Intercultural Management - Bulgaria
Being a Manager in Bulgaria
Free enterprise is a relatively new concept and not all Bulgarians are comfortable with more traditional international business practices. Cross cultural sensitivity is essential and in business it is a good idea to use a third-party introduction rather than making a "cold call". In general, people under the age of 35 may be more open to different ideas than older businesspeople who worked during the Communist regime.
Relationships are developed in after-hours socializing. Since most Bulgarians do not trust people who are "all business", use meals and social events to demonstrate that you are a person of trust and integrity.
Many senior executives are former Communist Party members and can often appear stiff and officious.
The Role of a Manager
Successful cross cultural management is more likely to be achieved with some knowledge and understanding of Bulgaria’s history. Management in countries of the former Soviet Union is a complex, constantly evolving state-of-affairs, each country moving towards a market economy at a different pace.
The transition to a free-market economy has brought about remarkable, but not wholesale changes in the business culture. Generally, among the older generation, you will find deference to authority, coupled with a sense of loyalty and a detached attitude for meeting objectives and goals of the company. Among younger workers, however, you’ll find an eagerness to explore the new opportunities that the market has to offer.
Approach to Change
Bulgaria’s intercultural adaptability and readiness for change is fairly low. Change is difficult to bring about as it can be viewed as a perceived threat to order and any projects will require a considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation.
In order for change to take hold, the idea needs to be perceived as good for the group and be accepted by the group. Cross cultural understanding of Bulgaria’s attitude towards risk and its negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group is essential.
Approach to Time and Priorities
Bulgaria is a moderate time culture and there may be some flexibility to strict adherence to schedules and deadlines. Nevertheless, the expectations of globalization and intercultural expansion have caused Bulgaria to adopt relatively strict standards of adhering to schedules.
Successful cross cultural management will depend on the individual’s ability to provide and enforce timelines.
In businesses that retain a strong hierarchical structure, managers tend to be autocratic. They expect their subordinates to follow standard procedures without question. In such companies, getting things accomplished is a matter of knowing the right people who can then help to circumvent the system and the bureaucracy.
In more entrepreneurial companies, individual initiative is prized and managers expect subordinates to work out the best course of action according to the current situation. In general, rank is important, although individual rights are also important.
Boss or Team Player?
In post-communist countries, there is a tradition of teamwork inherited from the communal aspects of the previous era where groups and work units commonly met together to discuss ideas and create plans. However, those plans seldom resulted in implementation or results, leading to apathy and cynicism among the workers.
Today the after-effects are still evident among much of the older generation resulting in a lack of drive and energy. The younger generation will participate in teams and share ideas, but they will need to be coached in the process.
Communication and Negotiation Styles
Expect to have several meetings before ironing out business details and a good deal of bureaucracy and red tape, especially when dealing with government agencies. Bulgarian decision making is prolonged as each item must be analyzed and agreed upon before moving on to the next item and to ensure successful cross cultural management you will need to be patient.
To avoid cross cultural misunderstandings, take care in selecting a translator and develop an early understanding of what you expect: specifically, the translation must be exact, and you do not want an impression of what the translator thinks each party wants to hear.
Bulgarians are tough negotiators. Your initial offer should be reasonable, but should have some wriggle-room.