UHLANS IMAGINATION – HOW TO DEAL WITH POLISH TEMPER

Jun 12, 2014 - 6 min read

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(In this article I would like to explain cultural differences, that may be difficult to handle while working with Poles. To give proper background I would have to start with some historical description. Anyhow article is still about Polish IT specialists)

Uhlans were one of most successful formations in history of European warfare. Next to hussars they made strong impression on Polish, Lithuanian, Russian and Prussian (German) history. They replaced hussars (famous of wining the siege of Vienna) and marked presence during Napoleon period, World War I and World War II. Famous Uhlans were Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski who are both American War Heroes. Uhlans were known from great honour, extreme courage and a temper.

pol. Ułańska Fantazja (Uhlans IMAGINATION) – eng. bravado

Poles are very hot tempered nation. It’s quite funny, as we are known among Slavians as one of most complaining and intrusive. Anyhow compared to other Slavic nations we are also very rapid, flexible, agile and active. It’s a historical mixture where our country was always between biggest empires of their time (German tribes, Vikings and Golden Mongol Horde; then Teutonic, Tsar’s Russia, Swedish, Ottoman Empire; later Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia; in the end between III Reich and USSR) which created culture of courage, honour and patriotism (but also erased our knowledge about our pressure on Ukrainians, Czech, Belarusians and Lithuanians). On the other hand years of political nonexistence in XVIII and XIX century, long wars and 40 years of communism tough Poles to “contrive like a Pole”. It was big mission to organise fridge, car or even meat or chocolate in communism. Even today Poland is known of one of most bureaucratic and business unfriendly places in European Union. It’s not a surprise why so many Polish companies are being opened in Great Britain every day. Poles feel here like in economical heaven and despite many accusation are more likely to create new work here, than overuse benefits.

Fire fighters

Same like Vikings were both farmers and warriors, Uhlans were common people, who joined army in need or to repair own budget. It’s quite common to mix skills. It happens that many people from Eastern Europe are even over-skilled with theoretical manner only (especially huge amount of people with master degree in Economics or humanistic science). It’s not typical like in Western Europe to be specialist in narrow field. If you hire Polish construction worker you can almost assume we will be mason, painter, tiler. Most will do basic plumbing and electricity. When you hire someone to refurnish your home you likely hire one person, rather many. The same applies to IT specialists. You can find of course Objective C (Apple) developer or Java specialist with business intelligence portfolio, but most people on market (and likely in your interest) will be all-stack-web-developers. It may mean some rookie making magical things with out-of-the-box solutions like WordPress, Bootstrap, Joomla, etc. It may also mean someone who is senior in at least one popular server side language, JavaScript, CSS, HTML5 and SQL. And it is already quite obsolete set. Personally I am shocked when in the UK someone without understanding of code versioning software like SVN, GIT or Mercurial, without understanding of agile process, unit testing is called senior developer. Personally I wouldn’t hire such person above junior and most of juniors I have hired so far learned that skills over weeks.

Having such a rich set of expertise Poles are very good for rescue missions to your products. Many are specialised in reverse engineering. They won’t spend half a day staring on the screen and will actively debug to find source of the issue. Let’s don’t full ourselves, this fire brigade won’t fix your business, if you won’t fix your processes, planing and resources. But they can give you breath and ignite proper team setup.

To facilitate your saviours you would have to:

  • find people with showable portfolio in your area
  • agree on paid test (Poles are afraid to be abused) where they would have to fix some of your issues
  • if you suffer of wrong processes, lack of documentation and never-ending fire fighting define very precise issues. Don’t worry about how things will be done, but express expected result
  • don’t squeeze too much (will explain later in morale hyperbole)

Strange silent people

Once finally you found your dream Slavic warriors, you find out something odd in discussion. They seem less communicative than expected. Sometimes they don’t answer at all. Reason is “small talk”. Slavs don’t have small talk. We talk when we have a reason (no matter what reason is). In past, when our cultures weren’t so familiarised it happened that Poles were offended by Brits asking “how do you do” and not waiting for an answer.

  • if you expect feedback, mimic that. If you ask group “does anyone have questions” likely no one will say a word. No questions, means no questions, nothing worth mentioning
  • if you expect updates describe that in the beginning as a rule. If you ask for feedback in the middle of process, it will be understood as “you are too slow, I am unhappy”.
  • determine workers role in decisions, if you expect only executing orders that’s what you’d get. If you decided to delegate decisions, you have to stick to that, otherwise you’d run into delays.

Morale hyperbole

Where is a lot of passions and fire, there is a risk to burn out. People who are extremely enthusiastic about work can lose their eager while finding obstacles. On the other hand not always you want people, who will treat job as “just another contract”. If you think about building proper team then you have to:

  • don’t ask people to work longer than normally. Poles won’t refuse, but each time will get them closer to leave you.
  • don’t give roles without proper power. Poles will feel both obligated and unable (left without tools) to match your expectations. Another reason to leave.
  • if you expect more than executing orders explain origin and story behind project, present skills and experience behind roles in company. Many times Poles, who see under-skilled supervisors making wrong decisions direct frustration against the project. Ambitious people in general (not only Poles) can’t stand working for people who have no background to do proper decisions and push responsibility to the team. On the other hand not drawing full picture, may result that some middle-man mistakes may be understood as chief executives weaknesses.

Dodgers and pretenders

Not every Polish IT specialist is talented, ambitious and helpful worker. As everywhere you can find pests. There are in general three kinds of based often on background they grew up in.

  • “you may stand, you may lay, still you deserve be paid” was proverb often repeated in the communism. If people spend more time on arguing your decisions, makings plots, forming groups (especially against other team members), are spending longer time at work, but not productive, cut it off. (you may need proper CTO to recognise such people first)
  • “it will never gonna work” – complainers, no matter what happens they complain. They are not the same group as constructive critics, who give explanation and solutions. Complainers just complain. You don’t need them.
  • “I am too good to do it”. With 90ties generation, we started to observe people, who have extreme high expectations in the first place, and give nothing in return. It’s unlikely you will meet them, because often such people having great diploma and no experience look only for senior, manager level positions. But if you find them, don’t keep them. If your project is too small for them, let them go.

Babel

But Poles aren’t only difficulties. Next to extraordinary engineering skills comes one more benefit. Because political and economical situation of Poland, with addition of IT marker requirements most of candidates from Poland will speak English. Intermediate level is absolute minimum. You won’t have problems to find German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Danish-speakers for your support team as well. They will be far better skilled than most workers from India or Philippines and their attention to details and work ethics will be higher than most of your local specialists. Big companies like Microsoft move their customer support centres to Poland because of that.

Want to know more?

It’s very hard to gather all knowledge about nation and specialisation. It’s hard to not generalise too much and describe every case. I hope this article help you a bit to understand specifics of working with Polish IT workers. If you have further questions please contact me.

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