Cross Cultural Management Guide - Bulgaria 


What will you Learn in this Guide?

In this guide, expatriate managers will gain an understanding of a number of key cross cultural areas when working in Bulgaria:

  • Hierarchy
  • Decision making 
  • Communication 
  • Relationship building 
  • Red tape and bureaucracy 


Gain an Expert Understanding:

Once you've read this guide, ensure the success of your Bulgarian business venture by: 

  • Taking part in a two hour live webinar, customised to meet your unique needs, with one of our Bulgaria country and culture training experts or;
  • Contacting us in respect to our Bulgarian consultancy services



Being a Manager in Bulgaria

Free enterprise is a relatively new concept and you may find that some Bulgarians are less comfortable embracing all elements of international business practices. However, this is changing and in general, people under the age of 35 may be more open to different ideas than older business people who worked during the Communist regime:

  • 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" as trust is essential to relationship building. 
  • After hours socialising is considered an important part of relationship building. You should try and use any opportunity of external events, such as meals and social events to develop your relationships and to demonstrate that you are a person of trust and integrity.
  • You may find that many senior executives are former Communist Party members and can often appear stiff and officious.


Influences from Bulgarian History

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. You may find that:

  • 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 are more likely to 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. Let's look at what this might mean for the business environment:

  • Change can be difficult to bring about as it can be viewed as a perceived threat to order and stability.
  • Potential change projects will require a considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation if they are to be accepted.
  • The concept of 'group' is very important in Bulgaria. As such, 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. You may find that:

  • Bulgarians see deadlines as targets rather than fixed. Although, this may differ with employees with greater exposure to global business and intercultural settings.  In this sense you may find that your Bulgarian counterparts have moved towards stricter standards in this respect.
  • As a cross cultural manager, your success will depend on your ability to communicate the value of meeting agreed timescales and to monitor progress of staff working towards them. 


Decision Making

Bulgaria tends to be a fairly hierarchical n businesses that retain a strong hierarchical structure, managers tend to be autocratic. This has a number of impacts on the work place:

  • Managers typically expect their subordinates to follow standard procedures without question. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In such companies, getting things accomplished can sometimes be a matter of knowing the right people who can then help to circumvent the system and the bureaucracy. This again, emphasises the need for relationship building. 


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 didn't always result in implementation or results, leading to apathy and cynicism among employees:

  • Today the after-effects are still evident among some of the older generation who may appear to lack 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.
  • 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.


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