Winning at digital by focusing on culture: Reflections from Romania

Author: Olga Grygier-Siddons, Chief Executive, PwC Central & Eastern Europe Olga

Romanian CEOs are recognising that in order to attract and retain people with the hard technical capabilities their companies need for the digital era, they need to focus on soft skills and corporate culture.

That’s the key lesson that emerged from a panel discussion with three Romanian business leaders that I was privileged to be a part of this week: Sergiu Manea, CEO of Banca Comercială Română; Iulian Stanciu, CEO of Romanian online retailer eMAG; and Elisabeta Moraru, Country Manager of Google Romania.

And it’s a lesson that holds true for companies throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

All of our countries are justly proud of our traditions of technical education, producing legions of outstanding scientists and engineers whom the titans of the global digital economy are eager to recruit. But unfortunately, there are also a few less pleasant things that all of our economies share: old-school, top-down management styles; a lack of emphasis on teamwork and cooperation in the formal education system; and brain drain through emigration.

To compete with the global giants in recruiting the region’s world-class technical talent, we need to match them in offering world-class corporate cultures. I was heartened to see how the Romanian CEOs I spoke with have identified this challenge, and how they have concrete plans for how to address it.

I was in Bucharest to join my colleague Ionut Simion of PwC Romania in presenting the global and CEE regional results of PwC’s annual survey of CEOs, as well as the Romanian version of the report, for which we spoke with 68 business leaders in the country.

In the report, we set out four recommendations for business leaders in our region to address the key findings:

  1. Invest in new ways of retaining and motivating digital talent
  2. Help strengthen and improve the role of technology in society
  3. Work to build an education system for the future
  4. Be part of the conversation as societies rethink measures of prosperity.

The survey clearly showed that difficulty in attracting digital talent is a top concern for business leaders in Romania, as it is across our region as a whole. What are CEOs doing about it? Almost unanimously they see a need to focus on building higher engagement through things like teamwork and communications (97% in CEE, and 99% in Romania).

In addition to working for change within their organisations, all three of the CEOs on the panel pointed out the need for change in Romania’s education system. Mr Manea in particular said the country’s schools and universities need to become more flexible and entrepreneurial, encouraging students’ individual aspirations.

Much has changed since the planned economy, when we were trained for a job for life – but the education system in our part of the world has not changed that much since those times, as Mr Stanciu said.

Ms Moraru said these changes need to happen not only at the university level, but starting in primary schools. She also pointed out that Romanians need to embrace lifelong learning after they’ve left the academy gates. In addition to being last in the European Union in terms of technology infrastructure, Romania is last when it comes to the percentage of people engaged in continuing education after leaving university. Mr Manea said he hopes to work with the education system (both public and private) to create curricula on subjects including entrepreneurship, digital literacy and digital ethics.

Digital technologies naturally upset the old order of top-down management by providing opportunities for collaboration across various levels of an organisation and making it possible for everyone to have instant access to information. And companies have a responsibility to help engage employees in building a more collaborative, more open culture.

Mr Manea put this extremely well when talking about the two sides of digitalisation. In addition to the “digital outside” of new products, services and delivery systems that clients see, each company also has a “digital inside”: a new culture and mindset that involves more collaboration and less strict hierarchy. “The second aspect is even more important than the first,” he said.

A big part of the cultural shift is encouraging risk-taking: making sure people at lower levels aren’t afraid to fail, and putting an emphasis on learning from mistakes, as Mr Stanciu pointed out.

Members of the Millennial generation in our region are almost identical to their counterparts around the globe in terms of what they want to get out of their jobs: they’re not interested just in salaries, but in engagement and a sense of purpose. That’s something that global companies are able to offer them, so for our region to avoid falling behind, we need to compete not just on money, but on culture.

If companies around CEE listen closely to what our Romanian colleagues have to say, and take it to heart, I’m confident that we’ll meet that challenge.

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Olga Grygier-Siddons is the Chief Executive Officer of PricewaterhouseCoopers Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) which comprises 29 Member Firms of the Global PwC Network. Olga is a member of the PwC Global Strategy Council which comprises the Territory Senior Partners from the largest 21 territories in the PwC Network.


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