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Mott MacDonald

New development programmes help Mott MacDonald staff to have a career for life

Over the past few years Mott MacDonald has grown rapidly, both organically and through acquisitions. Now, with 14,000 employees worldwide, the company is concentrating on developing new systems to support staff through their careers. "We’ve always had very good graduate training, and for the last seven years we have been running a leadership programme at Ashridge Business School," explains the company’s managing director Keith Howells.

"To improve the training and development we offer in between these stages, we teamed up with Cranfield School of Management to create two new development programmes, Horizons and Navigator." Horizons is designed to help people who have just achieved a professional qualification (like MICE) decide what they want to do with their careers. "It helps them look at what they like doing, what their strengths and weaknesses are, where they see their career developing – for example as a technical guru or a project manager or business developer," explains Howells.

The three-year programme includes psychometric testing, 360o evaluation and coaching and mentoring, as well as producing personal development plans that provide a framework for learning and development.

Since launching the programme last year, Mott MacDonald has seen a significant increase in the number of staff staying with the company when they reach this crucial stage in their career. For senior managers the company has introduced Navigator, an 18-month people-management programme aimed, says Howells, at getting "better people managing people better". "The initial assessment of strengths and weaknesses is based on role playing," he explains, "with actors putting our managers through a series of challenging situations that they might encounter in their working environment, under the scrutiny of behavioural psychologists." The resulting analysis is then used to determine an individual improvement programme.

These two programmes fill the gap between graduate and director-level training, and help Mott MacDonald fulfil its ambition of being able to offer staff a "career for life". Since their introduction, the company has seen an increase in moves between business units, as employees realise they can meet their career aspirations without having to look elsewhere.

The company had a turnover of $1.5bn last year, and is active in 120 countries. Unlike many other consultancies of its size, Mott MacDonald is entirely employee-owned, with over 12% of staff having a financial stake in the company. Staff can buy shares once they reach middle management, and shares become an increasingly important part of the remuneration package the more senior your role. Howells says this "quasi-partnership" ownership structure has a positive impact on the way the business is managed: "It’s our money we’re playing with, not somebody else’s. It makes us very risk-conscious and aware of our decision-making."

This ownership model underpins a wider "family" culture that Mott MacDonald has managed to retain, despite its size and global reach. Senior staff mentor younger engineers, giving them freedom to solve their own problems, but with the knowledge that support is at hand. Also important to the firm are its corporate social responsibilities – both as an employer and as a response to clients' needs. "We’re working hard to embed sustainability in our projects, and to set an example in what we do," says Howells.

Agenda-setting projects in the UK include the award-winning Manchester Civil Justice Centre and Vulcan House in Sheffield, a biomass generator at Lockerbie, and a biosolids treatment programme with Anglian Water. Like all major consultants, Mott MacDonald is not immune from the current global financial crisis. Some property projects have stalled, but other markets, such as energy and major infrastructure projects remain positive, as does the Gulf region, where the company is firmly established. "We are probably the most diverse of the British consultants, so we must be as well placed as anybody to ride whatever comes," says Howells.

To find out more about working for Mott MacDonald go to

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