|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
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.
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
|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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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