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Frank Pucelik Talking about Russian Market of Trainings and Consulting

- Could you tell us about your understanding of competition in Russian trainings and consulting market, please?

Moscow and St.-Petersburg are unique in many ways. Each of those cities has their own way of development in the market. Both Moscow and St.-Petersburg are definitely different from any other region. Moscow is incredibly competitive. There’s enormous amount of consultants there, both foreign and local. Many companies have their own development programs and don’t hire consultants at all. I think that the quality of services being offered is low. Although it’s gradually improving. My point of view isn’t anything like some form of a scientific approach as I haven’t carried out any serious research, but as far as I’m concerned, according to the feedback from people, about 80-90 % of those, who position themselves as business trainers, do have some sort of a program really, which they’ve “adopted” elsewhere, gently put. They might have read some good books or might have stolen some from the foreigners… they come out and start selling it, having quite vague idea of whether it really works or not. Majority of the clients are very unhappy about the results. However, result is there and it has certain value. Moreover, low quality consultants are damaging the reputation of really decent consultants because companies start to believe that consultant is someone who can’t successfully run business of his own, but makes his living teaching others how to do it anyway. Today it’s partly true. Yes, I believe that consulting market is developing. Perhaps not as fast as we’d like it to. What’s going on now will sooner or later fail, once something more decent will show up and that’ll give a boost to the field. It’s just the matter of time for consulting to reach really professional level just as any other area. The same thing happened in other countries so it’s quite a predictable process. Here dynamics of development in consulting is quite fast. Everything here is moving quite fast!

- There are over 1000 registered training and consulting companies in St.-Petersburg. How would you recommend picking a decent company out of such variety?

I think there’s only one way to pick successful company and that is to contact their clients that have had experience of interacting with them previously. Talk to them and you’ll find out if they were satisfied with the results they had achieved; get real figures if possible: before the training program each trade agent had such profit and 3 months after the program –such and such. If a training program can’t produce tangible result and can’t show you its track record of achieving that result, then you should say: no, thank you, it’s the waste of time. There’s only one indicator of quality in any training program – successful result. Trainers and consultants are professional speakers, someone who can and likes to speak. They are able to tell you and persuade you in whatever they want. I’m sorry but whatever they say doesn’t matter. What do their clients say? That is a proof of real value.

- The problem is that training company is referred to either through friendship or for the sake of percentage …

I understand. Getting an honest feedback is really a big problem here…That’s the reason why I don’t like direct references. I’d rather have so-called “blind” references. Training company says which company made referral. I talk to this client and ask for 3 more names of those who’d participated in this program and give them a call. They will be the ones I’m going to believe. Or I go to the company and talk to trade agents asking them if they had attended that program? No bribes, nothing. Real sales representatives will be truthful since they don’t get paid for promises.

- What’s your opinion about certification for business trainers and consultants?

- Abroad many certificates and licenses are taken with a fair amount of suspicion. They are considered to be a bad joke. But there are certain associations that provide certification that have earned reputation and prestige such as ASTD in USA. American companies have turned to ASTD for over 40 years saying: I need a good consultant. And ASTD recommended the people they’d certified, saying to the companies: if someone comes to your office and says he’s a consultant, ask him to show ASTD certificate. Write down the number of certificate, call us at the office to make sure it’s real. If the certificate is real, keep in touch with him. If not, tell him to leave. And they’ve been doing that for 40 years. That saved training business in America.
What do I think must happen in Russia? Some organization similar to ASTD, some kind of St.-Petersburg - ASTD must define criteria to prove the value and importance of such certification for the community, not for the business trainers but for the business circles.

Providing information, enlightening business environment: how to select business trainer, how to evaluate consultant, how to pay for the services, how to execute control … Becoming a source of such information for business environment so that business can start trusting them. Then they’ll have a chance to turn to business trainers and consultants and say: do you want to work in this city? You must receive certificate from us because we evaluate consultants, say, for 170 companies in this city because we’ve established relations with the business. Now there’s a reason for business trainers to join this organization, support it, go through testing stages and obtain licenses.

Majority of the associations fail here because they try to establish relations with business trainer and consultants. A consultant has no reason whatsoever to come to them and pay money for the certification if association isn’t directly connected to the business, the companies. It’s business association, not the association of business trainers and consultants. When clients start asking consultant for the certificate issued by St.-Petersburg – ASTD and refuse to deal with them without it, then such association will have real power. This is exactly what happened in US, Spain, France and Britain. All of them had to grow up. Business trainers were running around those countries, giving away promises, destroying market and failing to cope with their responsibilities.... Not only did they damage themselves but they were ruining the reputation of the whole market. And that’s what is going on in Russia now. You have (to the editor of TREKO.RU portal ?. Sokolov) an excellent organization to ensure this process gets more civilized.

