- ten years on
Given that fashions in management development and information technology change very rapidly, it is a surprise to find that the AROUSAL business simulation system is as popular now as it was at its launched ten years ago.
  The system, which four years ago won a Building Innovation Award for the contribution it had made to management development in the construction industry, was originally developed to meet the challenge for more effective approaches to management development. The objective was to produce a demon-stration business simulator which others, more expert in the field of management training and computing, could use as a basis for developing their own systems.
  Its widespread use by the industry, and internationally, was never envisaged. Yet last year there were well over 2,000 participants on the courses in the UK and abroad – even though the system draws on skills and technology which have been available for some years.

Enduring appeal
To understand why the system has lost none of its appeal it is necessary to go back to when it was first conceived. This was at a time when the industry was still reeling from the shake-out of the mid-70s depression and was entering a further recession, that of the early 1980s. For over a decade firms had neglected to provide adequate training for managers.
  The result was that a generation of managers had reached senior level with only a piecemeal appreciation of the role and function of the senior manager. Even more serious was the lack of broad management view of construction, of how the various elements of the business related to each other and of the impact of corporate strategies on these elements.
AROUSAL was designed to provide such managers with real life exposure to the problems of managing a business from the top, through allowing participants in the courses to gain hands-on experience of solving business problems and running a company.
  Essentially, it consists of a strategic case study of a medium sized construction firm linked to a highly sophisticated computer based business information system and simulator. Using the simulator managers can run the business into the future, handling the information and making many of the decisions which they would in practice and then managing the consequences.

The AROUSAL system, a leading management development tool, was developed by Prof. Peter Lansley, M. Here he looks at the changes that have taken place in industry management philosophy, on and off the course, over a decade.

Peter Lansley is Professor of Construction Management in the Department of Construction Management & Engineering at the University of Reading.

Upgrading software
Despite significant upgrading of the computer software used to run the system and of the associated training materials, the objectives and delivery have continued to emphasise the original philosophy established ten years ago – the need for an integrated approach to improving the effectiveness of the individual manager.
  The major difference is that the underlying philosophy of the system is now much more readily accepted. However, it must be remembered that a decade ago there was little recognition by the industry of the need for management development.
  A major feature of the system is its ability to provide a rich learning environment for managers which the expert trainer can tailor to meet the needs of individuals.
  Thus, as well a providing an opportunity to come to terms with the technical aspects of running a business, such as finance, marketing and manpower planning, there can also be an emphasis on issues such as leadership, team building and communication skills.
  To provide such a range of possibilities a typical course is led by a construction business expert and by a psychologist with expertise in team building. To do otherwise can seriously diminish the value of the system to the course member.

Business knowledge
What has changed most dramatically over the years is the use made of the system. The managers who are now passing through the courses may be of the same age and broad experience as those ten years ago but their knowledge of business and general level of inter-personal skills are most definitely different.
  In the early years it was notice-able that many managers knew little about marketing. Linked with this was the general poor level of presentation skills, demonstrated during the frequent occasions on the course when executive style presentations have to be made. 

Ten years later, in 1991, there seems to be little doubt among managers about the need for and value of marketing.
  Further, their skills in making presentations are markedly better than those of their predecessors. The reasons for this change are very clear – business survival depends on a never ending round of presentations to prospective clients, sponsors and other important parties.
  Another remarkable difference is the interest which many managers have developed in risk management, for example, when bidding for work, and the extent to which they will attempt to isolate various elements of risk and then to understand those elements. Clearly, this may be the result of the industry’s preoccupation during the 1980s with the risk inherent in contracting.
  But some of the most remarkable changes in emphasis are not the technical skills of participants but the extent to which corporate cultures have changed over that period. AROUSAL provides a window into an organisation, capturing many of the attitudes, behaviours, strengths and weaknesses found in the larger organisation.

Career mobility
Ten years ago those individuals rising to senior management positions often had long service with their firms. As a consequence of socialisation and shared experiences with colleagues there was a certain similarity in ways of thinking and decision-making. In some firms this company way of thinking about issues was so evident that to an outsider it seemed that some cloning of board members had taken place. In 1991 the opposite is the case. Lengths of service are often so short that in some firms it is difficult to detect any culturally induced consistency among their managers. Whereas ten years ago the top management was reassured and comforted by knowing how rising senior managers thought, in the 1990s top management confidence is more of an act of faith.
  Of course, such confidence may be well placed for those firms which have recruited very capable managers, but as profit margins shrink and firms have to rely more on creative strategic thinking, some of that confidence may prove to be misplaced.
  The other reason for a change in culture is that the backgrounds of managers in the industry are also changing. General Contracting is no longer the core business of the typical construction firm and personnel from other fields have moved into these firms bringing with them quite different perspectives of business. 

  These trends seem to have had a generally beneficial effect on the ability of firms to generate effective teams. No longer do AROUSAL teams, or the larger organisations from which they come, become dominated with a very singular contractor view of the world. However this effect, which seems to be reflected in a much greater degree of commercial awareness, is somewhat limited by a corresponding lack of detailed understanding of the organisation, of the industry, its professional and technician roles and how they fit together.

Course flexibility
Although AROUSAL is employed largely with middle managers rising to senior positions it is used from time to time with boards of directors and even with students on degree courses. It has the flexibility to be tuned to the particular needs of these different types of participant without any loss of effectiveness.
  However, some of the most exciting and rewarding uses have been much more unconventional. Some of the strongest supporters of AROUSAL are not construction firms at all, but organisations which have to interface with the construction industry. One of the world’s largest accounting and management consultancy practices require all of those members of its audit and consulting staff who are likely to become involved with the construction industry to participate in a week long in-house AROUSAL course.
  They believe that experiencing the issues faced by senior managers in construction and learning the language of construction through the system is equivalent to nine months of direct working with the industry. Property developers also use the system as a means of learning to understand the construction industry.

Future markets
Whether the system will retain its popularity for a further ten years remains to be seen. However, it will most certainly have something to offer managers in Eastern Europe as their economies become more market led and there is a need to develop rapidly an ability to manage in a western way. For the meantime with the economy having turned full circle to arrive at exactly the situation as when AROUSAL was initially developed, there is plenty of need for its use nearer to home.

Scanned from:    October 1991 Chartered Builder

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