Profit, expansion to new markets, innovation, employees's satisfaction: there is a lot the manager of a company has to think about. One thing he often oversees, however, is that his knowledge has some inevitable limits and this prevents him from succeeding in the constantly changing environment without proper help. And the business environment does change. Nowadays more faster than ever businesses are coming and going, new industries appear and others stagnate, periods of crisis rapidly alternate with periods of economic upheaval. The workforce and the work organisation change as well, as do people's skills and understanding of what motivation and loyalty are.
The working manager is hardly able to grasp for himself all of these constant changes and novelties: there are just too many other things on his hands. This is where consultancy companies come to help. A relatively new part of the business environment in Bulgaria – after all, about 25 years ago there was no free market in the country – the segment is flourishing, offering professional help in effectiveness increasing, improvement of qualification, organisation and motivation, the formation of corporate culture and even of theoretical knowledge and practical skills in young companies with potential for development. Some of these companies are local, others are branches of international firms bringing in developed know-how adapted for the Bulgarian soil. What unites them is their expertise to help those businesses whose managers have made that crucial step in self-understanding: that very often we are not aware of the limits of our knowledge and in order to broaden it, we need professional advice to succeed and to unleash the full potential of our company.
The trainings of Heat Development Solutions (Sofia, 9 Arsenalski Blvd, floor1, office 4, phone: + 359 2 862 5396) combine Eastern philosophy and Western traditions. "These are two different points of view to the same problems. Their messages don't contradict, but complement each other," says Angelina Ivanova, the company's managing director. "The contemporary Western trends offer the latest knowledge, for example in psychology, but they can be confusing and hard to apply in real life. The East since ancient times has been studying the human nature and the accumulated wisdom, specifically when combined with physical experience, leads to better understanding and awareness of the matter."
The benefits of combining West and East are significant. "The participants in the trainings are taught basic principles and approaches rather than 'ready-to-use recipes,' and stepping on this they learn to observe, interpret and adapt their approach to different situations" – explains Angelina Ivanova. "Using the approach of Aikido Training Line® we unleash the potential of people and teams. Participants in the programmes increase their effectiveness in dynamic environment and interactions with their colleagues, customers, partners, etc., they also improve their inner stability, self-awareness and motivation. The internal motivation topic is increasingly popular in the companies. External stimuli are consumed fast by the employees, they are not cherished and lack the wanted effect and the needed return, leaving the employees and the companies equally unsatisfied. The Aikido Training Line® programmes stimulate participants to be proactive, to spot the opportunities and to discover happiness here and now, instead of seeing everywhere only obstacles and problems" – adds Angelina Ivanova.
There is a direct connection between human capabilities and strategy execution of a company. "No matter how well defined and important they are, business strategies don't just happen by themselves," says Ventsislav Petrov, partner in Wilson Learning Bulgaria (Sofia, Manastirski Livadi, 87 Ralevitsa St, phones: +359 2 962 8659, +359 898 699 611). "They are achieved through people and in this respect employees' knowledge, skills, abilities and motivation are key. The most successful companies are the ones that have identified the development of people and their skills as a critical success factor (KSF) – something that is a 'must do' rather than 'nice to have'. People are not supporting cast to the strategy, they are the strategy. They need to know where the strategy comes from, what is expected of them and what new or improved skills are required in order to meet these expectations. Our role in this process is to help all parties involved to achieve their goals."
Assessment tools are an integral part of the solutions offered by the company. "Wilson Learning's understanding how people should be developed goes beyond simply offering a training event," explains Ventsislav Petrov. "On many occasions companies want to be sure they are focusing their effort and priorities in the right direction – not just relying on gut feeling or daily observations. In other cases they want to offer specific, personal development plans to their employees. This is where assessment tools like personality profiles, assessment and development centres, 360 degree surveys, career profile inventories, etc. come to help – they are specifically designed for such purposes and offer a valid, structured way to receive observable and measurable results and identify strengths and areas for improvement. Assessment, development and post training integration are the key elements of Wilson Learning's holistic approach to human performance improvement (HPI)."
Internationally recognised professional qualifications are now available for practitioners in Bulgaria. One of the companies offering such education is International Human Resources (IHR) (Sofia, 1 Malyovitsa St, floor 2, phones: +359 2 858 87 16, +359 2 434 10 93). "IHR works in partnership with the top professional qualifications providers in the area of HR management (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – CIPD, www.cipd.co.uk), marketing (Chartered Institute of Marketing – CIM, www.cim.co.uk), procurement and supply (Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply – CIPS, www.cips.org), management accounting (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants – CIMA, www.cimaglobal.com) and auditing and accounting (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants – ACCA, www.accaglobal.com)," says Nevena Tsacheva, IHR managing partner. "We offer qualifications for all levels of professionals working in junior, operational, management and strategic roles who want to improve professional skills, gain international professional recognition, raise their confidence and competence and boost their career earnings."
The advantages for the companies and professionals from these qualifications can be measured objectively. "Many organisations have made wholesale improvements to their operations as a result of our qualification courses," explains Nevena Tsacheva. "The professional qualifications develop a range of skills ultimately resulting in more effective strategic campaigns and increasing the ROI in the function of HR, Marketing, Finance, Procurement and Supply. New ideas and approaches are actively encouraged in discussion among candidates. In effect, the organisation's operations will be benchmarked against best practices in different industries. This can give companies a crucial competitive edge."
The IHR's programmes are organised on an annual basis, and this year's courses start in September. "On 10 November we will organise a special CIM event for all interested to have a taste and feeling about the practical business focus of the marketing professional qualifications," adds Nevena Tsacheva.
