A Contractor's Experience
Andrew Hollway, Independent Training Consultant
During the period from 1985 to 1996 I was training manager for Alfred McAlpine, a Civil Engineering and Building contractors based in Cheshire.  The Arousal programme formed a key element of our annual training programme and was run at least twice a year from 1985 to 1993.  It was an extremely popular course and, although it was one of the most expensive that we ran as a training department (we charged the business units the cost of the training courses), we never had any problems getting delegates.  It was run as a three day residential course and the delegates would get so absorbed in it, there were occasions when some teams worked until the early hours on the business simulation.  We did not attempt to measure the benefits to the businesses but the effects were very interesting.  Our Arousal programme was rather different to the usual format.  Whilst some companies used the Arousal programme to develop the hard skills of running a construction business, our aim was to develop the softer skills of team working, leadership and personal effectiveness.  The business skills development was a side issue.
    When we first started running the programme, the company was a typical construction company.  The culture was macho, management style was confrontational and the softer skills were never thought important.  We realised, at the time, that the construction industry would have to change and that a fundamental change of management style was required.  The Arousal programme was the managers first exposure to the softer side of management and, in the first courses, managers learned more about themselves than anything else.  It allowed us to plant the ideas of the importance of the softer management skills in the minds of the managers in a way that was non threatening.  It was also at the time when PC's were just becoming widely available in offices and it was also the managers first exposure to the power of the PC.  It demonstrated to many managers how the PC could be used and converted them to its usefulness.  This was an unexpected outcome.
    As part of the course, we would carry out the Strength Deployment inventory (SDI) and the results changed over the years we were running the course. In the early days, the managers were predominantly in the Assertive-Directing category.  This was no surprise as it was in keeping with the prevailing culture of the industry. 
As time went by, the style of the managers changed and towards the end of the period, we were finding the managers were predominantly analytic-autonomizing or altruistic-nurturing.  Assertive managers were rare and this was a complete change around. 
  The benefits also changed over the period and latterly the course was a testing ground for managers to try out skills they had learned on other courses and to assess their further training needs.  It became a test bed for managers to learn about their strengths and weaknesses.  I don't believe we ever achieved any fundamental change in behaviour simply as a result of attending the Arousal course and, in this respect, it was not a traditional training course.  It was short and covered a very wide range of management skills.  Its value, however, was that it put managers into a familiar and realistic working environment where they could try out ideas and be counselled about the results.  We even incorporated into the course an assessment questionnaire.  This was to be completed at different stages of the course when different skill requirements were predominating.  It asked the managers to consider the skills they were using at that stage and to assess their effectiveness.  Guidance was given on how to assess the effectiveness and, at the end of the course, the questionnaire summarised the results into a training needs assessment.  This then led into setting objectives for personal development and further training requirements.
    In summary, I believe the Arousal programme was an invaluable tool for management development.  It exposed managers to ideas they had never considered before and was all done in a familiar and comfortable environment.  The simulation was an effective tool to make managers consider their own strengths and weaknesses and, given guidance from the trainers, they could develop plans for improvement.

Andrew Hollway
March 2000

Andrew Hollway is an Independent Training Consultant operating in the UK and Overseas, predominately for Construction Firms, Governments and constructed-related NGOs.

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