Motivating Personnel at Russian Nuclear Power Plants: A Case-Study of Motivation Theory Application

Article excerpt

In the former Soviet Union, public administration was not considered an important research area. Consequently, Russia lacks personnel management theories grounded in its unique history and culture. Western theories are currently being applied to personnel management in Russia, particularly at private companies. However, there has been no systematic research concerning personnel motivation at nuclear facilities, which, due to their unique function, may not operate according to standard public administration models. This study is an attempt to understand further the institutional culture prevailing in the facilities that house the world's largest stockpile of nuclear material.

Why is the case of Minatom so important?

Nuclear weapons production was at the core of the huge Soviet military industrial complex. Nuclear weapons were produced by Minatom--an organization analogous to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Minatom had an extensive bureaucracy and was considered one of the most prestigious places to work in the former Soviet Union. Minatom was a government-funded (both the weapons and the civilian complex), classified, inflexible system with a strictly hierarchical chain of command. The collapse of the USSR affected Minatom much more than other Soviet organizations and institutions. Unlike in the United States, where weapons production and security are under the Department of Energy (DOE) but most nuclear power plants are private, in Russia (and in the former Soviet Union) both weapons production and security and NPPs are under Minatom and are therefore public entities. Unlike weapons, nuclear energy is a marketable good, with potential to bring sizeable profits if sold on the internal and external markets. After the collapse of the USSR, there was an attempt to privatize the energy complex, although it failed. In the absence of government money, Minatom's top management tried to keep the industry alive by selling uranium on the world market and by converting nuclear facilities for civilian uses. The only "successful" attempt has been the establishment of a "private" state-funded company under Minatom. However, Minatom was ineffective in the market, mainly because it could not offer competitive quality products at a lower price. (1,2)

Because of its role in defense, Minatom remains the most inaccessible organization in Russia. This means that personnel management still operates virtually as it did under the Soviet system: Western approaches to personnel management are still not used, personnel managers are not trained in a Western manner, and the organization is still resistant to modern practices. An organizational chart of Minatom is presented in Figure 1.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In addition to the huge challenge presented by the conversion of the military industrial complex, Minatom also faced problems concerning personnel administration: how to encourage people to work and how to retain them? The weapons sector was threatened by the problem of "brain-drain" with 64 percent of employees leaving the industry to emigrate or to work in the private sector. (3) The major problem from the perspective of the U.S. was the prospect of people with know how leaving the country to work in the weapons programs of rogue states. DOE, in response to this danger, launched a Closed Cities Initiative designed to facilitate the transition of nuclear scientists in national nuclear laboratories to peaceful work. (1,2)

The problem of motivation and retention has two additional implications. First, because working with nuclear weapons was traditionally one of the most prestigious occupations in the former Soviet Union (it was extensively financed and attracted the best, most intelligent people), the failure to retain employees has resulted in a brain drain, which has had harmful consequences, not only for the industry, but for the whole country. The second problem is less visible but even more dangerous in its short-term consequences: Those who worked at NPPs became the refugees of Russia's economic collapse. …