Perspective on Russia: Using Deming to Counter "Soviet Legacy" Management Practices

Twenty years of Russian market reforms have shown that one of the most serious obstacles to creating an innovative economy is the totalitarian style of thinking, says Tatiana Medvedeva. Repressive management cannot lead to the development of a modern, innovative economy no matter how much technology you throw at the production of goods and services.

The Russian people are struggling to learn how to create a modern, innovative economy, which requires a new type of worker and a new, more cooperative style of management. Technology will play a role, of course, but more importantly changes in mentality and patterns of behavior are required for both managers and workers. To that end, the management methods formulated and promoted by Dr. W. Edwards Deming are an important component of reform efforts in Russia and other post-communist countries.

Twenty years of Russian market reforms have clearly shown that one of the most serious obstacles to creating an innovative economy in Russia is to change the totalitarian style of thinking. A person needs to be considered as more than a means to achieve economic goals, yet this is a tenet of totalitarian thinking. For decades a totalitarian consciousness produced repressive forms of management. This cannot promote development of a modern, innovative economy no matter how much technology is applied in production of goods and services. Technology is not the solution if it is put in the hands of those who use a totalitarian style of management.

In recent years the infrastructure of a market economy has been created in Russia, but it does not work well. Why? Because it operates within the old "Soviet" authoritarian management mentality.

It is informative that the most efficient and effective market in Russia now is the market for high technologies. High technology did not exist in the time of the Soviet Union. Thus, this market began with a new production and management model and thus escaped many of the problems associated with "Soviet heritage" or "Soviet" mentality. Even if that sector of the economy flourishes, it is not enough to create an overall market-based economy, which is what we must create.

A study of the leadership styles of Russian managers made by the Nizhny Novgorod Center "Prioritet" and based on Daniel Goleman’s "emotional intelligence" approach shows that many Russian organizations use authoritarian management approaches. These typically take three forms: repressive, distrusting and indifferent styles.

This chart summarizes the "logic" of each style –and the negative impact it has on organizations. One can see that such styles are out of step with what is needed to survive and thrive in today’s world.

Table 1 Negative styles of management


Repressive Style

Distrusting Style

Indifferent Style

Method of work



People are treated like mechanical entities.


Find guilty people and punish them! Obey orders.

I do not trust people, not even myself.

Just follow orders and instructions.

Dominative characteristics of emotional intellect

Expose weaknesses of employees.

Suppression of the will of employees.

Mania of searching for enemies

Lack of empathy

Optimal conditions for work

Catastrophes and wars!

Controlling organizations

Preparing the enterprise for bankruptcy!

Effect on the working atmosphere



Swamp creating

Because current Russian leaders do not have enough knowledge of contemporary management methods, they tend to default to an authoritarian style of management, which is well known to them. Looking at Table 1 we can see the effect of using any form of authoritarian approaches is destructive at worst, and swamp creating at best. Needless to say, this style of management does not encourage employees to want to improve their work nor to produce innovations.


More and more research confirms that Russian companies have been facing problems that cannot be solved in the old "Soviet" way. Throwing technology at the problems also does not work. Hence, Russian top-managers are looking for new management approaches and one such approach is based on the concepts of Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

There are many reasons for this. Deming’s quality methods and management methods, for example, are proven over decades to work, and to work well. A significant side benefit is that they foster social learning, which is very important in Russia, now. For example, while studying a large and typical Russian enterprise I am witnessing social learning taking place:

  • People gaining confidence that improvements can be made
  • People learning to rely on themselves, rather than on distant leaders.
  • People learning ways to persuade others that changes are needed and what changes are most needed.
  • An emphasis on customer and employee satisfaction. This improves morale, the quality of goods and services, and competitiveness.
  • People studying how to work together and how to resolve conflicts by measuring results and improving processes.
  • Demonstrations of respect replacing toxic authoritarian behaviors.

And there are a number of benefits one would expect to see:

  • Improved performance. Deming’s methods assure that workers are aware of the whole process in which they are involved, that they measure the performance of the process, and that they are involved in continually improving performance.
  • Data driven decision-making by managers. This reduces politics and favoritism in the allocation of resources.
  • Workers and managers learning to test ideas on a small scale before implementing them on a large scale.
  • Deming’s methods spreading to supplier organizations. This is crucial to increasing productivity and quality.
  • Innovation and creativity being released because Deming’s methods foster the involvement of employees at all levels in continuously improving processes.

Of course, there are obstacles to the success of a full implementation of Deming’s teachings, just as there are in countries that have had the benefit of Deming’s insights for a much longer time. A few of the obstacles include:

  • Underestimating the power of respect and support so people can achieve pride and joy in work. Managers still tend to see the organization as a mechanical entity, and employees as parts of the machine vs. seeing the organization as a living system that can be damaged by mechanical and coercive approaches.
  • Not understanding that a focus on improving the system in which people work has a long list of benefits –instead of blaming (or rewarding) people for the influence of the system on their work.
  • Vulgarization of Deming’s messages. Too often lip-service is paid to quality improvement, and in reality managers are not exposed to (or they ignore) the new management methods Deming advised that leaders use.

The last years of Russian history show that there are people who are able to implement changes in thinking and philosophy which create work environments that support people and ideas instead of suppressing them. Technology does not solve this problem, but Deming’s teachings provide a management method that leads to new ways of behaving, improved organizational performance, and a different, more effective style of management so we are no longer encumbered by the "Soviet legacy" management practices.

Author’s Note: The preparation and presentation of this paper was supported by the Fulbright Program, which is funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES). The opinions expressed herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of either the ECA or the CIES.

Editor’s Note: The columns published in THE DEMING FILES have been written under the Editorial Guidelines set by The W. Edwards Deming Institute. The Institute views these columns as opportunities to enhance, extend, and illustrate Dr. Deming’s theories. The authors have knowledge of Dr. Deming’s body of work, and the content of each column is the expression of each author’s interpretationof the subject matter.