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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Serbia and Montenegro

This guide is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Serbia.

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

Topics include:

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

Management in Serbia

The business set-up in Serbia and Montenegro is very formal and foreign management will be more successful if you bear this in mind.

  • In business, it is a good idea to use a third-party introduction rather than making a "cold call".
  • After years of communist rule and internal political skirmishes, many people remain suspicious of foreigners.
  • In many ways, Serbia and Montenegro is the last of the major European transitional economies.
  • The government is attempting to enact privatization legislation that may offer opportunities for foreign investors in the ownership and management of previously nationalized industries as well as in the developing private sector.
  • At the same time, business can often be a maze of bureaucracy and red tape.
  • The best approach is to start out in formal mode and allow your Serbian and Montenegrin counterparts to determine when or if to move to a more relaxed demeanour.
  • Always respect the hierarchy and take care to treat people in authority with particular respect.

The Role of a Manager

Cultural sensitivity is necessary. There is often a wide gap between managers and their subordinates, although this is less so in newer companies, high-tech companies, or other high-growth industries.

  • Managers are expected to give precise directions to subordinates when assigning tasks so that there is no question about what is expected.
  • In professional jobs, directions may be in the form of broad guidelines with the expected method, the format of results, and protocols to be observed clearly delineated.

Approach to Change

Serbia and Montenegro’s cultural readiness for change is improving although changes are still made slowly, requiring a considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation.

  • Serbia and Montenegro’s attitude toward risk is dramatically impacted by the negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Serbia and Montenegro is a moderate time culture and there may be some flexibility to strict adherence to schedules and deadlines. Nevertheless, the expectations of global business have caused people to adopt relatively strict standards of adhering to schedules.

  • When working with people from Serbia and Montenegro it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization
  • Effective management will depend on the individual’s ability to provide and meet deadlines.

Decision Making

In general, subordinates do not expect their managers to seek their concurrence.

  • They are comfortable complying with decisions.
  • Again, this may depend upon the industry, the professional level of the employees concerned, and the corporate culture.

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 they will need to be coached in the process.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Expect to have several meetings before ironing out business details.

  • Developing a personal relationship takes precedence over business matters.
  • Expect a good deal of bureaucracy and red tape, especially when dealing with government agencies.
  • Patience is a key attribute.
  • Decision-making is prolonged as each item must be analyzed and agreed upon before moving on to the next item.
  • Negotiations meetings are not always straightforward.
  • It is not uncommon for Serbians and Montenegrins to raise their voices during negotiations. Do not follow suit.
  • Business is hierarchical.
  • Decisions are made at the top of the company.
  • Serbians and Montenegrins are tough negotiators.
  • Your initial offer should be reasonable but should have some wriggle room.

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