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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Estonia

The details offered below are for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Estonia.

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

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling 
  • Communication style and; 
  • Negotiation style 

Being a Manager in Estonia

The basic business style in Estonia is formal, conservative and driven by protocol. This is changing however and certain industries and generations of employees will bring different cultural principles to the workplace.

  • Although Estonians do not need a personal relationship in order to work with someone, they prefer to do so with those they know and trust.
  • This is why it's important to build relationships.
  • Third-party introductions, especially from friends or relatives, can also smooth the way in a culture where being reserved and aloof are national characteristics.

The Role of a Manager

First impressions are important and foreign managers are more likely to succeed if they dress conservatively and use proper etiquette and manners at all times.

  • Foreign businesswomen should have little trouble being taken seriously if they have the proper credentials since women are an integral part of the Estonian business scene.
  • When implementing new systems or procedures, managers check up on employees to make sure that their instructions are being followed properly.
  • During the last fifteen years, there have been a great number of changes to the Estonian workplace and employees take time to learn new behaviours.
  • Estonian managers are slow to praise employees and refrain from doing so in public.
  • Likewise, they are cautious not to criticize employees publicly.
  • Should they need to discuss a performance issue with an employee, they will do so in private.

Approach to Change

Estonia’s cultural readiness for change is developing all the time. This country is seen to have a medium tolerance for change and risk.

  • The fear of exposure, and the potential of embarrassment that may accompany failure, bring about an aversion to risk.
  • Cultural sensitivity is going to be required.
  • Failure can be viewed as a personal shortcoming and can cause a long-term loss of confidence by the individual as well as by the group.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Estonia is a moderate time culture and typically there may be some flexibility to strict adherence to schedules and deadlines.

  • When managing people from Estonia, it is advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization.
  • Global working means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.

Decision Making

Subordinates demonstrate their respect for their supervisors and managers by following their directions to the letter.

  • In return, managers provide explicit directions and ensure that their subordinates have the proper materials and understand the appropriate procedures.

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.
  • However, there is vibrancy among the younger generation, who seem to be eager to tackle many of the challenges and take the opportunities presented.
  • They will participate in teams and share ideas, but intercultural sensitivity will be needed and it should be understood that they will need to be coached in the process.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Treat the negotiating process with the formality that it deserves. Estonians prefer to get down to business quickly.

  • There is relatively little small talk.
  • Bear in mind that the Estonians prefer people to speak succinctly, not to discuss themselves or their interests, and to focus purely on business.
  • Estonians can be direct negotiators who say what they think, however, they can often pause for two to three minutes to think.
  • Do not interrupt.
  • Estonians are deal-focused.
  • Avoid hype and making exaggerated claims about your products or services.
  • It will not impress your colleagues and will be construed as bragging.
  • Avoid confrontational behaviour or high-pressure tactics. It can be counterproductive.
  • Once a decision is made, it will not be changed.

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