How To Win Across Cultures

When I joined SoftServe over a year ago, I had little to no experience with Ukrainian or eastern European culture. Having been born in the U.S. and being employed only by U.S. companies, it was a totally new feeling to work with eastern Europeans to qualify, scope, and kick off projects for clients. I quickly realized that our cultures were different; and learning about the way people from eastern Europe work taught me a lot about my own methods, which until now were hidden to me.

Before I jump straight into listing a few of the differences I’ve observed, I want to level set. It’s important to note that neither culture is right or wrong in the way we think or behave professionally. We are simply different, and understanding one another can help our deals go much more smoothly. Indeed, as our president Harry Propper mentioned at our Sales Kickoff 2020, we are successful precisely *because* of these two different cultures working together in harmony. Both sides bring a critical piece of the equation and by cooperating well, we can deliver the best results and experience for our clients.

Here are some differences I’ve observed, and how we handle it at SoftServe:


Western: Risk-tolerant. It’s ok to move forward without full information; it is assumed that as more is learned, the scope and work may change. This way, we can start early and get to a good result faster.

How we collaborate: We do need to scope and discover properly (remember the eternal joke of Sales over-promising what Engineering can deliver!), and we must also be conscientious of the timing and flexibility needs from the client. In other words, a balance must be struck. Also it is much more palatable for Eastern folks to move forward with more uncertainty if it is understood that *both* parties accept the risk.* So, communication is key when forming the deal; if a Western client wants to move forward with more risk/less information, that is acceptable to everyone if it is well understood. If this is not communicated, Eastern teams will say “no” to the burden of risk when it is not clear the client is accepting this risk.

*Special thanks to Dima Martynov, VP Delivery Healthcare, for this insight


Eastern: It’s more important to do things right than to do them quickly. Also, people are busy, and without clear prioritization of communication needs, it’s easy for something to be overlooked that doesn’t seem important compared to everything else. If everything is urgent, nothing is.

How we collaborate: During regular business, make sure to only “make things urgent” in limited amounts. Everyone’s time needs to be respected. Requests that are truly urgent should be labeled as such: “We’d really like to get an answer today” versus “We will definitely lose the client if we don’t know this by 1 PM Pacific.” The qualification of Why the task is urgent and the Result of doing or not doing a task in a certain time is critical information needed to make these decisions.


Eastern: While details and nuance is helpful, it’s important to highlight the critical /actionable items. If the information does not directly inform what actions can be taken, it dilutes the signal to noise ratio and makes it more difficult to move the deal forward. All the nuance in the world won’t help you if you need to read a novel just to know what the client expects tomorrow.

How we collaborate: When sharing details about a presale, we make sure to prioritize the critical information and next steps, so that it’s easy to quickly scan and orient towards progressing the sale. This is usually done with clear headings for each critical area, and ends with a “Next Steps/ Urgent items” section. It’s a simple thing, but the right amount of actionable information is a key ingredient to a successful engagement.


Western: The end goal should be well understood, and an agile game plan should be implemented quickly. The full details of requirements and constraints may not be known at the outset, and often cannot be known in advance; instead, the team will start quickly and adapt as needed.

How we collaborate: In reality, both perspectives are needed, and we end up meeting in the middle. Also, I’ve mentioned two extremes on a spectrum, but rarely is either party entirely on that side of the spectrum. A balance of “start quickly and be agile” with “do due diligence beforehand so we can properly plan and scope” is critical to a successful deal.

Long Term vs Short Term Thinking

Eastern: Take the longer view over many months or years, because companies and success is a long term investment that can only grow over sufficient time.

How we collaborate: Clients are constantly in a hurry, and want to move quickly with engagements and initiatives. It can be difficult to “give the client what they want” without taking the longer view, because a short term project and quick win may miss the bigger picture. As always, a balance needs to be struck between the two; and because client success is baked into our DNA, we will always think about the long term path of a client, even if they are only worried about short term results. So when we present the early stages of a solution to a client, we’ve already discussed the approach and vision for the longer term, so that we’re laying the foundation for success in the future.

Of course it’s not always this simple, and I don’t mean to paint the picture that Westerners aren’t capable of thinking long term! On average, the timescales are slightly shorter for how Westerners think about winning, and the balance towards longer term thinking from Easterners means a more stable and predictable journey for client success over the coming years.




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