"Trust but verify": Translation of employee empowerment as a Western organisational practice into the Russian context

Virpi Outila

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The purpose of this dissertation is to provide an in-depth understanding of how employee empowerment as a foreign organisational practice is translated and made sense in the Russian context. Employee empowerment is a value-infused organisational practice that emphasises granting employees autonomy for completion of their tasks. As empowerment has been found to enhance the performance, well-being and positive attitudes of employees, many multinational companies (MNCs) consider important to transfer it across borders, also to Russia. However, the Russian values which emphasise managerial superiority and employee obedience, contradict with the underlying values of empowerment. The study is a qualitative, embedded single-case study of a Finnish MNC operating in six cities in Russia. The data set consists of personal interviews with 100 Russian managers, employees and Finnish expatriates as well as documentary material. The study draws on Scandinavian institutionalism, a form on new institutionalism, which highlights translation and sensemaking when practices travel across borders. When making sense of empowerment, the interviewees used proverbs, which focused on key themes associated with empowerment such as trust, control, showing initiative, and attitude towards mistakes. The study identifies the use of proverbs as a means to make sense of and translate the practice to render it locally meaningful as well as a means for theorising about the phenomenon. It highlights the role of actors who used proverbs in order to explain their view and to express the difference and tension between the Western and Russian understanding of empowerment. The study identifies how interviewees used proverbs in different ways and hence demonstrates the importance of proverbs in explaining Russian culture and worldview.The study provides a reconceptualization of employee empowerment in Russia and defines empowerment as an activity when employees impact their goals, demonstrate autonomy in implementing tasks and in making decisions about their work as well as show initiative under manager's control. The study shows that in Russia employee empowerment is characterised by the control of the manager in order to support the employee and prevent possible mistakes. Mistakes are punished as the learning takes place through punishments. The study uses a novel approach in international business research by using proverbs as a methodological tool to analyse the data. As proverbs express the cultural, historical and institutional characteristics of a nation, they provide an emic approach to study different cultural and institutional contexts.
Translated title of the contribution"Trust but verify": Translation of employee empowerment as a Western organisational practice into the Russian context
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Piekkari, Rebecca, Thesis Advisor
  • Mihailova, Irina, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7084-1
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7083-4
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • translation of practice
  • scandinavian institutionalism
  • employee empowerment
  • Russia
  • proverbs
  • HRM


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