Creating strategic direction



In order to grow, a business needs to develop competitive advantage. This means that it is different or does things better than its rivals. This is known as differentiation. Differentiation helps an organisation to develop a unique business strategy. 

Managers need to make strategic decisions that create the right direction for their businesses. Decisions by senior managers at the top of a business influence decisions by other managers and employees.

Mott MacDonald is a large global management, engineering and development consultancy. A consultancy contains experts who provide advisory services in a variety of fields. The Mott MacDonald Group was formed in 1989 when two consultancy businesses merged.

Since then, the business has grown both organically by recruiting more staff in different fields and also by acquisition, that is, taking over existing businesses in markets important to Mott MacDonald's development strategy. For example, in 2007 Mott MacDonald bought an educational consultancy in Romania, an environmental firm in the Netherlands and a power engineering company in the USA to help strengthen its core market sectors in these countries.

Today Mott MacDonald”s business spans 120 countries and employs more than 13,000 staff. Its experts work on thousands of projects across the world in many areas. These include transport, energy, buildings, water, the environment, health, education and communications.

Every project requires a different set of skills from Mott MacDonald”s experts. Its projects address the challenges of environmental issues, such as flood protection or management of waste. It plans, manages and delivers projects to help its customers find more sustainable solutions.

Mott MacDonald's customers are in both the public sector and the private sector.  In the public sector, it works with organisations to provide services for central and local government.

In the private sector, Mott MacDonald provides consultancy for private businesses. For example, in China the company is project managing the building of what will be the world”s largest observation wheel much bigger than the London Eye.

Mott MacDonald has also been involved in over half the new wind farms in the UK developed by privately-owned energy companies. These include one of the world”s largest offshore wind farms off the coast of south-east England.

At any one time Mott MacDonald works on thousands of projects around the world. These range from transport systems in Taiwan, healthcare initiatives in Africa or education planning in the USA. Mott MacDonald consultants advise on many aspects, including planning and design, quantity surveying, procurement advice and project management.

This case study focuses on how Mott MacDonald stands out in its competitive environment by using the skills and knowledge of its people to achieve its business purpose.


All organisations need to have a purpose for the business. This is called the mission. A mission is a broad statement that identifies the long-term direction of a business.

The mission helps to emphasise how different the business is from its competitors. The mission informs a company”s business objectives. It becomes a focus for the whole organisation and helps to ensure long-term profitability.

Mott MacDonald's mission is: Providing customer satisfaction Through professional excellence Giving commercial success And employee fulfilment

This mission shows that Mott MacDonald's employees directly support business growth. To achieve customer satisfaction Mott MacDonald employs the best experts across the market sectors it works in around the globe. These highly skilled consultants work in engineering, environmental science, economics, project management, health and safety, risk management, IT and education. Mott MacDonald values the contribution its employees make in satisfying customers and achieving its business objectives.

To help its staff achieve professional excellence, Mott MacDonald promotes learning and development. It encourages its experts to help other staff develop their skills. It recognises employee achievements, for example, through the Chairman”s Award which acknowledges outstanding achievement in building customer relationships, and the Milne Award, which recognises innovation.

Mott MacDonald is an employee-owned company. This means employees can have a say in how the business is run and what its future plans are. They feel they can make a difference. This gives employees a clear link between meeting the customer needs and personal job satisfaction.

In addition, they take part in a Performance Pay Scheme (PPS) based on the company's performance. Therefore the more employees contribute to the firm”s success the more they benefit. These commitments helped Mott MacDonald to be recognised as the top consultant company of its kind in The Sunday Times list of the UK”s Top 20 Best Big Companies work for in both 2007 and 2008.

Employees need to know whether the business is achieving its mission. Therefore, Mott MacDonald measures its progress towards meeting its customer satisfaction target through customer satisfaction surveys.

Customers recently rated the company at or above 8 out of 10 for every aspect of the service.
These include how well Mott MacDonald responds to the customer”s needs and the overall quality of service. The feedback helps Mott MacDonald to improve by focusing on customer satisfaction. This benefited the business, as shown by the 20% increase in revenue in both 2006 and 2007. 


A mission sets out the purpose of the organisation. A vision describes what the business wants to become and seeks to inspire its staff. Mott MacDonald”s vision is 'To be the consultant of choice in our global marketplace'.

For Mott MacDonald to become the consultant of choice, it has to set high standards that are achievable. In setting high standards, Mott MacDonald aims to be better than its competitors. Mott MacDonald's vision has two key elements - consultant of choice and operating globally.

Consultant of choice

Mott MacDonald has four key stakeholder groups - existing customers, future customers, existing employees and future employees. Mott MacDonald wants to be 'consultant of choice' for both customers and employees.

  • For customers, it needs to offer a unique mix of skill, expertise and customer focus. This helps to attract new customers and retain existing ones. Mott MacDonald operates in many market sectors and offers expertise in two that set it apart from many of its competitors health and education.
  • For employees, Mott MacDonald needs 20% more technical staff every year. It must compete to recruit the most able people. It seeks to achieve this by showing existing and potential employees that it offers a more attractive career path than other consultancies.

Global marketplace

Mott MacDonald has its headquarters in the UK but operates across the world. For example, local managers run the businesses in India and North America. This means that local experts can meet local needs, and are also able to call on global skills and experiences.

A project may need the experience of different consultants from around the world. For example, UK based consultants set up the first phase of the metro system in New Delhi. They supported and transferred knowledge to local managers. The local managers then ran the second phase of the project.

To achieve its vision Mott MacDonald constantly develops its people to create the business capability its customers need.


