This news release describes past events and should be used for historical purposes only. Please note date of release.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
UW-Eau Claire and Ayres Associates
Work Together to Prepare Managers
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: Feb. 24, 2000

EAU CLAIRE — What do you do if your company's philosophy is to promote from within but most of your employees have little or no management training?
If you're Ayres Associates, you ask University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire business faculty to help you create an Advanced Management Development Program so employees interested in climbing the corporate ladder can develop the skills they'll need to do so successfully.
"All of our employees are technically trained," said Patrick Quinn, executive vice president of Ayres Associates, a consulting engineering firm headquartered in Eau Claire. "But few of them have management training. So we were taking good technical people and making them managers. As a result, we lost good technical people and created bad managers."
So in 1993, Ayres Associates began working with UW-Eau Claire to develop a program that gives select employees exposure to management issues and prepares them to manage projects and people now and in the future.
"Part of our company culture is to hire people at entry-level positions and promote from within," Quinn said. "Partly because of this program, we're better at that now than we were 10 years ago."
Dr. Ken De Meuse, a professor of management at UW-Eau Claire, developed and conducted a company-wide assessment to identify employees who would be the best match for the four-year program. Most middle and upper level managers at Ayres Associates go through the assessment exercises and activities, and those interested in being part of AMDP ask De Meuse that they be considered. Ayres Associates' top managers never know who has applied, only whom De Meuse recommends be included.
"It's a benefit to us that he does the assessments and comes in and tells us who our best candidates are for the program," Quinn said, noting that Ayres Associates' Executive Committee approves the recommendations. "No one in our company is telling someone they are in or out."
De Meuse's assessment involves asking a manager's employees, peers and supervisors to evaluate them, a process known as 360-degree feedback. In addition, the California Psychological Inventory and the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument also are completed. Only De Meuse and the individual managers know the outcome of the assessments, De Meuse said, noting that people may be less comfortable participating if they fear information will be shared with supervisors or peers. De Meuse bases his recommendations on the information gathered through his assessments.
"UW-Eau Claire gives Ayres Associates someone with expertise and training in management assessment who can evaluate their managers in an impartial and objective way," De Meuse said, adding that his involvement eliminates the political implications that would exist if an internal person made the selections. "Since top managers never know who applied, employees don't need to worry that management is sending them a negative message if they're not chosen."
"Having a school like UW-Eau Claire available to us where our corporate headquarters are based has been useful," Quinn said. "They're willing to help us customize certain programs to meet our needs, and they've helped us develop programs such as a mentoring program. We can offer things that work for us, not canned programs. Having the university available to us, and having a staff that's interested in working with us, has made our program that much stronger."
"This project is an example of a positive partnership between a growing Wisconsin-based firm and UW-Eau Claire," said Marilyn Kanne, director of Management Development Programs for UW-Eau Claire's College of Business. "Ayres Associates benefits because the university is a source for credit and non-credit training for their people. University faculty benefit from the interaction with business executives and their concerns, which provide real-life examples that can be used in their instruction."
The first class completed the AMDP in 1998, and a second class of 16 began the program in 1999, Quinn said, adding that Ayres Associates will select a new class every fifth year. While some participants were based in the company's Eau Claire headquarters, others were from Ayres Associate's offices in Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan and Colorado.
"It was an excellent experience and strong bonds were developed within the group," said Connie Holden Peterson, an Eau Claire-based member of the first group. "We all went through the program and a lot of team assignments together. We know we have relationships and resources in other offices — and fellow managers we can bounce ideas off of."
The four-year program requires participants to take at least three university credit courses in the areas of business law, marketing and organizational behavior; 120 hours of non-credit training in management communications, negotiations or related topics; participation in Toastmasters; and other company-directed activities.
Participants from the Eau Claire office take the credit courses at UW-Eau Claire (paid for by Ayres Associates), and UW-Eau Claire provides some non-credit management training. Participants read books on management, prepare book reports and lead discussions on them. They also lead seminars for other employees on management issues.
Members participate in a four-day capstone seminar, which includes training and a case study of a real company situation. The case study gives them a chance to investigate the management philosophy and corporate culture of Ayres Associates, as well as develop an understanding of how complex business decisions are made, Quinn said.
All but one of the people graduating with the first class still work for Ayres Associates, and several have already moved into management positions, Quinn said, adding that all the employees who participated are "key employees for the future of this company."
"We're sold on the program," Quinn said. "It's a big investment by the firm and participants, but we know it's worthwhile to develop the skills of our future company leaders."

UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: Feb. 24, 2000