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A Russian’s Take on French Work Environments

Tatiana Okutina, diplômée GEM MBA 2016
Published on
09 January 2017

Tatiana Okutina is a 2016 Grenoble Ecole de Management MBA graduate. Originally from Moscow, Tatiana now lives and works in France. She shares with us the differences between French and Russian work habits.

Tatiana is head of communications for consumer projects at Leroy Merlin’s headquarters near Lille. As a native of Moscow, she previously worked as head of international marketing for leading Russian companies.

The importance of diplomacy

“The first difference between the French and Russians (or Americans for that matter) is diplomacy. Culturally speaking, the French speak with care and try to be diplomatic. When I first started at GEM, I interacted with people from 15 different nationalities. And we all thought our perspective was the only truth. For example, Russians and Americans are quick to judge and very direct, whereas Indians and Chinese avoid expressing things that might cause conflict. By interacting with each other, we each realize our biases and stereotypes. The school helped prepare us to accept differences in practices and cultures. Differences are neither better nor worse.”

The client is not always right

“In France, the client is not always right. In Russia or Asian countries, marketing always tries to adapt to customer expectations. In France, marketing tries to provide a framework within which customers should operate and even change their point of view. This is really a fundamental difference!”

A collaborative spirit

“Another difference is the importance of human relations, in particular at Leroy Merlin. In Russia, you carry out a task simply because you’re paid to do it. In France, a lot of time is allotted to explaining, negotiating and motivating teams. The French have a strong collaborative spirit. Russia is more oriented towards an authoritarian approach in which hierarchy cannot be questioned.”

Long term versus short term

“In Russia, company culture is very much oriented toward operational activities. Short term vision outweighs the long term because the market is very unstable. This creates stress and fear, which limits individuals. In France, long term strategies are most important. Work is carried out in a more thorough and deep manner because companies, and in particular major companies, can afford to take a step back and consider the future. While Russian companies can be very agile, they sometimes lose the meaning behind their actions. Everyday, I work on taking a global perspective. But it was hard to learn how to think positive.”

Trust in the workplace

“In terms of management, France is less control oriented. Managers have greater trust and freedom to act. These factors encourage creativity. At Leroy Merlin, agility is a key strength. Our teams, both internal and external, work in lean startup mode to initiate projects. We have a really innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. Employees question existing approaches and invent new ones! In contrast, the Russian work environment is very controlled. Managers have to clock in and are policed. In addition, Russian workers are very much influenced by the volume of working hours, usually 12 hours per day.”

Questioning your boss

“Finally, the relationship with one’s manager is a defining characteristic. In France, you can question your direct manager’s actions and he or she is expected to explain or justify managerial choices, skills and even legitimacy. As a result, the work relationship is not only top-down as it is in Russia.”

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