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Management Development at Atkins Engineering Company Essay

Management Development at Atkins Engineering Company


1.                  Explain the purpose of a Management Development Programme for (i) Atkins,, and (ii) for organisations in general.

Management Development programme was proposed and created at Atkins by its human resource director for the purpose of measuring the capabilities of its managers and engineers and to be able to determine how they can be improved and deployed on positions where they can further grow and maximise their potentials. Atkins is an engineering company and its managers and engineers commonly have more technical knowledge and skills than managerial skills. The programme aim to helping managers and engineers realised what they can still do regarding their job at Atkins.

Atkins is also affected by the changes with its macro-environment, especially the technological environment, that drive the company to continuously change its strategic objectives. Consequently, when the company’s objectives change, the processes and approaches it used in its operation also change. An organisation will find it hard to adapt to changes when the leaders of the organisation themselves are stagnant or are not at their maximum potential. The engineers have the technical know-how but may need their leadership and motivational skills to be improved.

Management development programme is considered to be

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as one of the learning activities of HRD. Defining HRD, it is ‘organised learning activities arranged within an organisation in order to improve performance and/or personal growth for the purpose of improving the job, the individual and the organisation’ (Eggland & Gilley, 1998). Through such development programme that organisation can improve organisational performance and business goals.

Organisations, in general, have adapted learning programmes like management development programme ‘to be able to develop more highly skilled workforce and to ensure that those skills are deployed effectively because it is only if new skills are effectively used will the potential created by training and development be realised and transformed into superior performance’ (Campbell, 2006). Management development programme is not a training programme but an evaluation programme that aims to measure and determine the non-technical capabilities of employees. Through management development programme, employees will be more motivated after realising that they possess skills other than what they already know. Realising that they have the potential, they will aim for development and for more career advancement and one way of achieving them is to be more committed with their jobs. An example of this is Ruari Maybank, the electrical engineer mentioned in the case study.

One good example of a company that implements a management development programme is the Network Rail. Network Rail is a also an engineering company and its leadership programmes helps the managers at all level determine the aspects of leadership they should be improved, involving the use of self-assessment questionnaires, 360 degrees feedback surveys and modules (Network Rail, 2006).

2.      Atkins created a Management Development centre in order to measure “the capability of the talent in the business”. Critically evaluate the use of Management Development Centre to do this.

Management development centre (MDC) is basically a type of career counselling that uses psychological interventions to assess managers and advise them on personal development strategies to assist an individual to change where needed (Guinn, 1999). The Atkins’ MDC was created by collaborating with a firm of consultant psychologists. Psychologists are effective in investigating and assessing employees’ capability using effective tools such as self-evaluation questionnaires and psychometric tests along with interviews. The information gathered using these tools help psychologists determine the hidden talents and skills as well as the personal views and objectives of managers and engineers being assessed. Psychologists are known to have studied about organisational behaviour and the appropriate deployment of people, helping companies put up an effective organisation.

MDC also helps the managers and engineers become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and the hidden potentials within them, enabling them use their strengths to maximum advantage and to further improve their skills to overcome their weaknesses. According to Peter Drucker (1993) ‘people grow according to the demands they place on themselves, and successful executives continue to ask what is the most important contribution I can make to the performance of the organisation?’. To be able to place the appropriate demands on themselves, they should first gauge one’s effectiveness through outside feedback. Experienced industrial psychologists who consult and coach at the executive or managerial level is an effective provider of feedbacks. Psychologists typically combine objective testing of cognitive skills to ascertain reasoning and verbal skills as well as behavioural skills such as work motivation and leadership skills (Guinn, 1999).

The feedbacks obtained from the psychologists through the MDC provide candidates the awareness of their potentials and are used in making career development plan which includes which behaviour should be changed and which skills should be developed. MDC helps employees realise that they have not yet learned enough and there is still room for improvement and change, giving them a clear directions for their career. MDC also helps reduce employee turnover rate because managers and engineers realised that they still need to improve their capabilities by continuously working with Atkins and that Atkins can provide them the career development they would like to achieve.

3.      Following the Management Development centre, managers at Atkins were tasked with devising their own development plan. Discuss the issues that Atkin should consider to ensure the development plans are effective. Ensure you consider cost-effectiveness.

