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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Azerbaijan

The guidance offered below is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Azerbaijan.

It provides some useful information for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Azeri employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Management style
  • Employee expectations
  • Timescales and deadlines
  • Communication and negotiation

Being a Manager in Azerbaijan

Management in countries of the former Soviet Union is a complex, constantly evolving state of affairs and successful management requires some understanding of the history. You should be aware that:

  • In spite of declarations of equality among everyone in society, there was previously a clear distinction between Communist Party members and the working classes.
  • By extension, this created groups of "haves" and "have-nots", and a hierarchical structure developed as a result which remains part of the business setting today. 
  • Azerbaijani companies tend to have a hierarchical structure, with decision-making power concentrated at the top.
  • This can lead to a top-down approach to management, with little input or involvement from lower-level employees.
  • Generally, among the older generation in Azerbaijan, you will find deference to authority, coupled with a sense of loyalty and a detached attitude toward meeting the 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.

The Role of a Manager

Overall, the management style in Azerbaijan is characterized by a hierarchical, centralized approach to decision-making that places a high value on respect for authority and personal relationships. While this approach can lead to stability and order, it may also limit innovation and employee engagement in the long run.

  • Managers tell subordinates what they want to be done.
  • They do not attempt to reach a consensus, as they believe doing so would make them look weak.
  • Managers are more likely to micro-manage the activities of their subordinates. 
  • Subordinates are less likely to work independently in their role or push for innovation.
  • Instead, culturally, it's more likely that they will defer to their managers.
  • Managers often treat subordinates as extended family.

Approach to Change

Azerbaijan has a medium tolerance for change and risk. What does this mean for the workplace? 

  • Changes are made, albeit slowly, and require a considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation.
  • Since tradition is highly valued, change is not readily embraced simply because it is new and may impact continuity and stability. 
  • It is important for innovations to have a track record or history noting the benefits if they are to be accepted and implemented.
  • While in risk-tolerant environments, failure is perceived as a learning process that encourages confidence in future ventures.
  • However, in less risk-tolerant cultures, such as Azerbaijan, failure can cause a long-term loss of confidence in the individual as well as in others.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Azerbaijan is a moderate time culture and traditionally schedules and deadlines have been viewed as flexible. You may find that: 

  • Although the culture is generally viewed as having a moderate approach to time, intercultural and global expansion have instead resulted in the Azeris adopting a stricter approach to schedules. 
  • When working with people from Azerbaijan, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization.
  • In Azeri culture, relationships and personal connections are important for business success.
  • This means that managers may prioritize building strong personal relationships with their counterparts, which can sometimes take precedence over business considerations.

Decision Making

Decision-making power in Azerbaijani companies is often centralized, with senior managers making important decisions without input from lower-level employees. This can lead to a lack of employee engagement and motivation, as well as a slower response to changing market conditions.

  • Subordinates follow a manager’s instructions without comment, as it would be rude to challenge someone of a higher status.
  • The manager is responsible for making and communicating decisions and may not consult his / her team when making them. 

Boss or Team Player?

For managers new to the country, an understanding of the hierarchical system is essential. Some things to bear in mind are that:

  • Successful management will understand the importance of maintaining their positions of authority.
  • Subordinates are expected to open doors for their superiors and stand when their superiors enter the room, in much the same way young people are expected to behave toward older people in social situations.
  • Today, apathy and cynicism exist among the workers, inherited from the Communist era where plans seldom resulted in implementation or led to results.
  • However, there is an eagerness amongst the younger generation to tackle the opportunities and challenges presented.
  • They will participate in teams and share ideas, but they will need to be coached in the process.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

When you are in an Azeri workplace, it's important to remember that:

  • You should treat people formally and with proper respect and deference.
  • This includes using titles and first names and the plural word for you ("siz") when addressing someone of a higher status or someone with whom you do not have a personal relationship.
  • Let your Azeri business colleagues determine when your friendship has progressed to the point where you may use the singular form or the first name without the honorific title.
  • Azeris are polite and formal in business and it’s often the case that traditional attitudes abound under a cosmopolitan veneer – particularly in Baku.
  • Many business people are not as Westernized as they first appear which makes cultural sensitivity essential.
  • You should avoid being too personal with your counterparts as this is liable to be perceived as you trying to encroach on their personal space.
  • It may also be perceived as an intention for you to dominate and shape the relationship in some way, which will not be perceived well. Retain all necessary formalities until your Azeri counterpart indicates otherwise.
  • It’s important to note that Azeris tend to be fairly serious people and, although smiling is a common part of the culture, broad smiles / ‘big smiles’ may be perceived as laughter which could potentially create a degree of mistrust.
  • Azeris are tough negotiators and you should expect a fair amount of bargaining and haggling.
  • Direct questions are rarely used, with Azeris preferring to talk around the issue. However, you should never appear impatient or attempt to rush a decision as this can be counterproductive.

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