Organisational consulting is important for the successful development of a business, and managers should be aware of its benefits. "Organisational consulting focuses on how the organisation functions as a system of interrelated elements," says Ivailo Iliev, managing partner and organisational development consultant at ForTeam (Sofia, 25 Nezabravka St, Moskva Park Hotel, office 410, phone: +359 2 944 0785). "Often the system is not functioning at its full capacity, or worst, it is malfunctioning. Organisational consulting is to organisation what a combination of modern and holistic medicine approaches would be for the human body. It understands the organisation as a holistic system and is able to provide sophisticated, empirically tested methods for diagnosis and interventions in order to improve the company's 'health'. In short, organisational consulting can help any business to function better, to improve its effectiveness or prepare for future growth."
Corporate culture often appears spontaneously in a company. However, professional consultancy help is needed for the managers who seek the best results. "Organisation culture is a subtle, yet critically powerful determinant of a company's success," explains Ivailo Iliev. "When it develops organically, meaning it is not intentionally shaped, there is a significant risk of dysfunction. Employees and managers very often are equally unaware of the way organisational culture influences the way the company functions. Organisational culture requires specific competency to manage or change. That is why it is beneficial to have external support when attempting a culture change or culture management initiative."
To companies who want to improve their culture, Ivailo Iliev recommends a clear roadmap: "First they should choose a methodology which offers an approach to defining and understanding culture. Otherwise they will lose a lot of time trying to align the understanding of the different people or groups in the organisation of what culture is and what is their company's culture. Second, they have to conduct a formal culture diagnostics, which includes both qualitative and quantitative methods. A concrete plan for culture change or management should be designed based on the results from the diagnostics and finally, culture management should become a regular process, just like planning, performance management or budgeting."
Entrepreneurs trying to expand their business and to be sustainable need not only hard work and enthusiasm; they need also knowledge, know-how and the right contacts. For ten years now, CEED Bulgaria has been providing growth-oriented companies with mentoring and coaching, access to finance and a global network of business contacts. "I have more than 25 years of experience in the sphere of entrepreneurship and I know that not everyone is born an entrepreneur but everyone can become a successful one with the proper education, time, resources and environment," says Nikolay Yarmov, Co-founder and Executive Director of CEED Bulgaria (Sofia, 6 Bigla St, Phone: +359 2 819 4343). CEED provides such environment via its unique model based on capacity building and connections and at the same time providing access to capital and establishing ecosystems of support. "Our model has proven that entrepreneurship cannot be learned in school, even the best universities teach mainly theoretical knowledge and when the entrepreneur finds himself in real life, he is forced to survive and to learn through real experience. That is why CEED programmes for business support focus on peer-to-peer exchange and practical knowledge."
CEED Top Class program is developed to meet the specific needs of entrepreneurs and managers providing them with connections and practical advice from experienced mentors. "The program's strong point is that it provides participants with the opportunity to meet mentors, high level CEOs, managers and owners of successful companies that they wouldn't meet otherwise," explains Nikolay Yarmov. CEED also helps young companies to find proper funding. "Companies need different types of investment depending on the stage of their development. We help them with advice on what would be best for them and we connect them with the right people and organisations that could support them financially."
The development of the IT sector is one of the hot topics in Bulgaria in the past few years. The sector, however, is so dynamic on a global level that software companies need to constantly invest in the improvement of their employees' knowledge. "Companies need to invest in the development of their staff, because human resources are the main factor for the growth of this business," says Ivelina Abadjieva, CEO of the first professional academy for software engineers' training NARS (National Academy for Software Development) and the creator of the brands OnTarget Training (IT courses for beginners and kids) and Java2Days, the leading conference in Java technologies in the region. "The shortage of workforce for the software industry is a pressing issue experienced by an increasing number of companies in the sector. The market is the segment that is specifically dynamic and asks for a quick reaction and flexibility from the employers. At the same time, the investment in staff development is a mandatory element for the wholesome corporate policy for keeping software specialists in the company."
The interest towards such an investment is significant. "As an organiser of the Java2Days conference, which is the largest international event for Java technology in the region, I can say that an increasing number of companies invest in developing of their employees' knowledge," says Ivelina Abadjieva. "The number of conference visitors, who are funded by their employers, has risen more than twofold in the past 2 years. The trend is keeping stable and for the upcoming 8th instalment of the event. In this respect, the latest news about us is the CodeMonsters conference for programmers in fields outside Java that is going to take place along Java2Days, in the period of 14-16 November. We expect the two events to become the biggest forum for software specialists in the region: with leading top-lecturers, latest technological novelties and a lot of surprises for the participants."
"We know that behind the cliche 'investment in human capital' are hidden immense efforts based on trust and joint actions taken by the three parts in the process: the training company, the managers and the company's employees. We believe that this is the formula that provides stable competitive advantage in the Era of Personality, as Stephen Covеy calls modern business reality," say Anna Valkanova, PhD, lecturer and communication consultant, and Miroslav Petrov, lecturer and business consultant. The two created the KNOWLEDGE2SKILLS (K2S.BG) (Sofia, 57 Botevgradsko Shose Blvd, phones: +359 898 83 82 08, +359 898 45 58 65) company in the beginning of 2012, fulfilling the idea to provide practical knowledge that easily turn into new skills to guarantee the growth of each business. "For us the skills building is the tight link between the university and the business. This is the main point in our work. The most important thing for us is to create long-term relationships with our customers. We have a flexible pricing policy for new customers and our aim is to improve the effectiveness of business processes within the companies in order to create competitive advantage for them outside, towards their customers," add Anna Valkanova and Miroslav Petrov.