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Community projects shape managers of the future.

Community projects shape managers of the future

Helping the bosses of small and medium-size firms in Romania to expand their businesses may seem a world away from the challenges that senior managers at IBM have to face, but the information-technology multinational sees it as a great way of developing its managers of the future.

The project, in the cities of Timisoara and Sibiu, is one of six that make up the company's Corporate Service Corps programme. Part of IBM's Global Citizens" Portfolio, it seeks to develop leadership skills while tackling socio-economic challenges in emerging markets.

A dozen teams of IBM employees have been sent to Turkey, Vietnam, the Philippines, Ghana and Tanzania - in addition to Romania - to work on projects that link economic development and information technology. One hundred employees, selected from more than 5,000 applicants, took part in the first phase of the initiative; the company is committed to sending a total of 600 employees over a three-year period.

Before they go, the IBM teams take part in three months of preparatory work to learn about local customs, culture, language, project goals and the socio-economic and political situation in their destination countries. After their service abroad, the employees share their experience in their home communities and with the company.

The IBM employees are grouped in teams of eight, representing different countries and business units. This enables them to bring different perspectives and expertise to solving problems, as well as encouraging interaction with people from different cultural backgrounds and traditions.

"In today's globally integrated economy, the most successful leaders will be global citizens, able to understand and effectively collaborate with people from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives," explains Michael Levett, Corporate Service Corps president.

Colvin describes the IBM programme, along with similar "stretch" assignments organized by General Electric and Deere in Volume 160, Issue 10 of Fortune. The author underlines the value of the schemes, while acknowledging that managers who benefit from the assignments may take the skills they have developed to another company.

Construction and civil-engineering company Costain runs a similar risk with its Project Management Academy. Having discovered a lack of skilled project managers on the labour market, it decided to train its own.

In Volume 21, Issue 12 of Project Manager Today, Gill describes how Costain got its existing project managers to indentify the precise combination of technical knowledge, competence and behaviour needed to perform the job well. The company then set clear benchmarks for personality, motivation and cognitive ability, and created a robust framework of what excellence actually looks like. As a result, Costain has clear goals for all participants in the academy, as they move through nine levels from graduate to project director.

Civil engineering and construction projects are often long, complicated and expensive. Their success usually depends on getting the best out of a complex network of planners, designers, public officials, engineers, builders and clients. The best project managers - those with the right combination of technical knowledge and people skills - can save their employer thousands of pounds on a small project and hundreds of thousands on a big one. Poorly trained ones are a luxury that large no large construction company can afford to carry.