A personal development plan is a tool to encourage lifelong learning and identifying any areas for further development (Charlton, 2002). Creation of a personal development plan is a good sign that even the high-flyers acknowledge their weaknesses and are willing to be improved and the aspects of their job that they should perform better. It also helps managers conduct in-depth self assessment and job evaluation. Through the development plan, a manager will have a better view of the problems within his team and with his subordinates and challenge himself of effectively solving the problems and improve the team. The effectiveness of the development plan created by managers can be determined by addressing various issues.

First, the plan should be aligned with the company’s objectives and goals and not merely based on the personal goals of the managers. For example, a manager includes training about motivational approach to Americans in his development plan but the company is planning to send him to their Singapore office because he has the experience and capability of dealing with Asian clients and it is where the company needs more managers for bigger projects. As Drucker (1993) said, ‘the most important reason for career development is to help the organisation achieve the goals that are expected’. Therefore one of the issues that should be consider is the awareness of the employees on important information such as organisational and departmental goals and objectives, the available options, the changes in both micro and macro-environment of the company and the needed managerial skills and competencies in the future.

Relatively, to be able to have the needed information, there should be communication. The plan will be effective if it will be communicated and discussed with the bosses, while the bosses communicate with the manager about the changes in the company that may significantly affect the development plan like the need for reorganisation or changes in the company’s budget plan. The use of questionnaires and survey feedbacks is also a means of communication between the manager and his bosses or his peers. As mentioned earlier, feedbacks help a manager assess himself and create an effective development plan.

Learning and development strategies should also be considered to ensure that a development plans are effective (Charlton, 2002). An action cannot simply be performed but how to perform it effectively is more important. For example, manager aims at developing his skills in setting objectives and deadlines. Strategies for this action might include: reading various case studies about setting objectives; learning how to organise a team project; promoting better coordination and teamwork that will make individual tasks simpler; avoiding redundancy of tasks; learning how to give tasks to the team member who can perform it more accurately; and teambuilding activities.

Availability of resources is another critical issue in ensuring that the development plans are effective (Charlton, 2002). The strategies and objectives of the plan might be good for both the manager or engineer and the organisation but if there are no enough resources such as professional associations, time, and financial resources available to support the plan, it is still not effective. Some development plans require an employee to undergo development courses outside the company which is not included in the budget of the company like taking Masters Degree. Time constraints may be due to the time the plan will be put into practice (e.g. the company has a big project and the engineer is needed to be at the project site rather than at a leadership seminar). A time table is also an important part of an effective development plans for it serves as a guideline on to which actions must be performed next.

4. Suggest and justify the methods that could be employed to develop their managers. Make sure these are appropriate to the organisation strategy, are cost effective and promote a culture of learning and development.

Organisations today employ various methods and practices in the training and development of their employees. Atkins must choose appropriate practices that are applicable with an engineering company like Atkins. Since the development programme is centred on the managers, a combination of high-potential development schemes, action learning, and 360-degree feedback is an appropriate method.

Generally, a management development programme is a high-flyer/high potential programme intended only for the managers and those who have formal managerial positions in the company (Larsen, 1997) like in the case of Atkins, the engineers are considered to have managerial position for they are responsible for project management. High-flyer programmes have been extensively used in large and international companies with great success (Larson, 1997). Such scheme often involved leadership and professional development. Atkins may employ a high-flyer programme patterned to that of the Network Rail since both Atkins and Network Rail are engineering firms.

Network Rail has professional development programme intended for qualified managers and engineers; the programme is a job-related training for Masters or Bachelor’s Degree which is conducted in partnership with technical and business schools after the company reviewed its business plan and realised the need for particular specialisations in the coming years. The objective is to develop the people within the organisation so that the company can meet its future needs (Network Rail, 2007). Instead of hiring other people from outside the organisation, Network Rail believes that it would be better to train people who already understand the company’s culture and core values. Atkins can easily adapt this method; the company can already identify qualified and interested candidates for this scheme since it has already implemented the MDC and has required its managers and engineers to submit development plans. Through the scheme, the company can be assured that they will place the right person for a critical position which is also the job aligned with the career plan of that person. The scheme is applicable to Atkins since the company is expanding rapidly. It may seem costly but still more cost-effective than investing on the recruitment and selection of people who are not yet committed with the company and whose development plans are not yet known by the company.

