the system led to. Many consumer goods, such as food and basic products were rationed. Housing was rationed as well.  The authors wrote: “Because of the severe housing shortage, people were willing to accept new apartments, which were frequently substandard or shoddily constructed.  Apartments were sometimes provided unfinished in buildings situated in the far suburbs of large cities without roads and sidewalks or nearby food stores and schools”. With such scarcity of basic resources to live Polish people as well as the nations in other communist countries developed the way of cooperation and networking to be able to obtain the goods they needed to survive. In Russia this way of networking is called ‘blat’ while in China it is ‘guanxi’. Probably other realities of living in communist Poland, such as existence of informants of the communist police contributed to relying on well-established relationships.

A classic apartment block built during communism

A classic apartment block built during communism

The type of housing (blocks of small apartments) and the necessity to share small space with others developed high level of collectivism reflected in avoiding personal conflicts which characterize the Polish culture.  ‘The institutions based on communist regime were based on full employment, a low intensity of work. Labor process was driven by delegated targets. Enabling myths centered on the dignity of work, the firm –SOE- having a patriarchal function to provide wealth, the importance of manual work and the contribution of workers to the overall good of society. A lack of absorption of these enabling myths, however, was reflected in the way in which the labor process was contested on an individual basis through high absenteeism and labor turnover, alcoholism and poor discipline’ (Hardy,2006).

Nowadays, the Polish people who grew up during communism belong to an older generation. These people’s reaction to transition is negative as they are assisted by the feeling of uncertainty and helplessness. Also, their ability to develop qualities such as responsibility and self-reliance instead of system-reliance needed in the modern business world is limited. The younger generation of Polish people grew up during the transition process which according to some economists has taken longer than it was expected. Younger people in Poland are more educated, well traveled, have computer skills and speak foreign languages- they have features which foreign investors in Poland look for. Nevertheless, the older generation is bound to pass certain archetypes to the younger generation. Also, Poland, as a country in transition, created rather harsh conditions to grow up in. The income in some sectors sharply fell, for example among Polish farmers who lost the ability to export goods and faced the higher input cost. Unemployment rose dramatically from 6.3% in 1990 to 16% in 1994. According to the Central Statistical Office (GUS) the average rate of unemployment in Poland between 1990- 2012 was 13.66%. According to Eurostat the average yearly consumer price changes were extremely high between years 1997-2001 (over 5% and reaching 15% in 1997). Poland has one of the lowest GDP per Capita and one of the lowest consumption levels in The European Union. (Eurostat 2009-2011). If we combine it with low salaries (22nd place among 26 UE member states- Eurostat, 2010) we may obtain the whole picture of Poland as a country in which people experience constant dramatic changes that not necessarily lead to the improvement in employment and life conditions.

Those changes inevitably shape the contemporary Polish culture both in the business world and outside of it. Poland perfectly shows the transition through the elements such as political instability, economic recession and cultural change.  There was no business culture developed in communism. Professor Kieżun (2012) brings up words of one of the directors of the National Bank of Poland during communism, who says that people in Poland are talented, but they lack industrial tradition, ability to work within a team and discipline of work which are typical for developed countries. He added that Poland needs well educated and broad minded managers. Liberal market principles developed after a drastic austerity program was introduced. The growth of multinational companies with their subsidiaries in Poland gave the foundations to establishing global culture within those companies.

In the recent years Poland has made many improvements in development of management. It was done by developing models and establishing awards which provide assessment methodologies for businesses in Poland. The main aim of all the organizations is to undertake a self-assessment process. The  increasing pressure for business to perform well and survive naturally encourages companies to improve the quality of management. Some of the results from the comparative research between Polish and Danish managers taken by some scholars show the following: ‘One conclusion could be that already before 2005 the level of excellence in Danish companies have been still much higher than in Polish ones (…)Another conclusion is that Danish managers’ awareness of the impact of a management approach (and especially a measurement and reporting system) has on effectiveness and performance is also higher than in the case of Polish managers’ (Haffer, Kristensen, 2010). The danger of the lack of awareness of the importance of excellence management is that managers may end up ignoring the central factor of the excellence management model which is the human factor. The scholars prove this point by showing the distance between Poland and Denmark in the field of management. The scholars conclude: ‘it seems as if Polish management has a major challenge when it comes to the management of people. This will probably require not just a change in the existing management style, but also a change in the way Polish firms recruit managers in the future’.  The specialists add that it is necessary to secure work environment by creating ordered organizational systems to ensure that people can work productively. Moreover, excellent performance of employees and their creativity can be achieved by managing relations and taking care of people well-being.

On the other hand the scholar Hardy (2006) notices that because communist organizational myths (by myths she means key words used to motivate people to work) were not regarded by foreign investors as being compatible with market economy, private enterprises required new workplace values such as efficiency, motivation, teamwork and empowerment. Hardy argues that modern ways of management also carry myths which need to be introduced in workplaces in transition economies such as Poland, so that foreign companies can enter the local market, gain support of local people and take as much advantage of the local specialists as possible. She adds that the new managerial methodology of sharing information and knowledge globally (transnational organizational model and decentralization) is a myth created by a group of capitalists to exploit local markets embedded in a different culture and make people in different cultures think that foreign solutions are better than the local ones. Hardy justifies this viewpoint by bringing the application of the modern trends in developing economies to the micro level. She shows an example of a Volvo factory in Poland to make it clear that it was very difficult to replace old mythology with the new one as far as empowerment is concerned. The major changes introduced by the Polish manager included managers and regular employees using the same canteen, playing sports together and using names instead of titles. However managers still saw themselves as ‘fathers’ of their divisions- the perception of status could not be changed.  The scholar carried out a case study in another Polish factory which was bought by ABB. One of the managers expressed the problem of Polish managers being treated as ‘conveyor belts’ for orders from senior foreign management- even though ABB’s aim was to introduce a democratic management style (Hardy, 2006). Hardy’s examples clearly show that globalization and performance expectations of the top management towards Polish divisions put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders on Polish managers. This responsibility is doubled as they need to satisfy foreign directors in complying with the company’s management methods and fulfill their expectations of efficiency of the Polish employees. They also need to know the Polish reality and national culture to have realistic expectations from their subordinates. Skillful communication at different organizational levels seems to be the key competency. Managers face the challenge of convincing employees that the values of a company are worth efforts and hard work even if those values might be incompatible with their national culture. It is especially challenging for managers of foreign companies in which employees know that the main fruit of their efforts is transferred back to the home country of this company.

Poland is becoming a business driven country even at the expense of tasteful arrangements

Poland is becoming a business driven country even at the expense of tasteful arrangements

Neither eastern nor western imperialism is highly beneficial for Poland. But having to choose between the business driven world and ideology driven world Polish people will support the one that leads to efficiency and production rather than passivity and scarcity.

Best regards,

Voice from Poland


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