Poland is an economy and a country which is in a transitional period – moving to a free market economy from a Soviet-style command economy.
Whilst great progress has been made since the changes began in 1989, the country still suffers from certain legacy problems – especially in infrastructure issues.
Poland is in Central Europe! Poles can sometimes be offended when people say they are Eastern Europeans.
Although nowhere near as relationship-oriented as certain other central European countries (Romania for example), it would be dangerous to underestimate the importance of taking the time to develop close personal bonds.
Research the origins of any company you are doing business with – is it a foreign-owned company or a local entity? This ownership issue can have a big impact on how the company is structured and managed.
Be aware of the potential generational divide which exists within Polish society. The older generation are likely to be far more heavily influenced by the approach to business found under the old Soviet-style regime whereas the younger generation might have a more open, entrepreneurial approach.
It is likely that decisions will be made at the top in any locally-owned organisation, so don’t waste too much time trying to get decisions out of middle and junior managers – go straight to the top if possible.
Managers are expected to manage and this means giving precise and detailed instructions to subordinates. Lack of clear instructions can be seen as poor or weak management.
Poles would tend to do significant amounts of preparation prior to meetings and would expect their counterparties to do the same.
Agendas will often be produced at meetings and it is expected that agendas will be fairly rigidly adhered to.
It is advisable to be punctual for any appointment in Poland as lack of punctuality can be seen as unprofessional behaviour.
Formal meetings are serious occasions and should not be treated lightly. Any overly informal behaviour could be construed as a lack of respect for senior management.
Once teams have been established and the internal relationships seem to be working well, it is important to keep the team together if possible. Poles can be wary of strangers and the relationship building process can be long.
On the whole, English language levels are very good in Poland and it is unlikely that a translator would be necessary.
Polish communication style is very direct. People are expected to say what they think rather than hide behind any notions of diplomacy.
Body language is minimal in meetings which can lead to mistaken impressions of disinterest.
Titles are often used in business circles and are viewed as highly prestigious – try to have your qualifications and titles printed on your business card.
Women have made significant strides in recent years but most senior positions still tend to be held by men.
Male business colleagues may show exaggerated amounts of respect to female colleagues – in an old-fashioned, chivalric way.
Dress soberly but smartly. Avoid being too showy with your clothes as this may appear immodest.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
Poland has been the most successful of all the countries in central and eastern Europe and has managed the transition from its former Soviet era system to a liberal, free-market economy remarkably well. Poland even grew during 2008 whilst the rest of the world was in seeming economic meltdown.
How did Poland achieve this success when so many of its neighbours have found the transition much more difficult? Poland got its institutions right from the outset – it focused on the rule of law, on property rights, democratic accountability and on building robust market institutions. Having got those things right, it then worked hard at making EU accession a success. The result? One of the smoothest movements from middle-income to high-income status on record.
Many international companies have found doing business in Poland to be highly profitable and have benefited from a well-educated population who are both internationalist and aspirational. Many Poles have worked abroad, learnt English and then returned home to work for one of the many global companies who have set up operations not only in Warsaw but also many of the second-tier cities.
If you are thinking of doing business in Poland or with Polish colleagues we recommend that you learn about Polish business culture in advance. Poland has manged to work smoothly with its Western European neighbours but that does not mean that it has adopted the same approach to day-to-day business activities as Germany (it’s largest trading partner.) Poland has its own unique business culture which is, like the rest of Poland, going through a period of transition – some say it has more than one business culture split along generational lines. Why not find out before you get there?
This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Polish business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on: