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The Soviet Union: personnel impressions.

The Soviet Union: Personnel Impressions

Two countries share information on human resource management.

In late 1989, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Alexandria, Virginia, was invited to visit the Soviet Union by an organization called SPECTR/CREATION, Moscow, to discuss human resource issues involved in making a transition from a centralized economy to a free market system.

CREATION, founded in 1984, was created under the auspices of the Soviet government and functions like a professional association does in the United States. Its membership totals 16,000, and a large segment consists of personnel managers looking for standards, training, and other human resource information.

The objectives were to * share our experiences and expertise with our colleagues in human resource management and corporate business; * gather information about local, regional, and national issues in the Soviet Union to share with our members and their companies; and * develop long-term relationships with human resource management organizations for networking, information sharing, and bilateral meetings.

The Soviet delegation was intensely curious: They had endless questions about human resource management. Their laws smother every effort to be creative in dealing with issues in the workplace, and they know it. But because of their ignorance of how to change it, they've decided, much as the Japanese did many years ago, to invite as many experts as possible to the U.S.S.R., learn about how other nations do things, and then pick and choose those laws, practices, and so forth that fit their needs.

They are very academically oriented. They believe a scientific approach should be used in all matters, but they need to learn that much of what we do requires creativity, imagination, intuitive judgment, and sometimes winging it.

Changing their thinking means changing an entire culture, an entire economic system. That is going to take time--as many as 20-25 years, in our estimation--and I am not sure the Soviets understand this or have enough patience to pull it off.

On the workplace front, professional human resource practices as we know them are nonexistent. Every facet of Soviet work life is controlled and managed by labor laws, which cover hiring practices, job transfers, dismissals, social insurance, compensation, trade union relations, retirement, and safety. The law is administered across all industrial lines through a central agency and is repressive. People have become discouraged at the prospect of little or no control over their futures and their careers.

Soviets know there is an elite class of bureaucrats who thrive in this kind of environment and receive the privileges associated with their positions in the hierarchy. This is the principal reason why change is so difficult in the U.S.S.R. Those who stand to lose the most from reform are the Communist party and the bureaucrats who operate it.

Labor unions are financed by a dues structure of 1 percent of pay. Unions are organized geographically and created by law. Unions pay for sick leave and provide other social insurance programs, such as retirement. Normal retirement age is 55, or after 20 years of service, for women, and it's 60, or 25 years of service, for men. One retirement plan covers everyone.

There is no such thing as unemployment. Everyone has a job and just does it. Anyone unemployed for some reason is sent somewhere to do something. Patronage plays a large role in who gets what jobs. Those who know the right people have some choice of where they work.

Change here must start with hiring and firing practices and things like aptitude testing, which is not currently permitted as we understand it. If selecting the right people for the right jobs is not permitted, upgrading, transfers, promotions, and so forth are futile. We advised our Soviet colleagues at CREATION to amend the employment portions of the labor laws in order to open job competition and permit employers to properly screen and select employees.

We also advised that another early step in their developmental process should be to educate managers on how to manage in a free enterprise system, which is quite different from their centrally controlled process.

We discussed the training of Soviet personnel managers, the exchange of publications, internship programs, and other related subjects during our meetings. The outcome was the signing of a protocol agreement between SHRM and CREATION that outlined our commitments to continue our professional relationship and provide for a long-term understanding between our associations.

We learned later that CREATION took our agreement to the central government to discuss its recommendations. I suspect they are trying to carve out a role for their association and secure financial support, as there is currently no national personnel association in the U.S.S.R.

SHRM is continuing to follow up with CREATION. Unfortunately, things happen slowly and communication between the two countries is very poor. And with the turmoil in the U.S.S.R., it will be extremely difficult to act on any suggestions. However, CREATION will send a delegation to the United States this month for SHRM's annual conference.

People-to-people exchanges are not without their pitfalls and disappointments, but they are sure worthwhile. As we learned by going to the Soviet Union, widening our horizons to areas outside of our normal sphere of influence will make futurists of us all.

Ronald C. Pilenzo is past president, Society for Human Resource Management, Alexandria, Virginia, and is currently president of the international division of Personnel Decisions, Inc., Minneapolis.
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Title Annotation:Perspective; human resource management
Author:Pilenzo, Ronald C.
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Words:905
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