- How can a Russian trainer or consultant improve his/her qualification?

If there’s an association to control this process then it’s easy. If there’s no such association then this function isn’t taken care of. And it’s an issue of ethics for each consultant in particular. Unfortunately high ethical qualities on the territory of Russia today aren’t found in abundance … Here it’s still the time to take what can be taken. One wants to earn well, but is unwilling to work. Someone might read a book and think: “I’ll go to Barnaul, introduce myself as a professional trainer from St. Petersburg and will make easy money. NO certification, no control, no punishment for him, nothing. After Barnaul he might head to Penza, Kuybyshev etc. …

- Surely there are trainers that aren’t interested in anything … There are professionals though that are willing to grow and develop. But they don’t know how? It’d be nice to be able to help them...

- How? It depends on person’s intentions, how serious they are … There are ??? programs, some of them really good. Especially if studying for MBA in some prestigious western university. Harvard University is represented in Moscow as well as Princeton if I’ m not mistaken. Search for ???-education opportunities from the best universities in the world available in Russia. Then you will have some knowledge. Especially if you go on for a summer program in US to improve your qualification, for some kind of internship after graduating from the MBA program in Moscow. Certainly, we’re talking about tremendous investments and long-term changes. It’s the best way to really learn something in your lifetime.

Besides these two options … A lot of foreigners who arrive here stay for 2-5 days, performing show programs that have very little to do with reality in this country. Then they go back home. You will receive that proves that you witnessed the show. Most of what you hear there is irrelevant and impractical, it is na?ve childish stuff.

I’m not familiar with Russian companies which aim at improving consultants’ qualification. I don’t know even a single one. My advice would be: get the hell out of Russia for a year and find a job in some decent company, in HR department if possible to learn their mastery. After that get back and try to do something here. To learn something without leaving Russia will be harmful for those who will be training consultants. Consultants and trainers will learn here by trail and error, making the same mistakes time after time damaging the companies that hire them. If those people have a little conscience then every time they fail with their clients they will be asking themselves the following questions: what happened and what did I do wrong? And every next time try to do something better. I’m afraid that this is the way Russian consultants and trainers are learning now. They are learning stepping on the companies in the process, damaging them, wasting time and money. In fact they get paid for their learning on companies. It’s a tragedy…

In the West, it’s impossible. If I want to be a business trainer, I apply for a job in training or consulting company, but neither as a trainer nor as consultant. I become a messenger boy! I’m the one who prepares flipcharts, fills in blanks. I earn the right to become a consultant for 1-3 years. Then I get promoted to an assistant’s position, and I proved assistance during exercises. While excellent trainer is at work I’m observing, asking questions, learning. After that I become an apprentice. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to express my opinion while professional will observe. It’s a process of professional education that might take 1- to 15 years. Before I can ever get a chance to address the audience of business people, represent a company whether it’s PricewaterhouseCoopers or any other. Nobody gets the right to represent consulting company without having 10-15 years of practical experience, sometimes 20 years. You can’t become a consultant over 6 months. You become a consultant after 18 years. It’s a standard. Only this way you can be accepted. I’d been working as an assistant for 7 years before I could get a chance to perform myself. More than 10 years after that I was learning, observing, practicing and still I make mistakes and I hate it. There were cases when some company heard from me something they shouldn’t have heard … I feel really sad about it. Some clients paid for my education. But thanks God, not too many. This is the way you become a consultant or business trainer.

Different countries have different needs and standards. Perhaps everything isn’t that bad as it might seem.
If you put a business trainer in front of IBM audience – IBM managers would eat him up in 5 minutes and throw away as IBM managers expect top professionalism and they know what it looks like. They pay the man 10000 $ a day to appear in front of them. 10000 $ is minimum, sometimes the sum amounts 20000-250000 $. Surely, they expect only the best.

Consultants must decide what they are doing. “I’m trying to do something just to survive and make my clients teach me?". I’ll try and learn as fast as possible and help as fast as possible. I’ll try to gain experience and try not to charge too much. I’ll watch videos and listen to CDs. There are many audio books by professionals in Spain, USA and other countries. Immerse yourself deep into it so that you can’t see the daylight! Listen again and again and again. Videos, audio books, learning on the Internet, gain your experience as soon as possible. And when professionals come over here, go to meet them. I’m not aware of a better way.

Interview provided to Treko.ru

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