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Who cares about the customer?
04-03-2009 HR services/Target source: PeppeR
Lack of customer focus and inefficiently run businesses are among the biggest problems for doing business in Central and Eastern Europe. On the other hand, local managers are hard working and ambitious, the business environment is dynamic and women managers outperform male managers. These have been among the major findings of the research conducted in 6 European Union member countries by TARGET International Executive Search Group, together with Henley Business School. While there are some general characteristics of the region, there are also significant differences between the management cultures of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

"The study clearly shows out what foreign managers working in the region see as major obstacles to be overcome and as opportunities for business growth." - explained Clive Bennett, Partner of the Lisbon based headhunting firm, Ad Capita, and co-author of the study and of similar studies in Portugal and Ireland. "We believe that local managers could benefit from analyzing the results of this study in order to change less desirable management practices and to build on their strengths. In these turbulent times creating competitive advantage in management is a key success factor. One thing is undeniable: this region has undergone an extraordinary transformation during the past 20 years." - he concluded.

In overall terms expatriate managers agree that (in brackets the percentage of those responders who agree or strongly agree with the statement):

- Foreigners enjoy working / living in CEE countries (88% / 89%)
- The business environment is very active and dynamic (72%)
- Local managers work hard in these countries (65%)
- Women tend to be better managers here than men (65%)

They also agree on some important points of criticism, in particular that:

- Good managers are very hard to find (81%)
- Businesses and their managers are not customer oriented (80%)
- Businesses in general are not well organized and efficient (79%)
- Bureaucracy / corruption seriously hinder good business performance in the CEE region (78% / 62%)

"To grow your business sustainably, you must focus on the customer."- said Chris Brewster, co-author of the study and Professor of International Human Resource Management at Henley Business School. "The momentum of rapid growth and the competitive advantage of cheap labor will not last, so deeper and more sustainable competitive factors are needed. Customers have to be listened to and management has to be much more effective. We identified three specific aspects of particular concern: poor teamwork, ignoring deadlines, and reluctance by managers to take personal responsibility. Changing these behaviors could have a powerful effect on business success." - commented Professor Brewster.

The study underlines considerable differences in what is seen as the best and the worst aspects of each of the six countries (the countries are listed in the order how their performance is seen by the foreign managers):

Poland - 1. -
Most dynamic and entrepreneurial, least corrupt in business, best with customers.
Most formal in communication. Status- based, autocratic leadership style.

Slovakia - 2. -
Least bureaucratic. Most cooperative and flexible. Loyal.
Least entrepreneurial spirit. Too formal, avoid responsibility.

Czech Republic - 3. -
Most planned. Best place to live for expatriates. Cooperative, meet deadlines.
Worst at personal relationships and humor. Inflexible, too formal.

Romania - 4. -
Most hardworking and ambitious. Best with foreigners and other cultures.
Most overpaid managers. Disorganized, poor teamwork. Planning weak.

Hungary - 5. -
Most informal, best at personal relationships. Creative problem-solving.
Worst at accepting criticism. Least dynamic and ambitious. Not good with foreigners.

Bulgaria - 6. -
Biggest difference between female and male managers. Good social skills. Strong will to change and acceptance of criticism.
Most corrupt, worst planning, organization, teamwork and customer service.

How is Hungary seen by the foreigners?

Overall, Hungary seems to share the same faults as the rest of the region, although generally slightly worse - customer service, bureaucracy, corruption and disorganization are serious problems. However, Hungary scores high on questions dealing with the importance of personal relationships, creativity and informality. Hungary scored in the top two places for the following:

- It is important to make friendships
- Communication is not too formal
- Strong interpersonal skills are valued
- Good personal relationships with customers are essential
- Hierarchies are informal
- Creativity in problem solving is a strong characteristic
- It is easy to find well trained managers
- Better managers could be recruited if more was paid to them

While it may be very agreeable on a personal level, the strong social energy is not being channeled into good customer relationships. In the customer service related questions, Hungary had strongly negative scores and ranked second and third from bottom. Selling skills do not seem to be outstanding either.

Surprisingly, for a socially extraverted culture, it appears that managers are really not very good with foreigners: they ranked worst in CEE for understanding and adapting to different cultures, second worst for managers' ability to deal with overseas customers and colleagues and second worst in ability to speak foreign languages. Furthermore, Hungarian managers have a very different (i.e. more positive) view of themselves than do expatriates. This difference is strikingly bigger than any of the other countries in the survey, where locals generally felt that expatriates' criticisms were about right. Hungarians seem not to understand other cultures well and are unduly defensive against external criticism. This is the country where the presence of foreign managers is most resented and where local managers claim most frequently that foreign managers are overpaid. (Some of the most characteristic remarks are enclosed)

"The study gives a powerful confirmation of our experience: women are much better managers in CEE than men. We have seen that trend emerge in our daily recruitment business", states Klemens Wersonig, founder and CEO of the TARGET International Executive Search Group, sponsor of the study. "In private, more and more male expatriates tell us they prefer to hire women. We wanted to have this topic officially checked and as the study shows, two-thirds of all expats agree with this statement. It is also true in general that the study confirms most of our 15 years of experience. Human side of the business is one of the most important aspects. Therefore the solution to lead companies out from the current economic difficulties is by rethinking the management culture and concentrating on core values of business success such as customer focus, teamwork and integrity" - concluded Klemens Wersonig.

About the study

The study was conducted in autumn 2008 and has been based on questioning a total of over 5000 managers in the six countries. A total of 1169 valid responses were received, including 271 local managers who served as a control group.

About TARGET International Executive Search (

TARGET International Executive Search, celebrating its 15 years of operations, is one of the leading executive search firms in the CEE region, with offices in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. TARGET is a member of the INAC worldwide partnership of independent executive search firms ( - one of the top 5 networks in Europe and 14th in the world. Within this global headhunting network TARGET represents CEE exclusively. TARGET is the sponsor of this study and coordinated the collection of data in all six countries of this survey and managed publication and distribution of this report.

About Henley Business School

Henley is one of the UK's top business schools, with its full time MBA being ranked 5th in the UK by the Financial Times and 20th worldwide by the Economist Intelligence Unit. It has long been recognized as a leader in distance learning and this mode of its MBA was ranked 6th in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Henley Business School became part of the University of Reading in 2008.



"Simple things like returning phone calls or answering e‐mails are done in a timely manner ONLY IF IT BENEFITS THEM. Most of the time when they say they will call you back or send you an e‐mail, they don't." [USA]

"In Hungary women are much more responsible than men. They work harder than their colleagues, they don´t discuss a lot, they do it. Men, in whichever field I look at, love to discuss and make philosophical comments but they forget to work and I suppose they are not even interested in working, especially not hard work." [Austria]

"Regarding bureaucracy there is a lot of it in all three countries (e.g. Hungary, Slovakia, Czech) the difference is that there is always a way around it in Hungary, but usually no way in the others." [German]

"Pessimistic culture. Change is frowned upon." [British]

"Hungary has basically 2 drawbacks in management skills: lots of talk, little urgent action; the standard feeling is since this country is different they can handle everything without outside help, until that is, things start to go wrong." [British]

"People are motivated and talented here but inflexible in many aspects ‐ they do not really accept changes (like opportunities, constraints) and the consequences of globalization. Acceptance of reality and the future is still a problem here." [French]

"Nostalgia about the past is one of the most important characteristic of Hungarian citizens. Furthermore, the employees are very volatile and never loyal to the company. Money is the driver of the change." [French]


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