пятница, 26 ноября 2010 г.

Professor Pierre Casse: Russian managers love challenges

We offer you an interview with Professor Pierre Casse in which he tells about his teaching experience and explains how SKOLKOVO students differ from students of other business schools

Pierre Casse was once a staff development specialist at the World Bank and one of the highest-paid business trainers in the world. He teaches courses on leadership at business schools in Germany, USA, Slovenia, and France, writes books, and consults multinational companies. Mr Casse has been a professor of leadership at SKOLKOVO since January 2009.

- Why did you accept the offer to teach at SKOLKOVO?
- When I was invited to Moscow, I thought—why not? I got here and I really liked it—the atmosphere, people’s reactions, their openness and thirst for knowledge. People are very warm here. And I appreciated the strong entrepreneurial spirit of the SKOLKOVO project itself. The creation of a Russian Harvard is a brilliant project, not only for Moscow but the world. It’s a very ambitious project, but not an easy one.

- I know that you love to learn about cross-cultural differences. What is your impression of Russian students?
- First of all, managers in Russia love challenges like no one else. They enjoy it when someone riles them up. Second, they love to discuss ideas and get very emotional doing so. Nowhere else in the world have I seen students pound their fists on the table while discussing case studies! They get carried away and shout while they are solving problems, making a big mess. But they get results. German students maintain perfect order in the auditorium, but they don't come up with any new ideas during discussions.

- And what don’t you like?
- I spend time with students and with managers of major companies for whom we conduct seminars. They are happy to raise their level of management expertise, but when the discussion turns to whether they will be able to apply their new knowledge, many of them begin to claim that they aren’t able to change their organisation. They often mention bureaucracy and corruption. The problem of how to apply education is not one that comes up only in Russian business schools—it also exists in the USA, but here it is more noticeable. A person is open to new ideas, but is not ready to put them into practice. That’s absurd. Perhaps this can be explained historically, since people in the Soviet Union were directed from above for so long—they were told what to do, what not to do. I tell my students—don't try to change your company or country all at once. Change the environment around you. Create a community of people like yourself. They say—yes, I can do that. But I want to say that the new generation of Russian managers is very different from the old one. They hungrily seize upon something new, ready to take the initiative, change, and take risks.

- Are there differences in Russian students’ level of knowledge as compared to students from business schools in other countries?
- There are no differences in the level of education. Some of them don’t have as much of a financial background, others are weak in marketing. Perhaps Russians could be better trained in leadership qualities. Russian managers would look absolutely natural in any other European business school. They would be good students. The only negative, as I have already said, is that many of them would prefer that someone else make decisions for them.

- What skills, in your opinion, other than leadership, are Russian managers sorely lacking?
- Many Russian managers find that in order to implement their strategies in practice, they have to overcome a resistant environment and bureaucracy. And so a very important skill for them is being able to manage risk, adjust plans, be diplomatic—one has to be able to find allies.

- What are some specific problems that you have with Russian students?
- I’ve encountered this problem, for example: I give students case studies before class but they don’t read them. They’re too long, I thought. So I shortened them. But they still don't read them! Obviously they weren’t used to working with case studies. Now I always make a brief presentation of the case study before the discussion. This is a big problem for me. I have only encountered this problem in Russia. They have time - it seems to me they just don’t think it’s important to prepare for a lesson in advance. Maybe they are used to someone else learning everything.

- I attended one of your training sessions. It seemed to me that students in the small groups discussed the case studies too loudly and laughed too much.
- To be honest, I can’t get used to so much laughter. If no one in the group takes on the leadership role, then discussion really can become less productive. It seems to me that you’re hiding behind a metaphor - you laugh when you don’t know the answer.

- What do professors from other countries need to know about Russian students?
- Russian managers, as I have said, love challenges, you have to rile them up. But at the same time, it’s very important to rile them up in such a way that they don’t lose face. You need tact and a sense of humour. The academic attitude of “I know something you don’t know” won’t work here.

I need time to explain to the students that it’s not my intention to give them a list of answers to all of life’s situations—they have to come up with the ideas themselves. I have to make them understand that it is they who control the process and it depends on them whatever practical use they get from training or whether the lesson is useful to them in solving problems that they encounter every day.

But you can see a shift occurring even today. The surrounding environment is no longer so static, and many managers are starting to understand that they bear responsibility for themselves - they have to be in charge of their own development. This is more noticeable with the younger students. Important changes are happening in Russia. Business-school students don’t want to copy foreign solutions - they want to find their own way, their own truth, a new truth, relevant to Russia.

- Do you make changes in your course for Russian students?
- I do it all the time. Last year I wrote seven case studies, based on the experience of companies working right here in Russia. I wrote about the Russian divisions of Siemens, Johnson and Johnson, and about your Russian companies - MTS, Kaspersky Laboratory. Presentations materials change as well.

- Do you make use of the Russian business experience when you teach courses in other countries?
- Of course. And I am constantly promoting SKOLKOVO when I am speaking to other professors, telling them that it’s a wonderful opportunity to diversify your experience. There’s a very intellectual atmosphere here. And in contrast to Europe, I have not met any cynical managers in Russia. I like that.

We remind you that you have a great opportunity to learn secrets of leadership and develop your professional skills at a practical course on leadership given by Pierre Casse. The programme is held on December 1-2 on the SKOLKOVO Campus.

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