Agnieszka Sitko-Lutek, Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland
Jeanne Hill, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK
Anna Rakowska, Katedra Zarazdzania Politechnika, Lublin, Poland
Poland, like other former Soviet Union countries, started its transformation from a controlled, internally-focused economy to a world player with the collapse of Communism in 1989. This March, ten years later, negotiations for access with the European Union were begun as the second step of the process that is expected to end with full membership for Poland of the European Union. This membership will require major adjustments in the patterns of management of Polish firms as well as far-reaching changes in politics, communication, social welfare and even in the role of the individual.
The opportunities for Polish firms will be great if managers are prepared for the challenges of the new economic reality, but to be prepared they have more to learn and less time in which to learn it than their European Union colleagues. The World Economic Forum's research ranks Poland 50th in terms of national economic competitiveness (Karpowicz, 1998:74) after countries such as Iceland, Jordan, India and Vietnam. Clearly, there is a long way to go, and success will depend largely on the competence of the managers of Poland's firms.
So far, management consultants and educators, many of them from the US and UK, have stepped in to transfer Western 'know-how' to Polish firms and managers. Management and business education in Poland is booming: between 1994 and 1998 enrolments in all types of business schools quadrupled. However, while demand soars, concern about the quality of education increases. More importantly, questions are being raised about whether Western assumptions, models and methods are congruent with or even effective in the Polish context.
The Polish context for management education
Karpowicz's 1998 survey reveals that many Polish managers are not fully aware of or prepared for the consequences of integration with the European Union. 83% of Polish managers currently see no threat from foreign competition. Roughly half the firms surveyed are in favour of trading abroad, but half wish to stay domestic. Less than half claim they are ready to compete with other companies in European markets.
In addition, organizational systems, practices and thinking patterns set up under the old collectivist mentality and the 'irrational economy' since the collapse of Communism have created 'pathological behaviours' (Rapacki 1995) in Polish organizations, social acceptance for 'deviant' economic orders (e.g. black and grey markets), passive attitudes and a lingering distrust of government and collective regulation.
These factors in themselves are enough to challenge the designers of management education curriculum and delivery methods. However, there are additional complicating factors. Polish managers, particularly those over 40, have been found to have more contemplative (reflective, analytical) learning styles than those in many Western countries, possibly as a result of their education in Polish state universities. (Sitko-Lutek, 1996) In these traditional educational environments, the acquisition of knowledge, (especially theoretical knowledge) is the goal; didactic, teacher-controlled methods and passive learning are the means. Managers from this type of educational background have difficulty with the more active, participative methods often used in Western-derived business school teaching which are probably better suited to the acquisition of skills, such as the business skills now required.
In addition, there appears to be a significant difference in learning styles and attitudes between younger and older Polish managers and differences between Polish social and interpersonal systems and the Western models on which many practices taught in business schools are based (e.g. as a result of a different power distance (Hofstede 1984) tolerance or influence bases).
Recommendations for management educators
The opening of the Polish economy created opportunities not only for businesses but also for educators. Western consultants, trainers and educators have hurried to offer their services and Polish business schools have been created, often with Western assistance, to help satisfy demand. Interestingly, however, the same 'gurus' who teach contingency theory and the segmentation and tailoring of strategy to environmental and business demands, have not always, in their haste to market their services, practised what they preach.
We have a series of recommendations for the creation of management education initiatives more directly and immediately suited to the needs of Polish managers in this new and challenging time.
Hofstede, G (1984) Culture's Consequences, Newbury Park, CA: Sage
Karpowicz, E (1998) Polski menedzer wobec konkurencji"( Polish managers in the face of Competition); in ed B. Wawrzyniak, Raport o zarzadzaniu; polskie przedsiebiorstwa i menedzerowie wobec wyzwan XXI wieku", Warszawa
Rapacki, R (1995) Kultura przedsiebiorstwa w Polsce w okresie transformacji", (Corporate Culture in Transition of Polish Economy), Instytut Gospodarki Swiatowej
Sitko-Lutek, A (1996.) Style uczenia sie a przeksztalcanie kultury organizacyjnej przedsiebiorstw", ( Learning styles and organizational culture transformation) unpublished Ph.D dissertation, Academy of Economics, Katowice
Return to Main Page