An organisation's values are the guiding principles that influence its activities. Values show how the organisation expects everyone within the business to behave.

Mott MacDonald's values follow the acronym PRIDE:

  • Progress: Mott MacDonald”s activities create progress as its projects seek to improve the living standards of local communities and the well-being of the planet. It aims to promote sustainable development in its projects and to lead the development of the various professions in which it works. For example, Mott MacDonald's energy team helped a chemical factory in China drastically reduce its carbon footprint by treating its HFC-23 emissions to cut the equivalent of a colossal 4 million tonnes of CO2 every year.
  • Respect: Mott MacDonald recruits staff from markets around the world. It respects the local customs and cultures of the countries it works in and encourages all staff to respect each other regardless of background or origin. It encourages diversity in its workforce, benefiting from its employees' range of skills. For example, the specialist expertise of pharmaceuticals staff in India and Ireland is used to help on similar projects in the Middle East this is a vital part of the company”s global strategy.
  • Integrity: Mott MacDonald promotes ethical behaviour. This means it only promises its customers what it knows it can deliver. Consequently, its customers are satisfied and not disappointed. It seeks to ensure that its communications are accurate and takes full responsibility for all aspects of its work, including promoting health and safety and sustainability.
  • Drive: 'Drive' involves exceeding expectations. Mott MacDonald aims for continuous improvement. It benchmarks its performance against competitors. This helps it to exceed the targets it has set for customer satisfaction. For example, in 2006 it achieved a rating of 8.2 out of 10 for Responding to Customer Needs, compared to 8.1 in 2005 and 7.8 in 2004
  • Excellence: Mott MacDonald wants its activities to be associated with excellence and innovation. In 2007 Mott MacDonald won over 50 awards for its roles on projects demonstrating innovation or excellence. One of its projects, the Manchester Civil Justice centre, has won 10 awards for its contribution towards sustainable building design including the Major Project of the Year at the inaugural Green Construction Awards.

PRIDE demonstrates the culture of the business. Mott MacDonald relies on its employees to fulfil its business objectives. Its culture helps employees to be responsible for their own development. This leads to growth of the people and the organisation.

Corporate responsibility

As part of its culture, Mott MacDonald also seeks to be a corporately responsible company. Part of this includes supporting sustainable business practice, such as reducing its carbon footprint.  Employees of Mott MacDonald take the lead on many sustainability issues in projects they work on.

As a company Mott MacDonald:

  • recently published its first Corporate Responsibility Review (CSR) which highlights initiatives to be worked on in the future and how the group seeks to achieve its corporate aims in a responsible way
  • is setting targets to use less energy and paper in all of its offices
  • is reducing business travel by using video and telephone conferencing
  • is reviewing its energy supply contracts to find suppliers who support good environmental practice.

Strategy and objectives

Mott MacDonald operates a rolling strategic plan that looks ahead over a five-year period and is updated every year. The five-year plan is an example of 'top down' planning it sets targets and the direction for the company”s business units. At the same time, the business units contribute to the planning process from the bottom-up through their annual business plans.

As Mott MacDonald is an employee-owned company, employees help to decide what areas they would like the business to focus on. This might mean the business takes on projects that do not provide a return on investment in the short term, but which help to position the business in the market in the longer term. For example, projects in China are likely to show bigger rewards as its economy grows.

The five-year plan covers all areas of importance to the business. These include financial growth, markets, services, customers, partners, sustainability and staff development. For each of these areas Mott MacDonald has specific business objectives.

SMART objectives

By taking into account the mission, vision and values, business managers set SMART objectives. These help ensure that the business can measure its performance accurately. 

SMART objectives apply to projects too. For example, Mott MacDonald”s engineering consultants supported a project in Malaysia where floods and traffic congestion have caused problems in the central business district of Kuala Lumpur, the capital.

The solution is the Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel by coincidence, also called SMART. This project is a world-first. The tunnel is 9.7 kilometres long and diverts the floodwaters away from the city centre. The 3 kilometre middle section of the tunnel also acts as a two-deck motorway to help relieve traffic congestion. When the tunnel is full with water, the road section closes.

Mott MacDonald designed the dual-purpose section of the tunnel and helped solve the technical solutions to challenges linked with excavating out the entire tunnel. By providing expertise from across the Mott MacDonald Group, the consultants worked with the local teams to share knowledge and solve a local problem with a sustainable and innovative solution.

In considering the project, Mott MacDonald's experts needed to ask themselves key questions to ensure their objectives were SMART. The results of the project showed whether they had achieved them:

  • S - what do we want to achieve? Kuala Lumpur needed continuous access to its business district.
  • M - how will we know if it has achieved the right result? The traffic congestion and flooding will not happen again.
  • A - do we have the right resources to carry this out? Mott MacDonald helped to procure the specialised equipment for the excavation.
  • R - does it address the problem? The proposed solution solved both the flooding and congestion problems.
  • T - what is the deadline? The first phase was to be completed in 2005 and the second in 2007.

Stopping the flooding problems will massively reduce financial losses for the city.  Using SMART objectives to create the SMART solution helped to ensure that the project was completed on time and within budget when it was finished in 2007.


Mott MacDonald's mission, vision, values and business objectives influence how it carries out projects.

Mott MacDonald has positioned itself as consultant of choice for both customers and employees.

It promotes investment in and development of its people to achieve its business objectives.

Because it is an employee-owned business, everybody within the company is free to contribute their views upon its future. This has helped the business to become distinctive and achieve competitive advantage over its rivals.

Mott MacDonald | Creating strategic direction