Network Rail’s leadership programme on the other hand is a programme for leaders at all levels. The company, in partnership with a university, designed a leadership programme to improve the leaders’ management and communication skills such as managing teams, setting objectives and creating business plans; and leadership behaviours including motivational skills and approach to inspiring others at work (Network Rail, 2007). The programme involves a classroom-type short course and while the managers are at work, they also work on practical assignments which involve identifying business issue, implementing their learning and solving the issue they have identified. The same kind of programme is very important to be deployed at Atkins since it was found out through the MDC that ‘the engineers who make up a large part of the Atkins’ team are not necessarily expert at people management…’ (Eglin, 2006).

Furthermore, action learning must also be deployed at Atkins. Pedler (1991) defined action learning as a method to the development of individuals in the organisation who accept responsibility for taking action on particular issue and that responsibility serves as the vehicle for learning. The concept is that no learning occurs without action and no effective action takes place without learning. Traditional action learning involves exposing managers to more demanding tasks because it has been theorised that learning is more likely to occur when the learning situation has an element of surprise (Larsen, 1997). Sims and McAulay (1995) added that ‘the most valuable learning experiences share the characteristics of being surprised and people commonly learned something new when they are surprised’. In one study conducted by Clark (1992), he concluded that ‘most directors learned accidentally and through unstructured experiences’.

However, for an engineering firm like Atkins, it is not practical to impose more demanding tasks to its manager to be able for them to be developed. According to Mintzberg (2004), natural experiences are better driver of learning than artificial experiences imposed by the traditional action learning. He added that in reality, managers have many tasks back at work and that a management development must be based on the motto ‘use work, not make work’, calling this programme the third-generation management development.

Mintzberg’s programme is still based on action learning but omitted the addition of more demanding tasks but give emphasis on looking at the ways a manager can do to improve his job by reflecting on his work, oneself, his network of relationships and at his potential. At Atkins, managers can reflect on what they have done for the organisation over the past projects or tasks using what they have learned from the professional and leadership programmes. As a manager reflects, he will found out the issues needed to be addressed and consequently, he will utilised his potential in addressing and solving those issues. Reflections can also be participated by the managers’ network of relationships via the 360-degree feedback. This network fills out survey forms confidentially, enabling the manager being rated to understand how he is perceived by the individuals whom he work with and identify the leadership behaviour or managerial aspects needed to be addressed (Guinn, 1999). This method needed to have a professional consultant counsel (Atkins’ HR director or industrial psychologist can serve as the counsel) that should be able to offer advise on personal development strategies to assists the manager to change where needed (Guinn, 1999).

For example, a manager learned from the leadership training that one way of motivating subordinates is to empower them. Through reflections, he found out that he has been very bureaucratic that resulted to poor decision-making of his team members. The solution then to this problem is for the manager to restructure his team from being centralised to being decentralised or flat wherein subordinates will be assigned more responsibilities and will be allowed to participate in decision making. This type of team structure is responsive to changes in business environment (Allen, 1998) which is an advantage for the organisation.

In other words, the managers who will undergo management development will create development, change and impact the organisation by being the coach and mentor of their subordinates. Managers having been granted to attend development programmes have the obligation to be the teachers on the job and extend the learning in the organisation (Mintzberg, 2004). It is the responsibility of the managers to create a learning culture and the culture will create the next generation of leaders (Schein, 1985).

5.                  One of the indicators for Atkin Management Development programme was a reduction in staff turnover. Suggest additional ways of evaluating the success of the programme.

One of the indicators for the success of Atkins’ development programme was a reduction in staff turnover. Basically, reduction in staff turnover means that managers have become more motivated and satisfied with their jobs because they now perceive Atkins as a good employer and that it can provide them the career advancement they want. Another indicator of success is the number of promoted staff, managers and engineers over a particular period because it indicates that more managers and engineers have become more qualified for higher positions in the company and that more employees also learned and developed through the mentoring of their managers.


Another possible method of evaluating the success of the programme is by looking at the people the managers handle and manage. Basically, it is easier to evaluate these people for they are the actors of whatever changes or improvements the managers undertake. When the team performance of a group improved over a particular period, it is an indicator that the manager has developed and the programme is successful. This can be measured by setting the standards and objectives of the programme via a performance standard model. Included in the model are the lists of performance indicators such as number of missed or met deadlines, number of projects finished within a  period, number of new projects, number of repeat customers, good feedbacks/bad feedbacks etc. This model will be the guideline of each team in the company in measuring their team performance. Benchmarking team performances is a good way of measuring the development of the managers who underwent the development management programme.


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