Site management is a subject that rightly demands a great deal of attention because of its increasing importance in preventing costly building defects. But this concentration on practical building management may be at the expense of a broader company management in the building industry - an industry which after all is still at the top of the bankruptcy stakes.
  The pragmatism that is so essential to building managers means that they are often resistant to wider strategic management, especially as current management expertise has become couched in impenetrable abstractions and jargon.
  Peter Lansley, assistant director of research at Ashridge Management College in the Chilterns, has spent the last four years devising a form of management training that would be palatable and useful to the building industry. His basic premise is that this can only be achieved if the training is imbued with a high degree of realism.
  With this in mind he conceived a training course that simulates the operations of a real company, christening it AROUSAL (A Real Organisation Unit Simulated As Life). AROUSAL is in effect a highly elaborate business game based on the detailed case study of an actual building company. The package is computerised so that trainees can test the results of their decision-making.
  The introduction to the standard course takes the form of a 20-minute video of a medium-sized privately owned building contractor in Devon, in which the various directors and managers candidly relate their conception of the company and its problems. The company and its staff are real, though their names have been changed for sake of anonymity.
  After watching the video trainees are asked to take over the running of the model company and are assigned to roles such as managing director, contracts manager, chief accountant and marketing manager. For the raw materials of their business management, they are given written information in the form that the actual company would use. 
  This information comprises routine production and progress reports, balance sheets and profit-and-loss statements, staff reports giving individual responsibilities and performance; and invitations to tender and general information about the building market. 
  With this information to hand the trainees are asked to price tenders, select, hire and fire staff, review salaries, assign staff to projects, redefine job roles and reorganise company structure. The management decisions are taken after a group discussion period that represents three months, the total package allows for a sequence of eight decision-making sessions, representing a total of two years in the life of the model company.
  The decisions of each session are fed into the computer, which processes their effect on the company data supplied.
  One satisfied customer of AROUSAL is Sir Alfred McAlpine of Merseyside, whose personnel director, Gordon Beaumont, says: "The course is an ideal vehicle to expose trainees to all aspects of company management simultaneously. It serves as a catalyst for people to express their ideas to consider matters outside their specialisation, and to interact with other disciplines and groups of people. "
  The model case study appeals to Mr Beaumont as it is realistic yet fictitious, allowing trainees to make decisions in an uninhibited manner. However, AROUSAL does have the additional potential of being tailor-made to the company undertaking management training, a process that would cost from £500 for a small company to a few thousand pounds.
  John Laing Construction worked with Peter Lansley to produce a training case study that is based on a fictitious region of its own company. John Farrow, the company's personnel director, attests that the system was responded to with great enthusiasm during a course for 24 senior managers. "The level of commitment was tremendous, as the package was too realistic to be treated merely as a game."
  AROUSAL has also attracted the attentions of the Construction Industry Training Board, which has just completed a six-month validation programme involving 41 teams using the modelcase study. A CITB meeting in July is likely to signal the go-ahead for a general marketing drive for AROUSAL. On offer is a basic training package introduced by a training advisor that can be used by any company with access to a micro-computer.

Broad company management skills are often conspicuously lacking in the building industry, and the abstract state of current management theory has not encouraged improvement. Martin Spring reports on AROUSAL, a system of management training which simulates real-life companies.


Peter Lansley, assistant director of research at Ashridge Management College, who devised the AROUSAL training system.


Scanned from  Building, 15 June 1984

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