Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ketchup or Catsup?

So there's a fair amount to cover since I last posted (hooray!), let's try and get caught up, shall we?

I spoke with one of my advisors, Bonner Ritchie from the UVU school of Business Management, a little over a week ago, and got a lot of really good input into the direction that my paper is taking. Here's a brief overview of what came from that meeting:

1. Looking only at multinational corporations imposes a needless limitation on the scope of the paper. The same issues that multinational corporations face are experienced by every other type of organization whose members cross cultural boundaries in their interactions with each other. Therefore, including NGOs and even governmental organizations allows for easier data collection without really enlarging the scope of the paper.

2. "Post-Soviet countries" has now been changed to "Russia." This greatly simplifies the data collection process without greatly reducing the relevance of the findings.

3. Format: Rather than being a simple exploratory paper which only reviews the current research and literature available, it was decided that the best format for this paper would be to present information gathered from interviews with individuals who have experience managing and leading teams in Russia. These case studies will then be analyzed within the framework of research that has been done on the topic.

4. Contacts: Dr Ritchie also pointed me in the direction of a number of people that I might contact for interviews. I've already started in on that list and have been pleased with the results. More on that in a moment.

All-in-all, I'd say it was a wonderfully productive meeting and I owe a great deal of thanks to Dr. Ritchie for his ongoing involvement with my thesis.

The next objective on my research list is to come up with the questions (or at least a general idea of the topics) that I want to ask in my interviews. The last thing I want to do is land the perfect interview and then blow it by not being prepared. This thought has guided my most recent research efforts, and has led me to start by looking into research conducted in the 60's and 70's by Geert Hofstede.

Hofstede conducted one of the most well-known cross-cultural studies of his time. He isolated four cultural variables that have implications on relations in the workplace: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity, and individuality. At the time of the first survey, Russia was not included in the results due to a lack of access to survey data from workers within the Soviet Union. Since then, values have been updated and presented for Russia. The scores can be interpreted to reveal many things that one or two paragraphs written late on a Saturday night won't do justice to. I also found another study conducted in 1997 by a separate team which repeated the survey and updated the results, showing trends in the scores across the world.

Also along those lines, the World Values Survey has some really useful information, mapping all of the countries of the world along 2 axes, with the y-axis being a continuum representing either traditional/secular-rational thinking and the x-axis as survival/self-expression values. According to this survey, published in 2010, Russia still has a survivalist mentality with a secular-rational thinking process. Cool stuff. Also, ASEP/JDS conducted a world-wide survey on trust levels, and mapped those out. Russia, while not being the least trusting, is significantly less trusting than the western countries (US, Britain, Germany) that make up the bulk of its international business involvement.

All this and more can be found through the links on my Bibliography which can be found at !!!

So that's the cultural framework that I'm starting to build my thesis around. Other topics I would like to explore:
-gender equality in the workplace
-workplace mentality as a function of generational identity
-New-Russian Capitalist Cowboys vs the Russian Old School

The last thing I'll cover in this monstrosity of a blog post is my progress towards actually landing some interviews with promising candidates. The first name on the list that Dr. Ritchie gave me that I decided to follow up on was Rusty Butler. Rusty Butler has an office in the UVU International Affairs office and is the Honorary Russian Consul General for the State of Utah. He's also a really nice guy.

We talked for about an hour and a half this last week in his office about my thesis. Two big things came from this meeting.

1. Rusty agreed to be interviewed and to give his perspective on the issues. As soon as my research has progressed to the point (soon) where I have a list of questions to ask, I'll email them to Rusty and we'll decide at that point whether to conduct the interview through email or in person. Transcripts of all interviews will be attached in the appendix to my thesis.

2. I got another long list of really promising interview candidates along with contact information. I'm going to wait to follow up with other candidates until I basically have all my interview questions ready, but it's an impressive list. In fact, Rusty said he may even be able to get me an hour or so one-on-one with the CEO of TSAGI (think Russian NASA + R&D elements from Navy and Air Force) sometime in the early summer. I'm not getting my hopes up too high on that one, as I'm sure he's an incredibly busy man, but it would be an amazing opportunity if it happened.

So that's where I am: knee-deep in research, neck-deep in contacts, and generally pleased with the progress that I'm making.



  1. Matt,

    obviously this represents a great deal of progress, which is terrific. It also suggests that you're feeling inspired by your project, which is even better. Giddyup indeed.

    One thing you'll want to have handy, or almost literally on the tip of your tongue before you start any interviewing: a single sentence statement or question that encapsulates what you're trying to do with this project. It will help your interviews, and it will help you with your focus.

    On a side note, you might want to look into any experimental economic research using Post-Soviet Russian subjects--trust games, public goods, investor experiments, and the like. Behavioral and experimental econ is just starting to get serious about cross-cultural comparisons, but if there are results out there that you can compare to the information you get from the World Values Survey and the interviews, it might help you triangulate your conclusions.

  2. Matt,
    what a pleasure to read this. That's why we have disciplinary advisors. If you can make this much progress again in the coming week, you'll be starting to move into a place where you might successfully finish the semester.