Tag: Organisational Behaviour

Full-time MBA integration week – Block I

86 people. 14 companies. 4 days. 1 final showdown.

What does that line get you thinking? Analysis? Time? Game? Research? Competition? Tension? Whatever you are thinking, you are right.

That represents the stats of our integration week. Block I of our Full-time MBA came to an end on 25th of October 2019 with this incredible week.

The rules were simple:

  • 86 people are split in 14 teams
  • Each team
    • Is assigned a company
    • Analyses the assigned company on three fronts – strategic, financial and organisational behavioural
    • Prepares a 15-minute presentation to answer given questions
    • Answers questions by experts for 10 minutes

And that was probably the greatest catch – the simpler the rules, the wider the scope.

This week taught me importance of:

  1. Precision

When time is scarce, it is important to avoid beating around the bush and boil down the content to what is asked for. Let me try to simplify this by an example:

Question: Tell me who you are and how can you get better at what you are?

Answer #1: “When I was a 3-year-old child, I saw this movie that showcased life of a marathon runner. This inspired me to be a runner myself. I started training pretty early in my life. I used to get up early in the morning every day and go for a run in a park near my home. Sometimes I missed my classes to get better at my running time and speed. But you know, that really did not work out that well. My running times are not that good today, although my stamina and endurance improved over time. Strangely enough, I have been working at it for over 10 years now and I still feel the thrill of running. I have been good at sports all my life. I was even part of my school relay team! I think I should buy a proximity clock. I saw one of those at a store the other day, with a robust terminal, one that’s ISO certified. It also came with a clocking-in machine solution with holiday and sickness calculations. Yeah, I think having one of these will be a good way to improve myself.”

Answer #2: “I am an inspired marathon runner, although my greatest strengths are stamina and endurance, I need to work on my timing – an absolute key for success. A possible solution is to invest in a proximity clock and stop relying on guesswork so that my training is put to a better use.”

Answer #3: “I am runner. I can better myself by buying a proximity clock.”

You want to be Answer #2. First one is unstructured, has a lot of unnecessary information, goes off tangent, and does not correlate. Third one is simple and straight but does not provide a complete picture.

You should be able to balance storytelling and precision. Precision is what your audience is looking for, storytelling is what keeps their attention and binds things together.

  1. Teamwork

I know it is cliché to mention the importance of teamwork. You might ask, am I not ignoring my first rule of being precise? I want to highlight what will happen if team does not work well together:

It is crystal clear that you will end up not being the best. If you do not understand teamwork and do not work well in cohesion, you will:

    • Paint an unprofessional image of not only yourself, but also your teammates
    • End up having an uncomfortable work environment, to the extent that you feel like leaving the room is better than working with people in it
    • May risk your future of being someone nobody wants to work with
    • Feel disengaged, demotivated and burdened your team instead of being part of it

For anyone who is looking out for leadership roles, getting people from different backgrounds to work together efficiently is an immensely important skill. Develop it by using every opportunity provided.

  1. Hard work

There have been plentiful debates and there are roughly three million research journals about smart work vs hard work. From what I witnessed in this one week, given the time crunch, smart work is important. But nothing beats the hard work. The hardest working teams were the ones that won. It is taught to us time and again that “correlation is not causation”. So, this might not be the reason, but it definitely correlates.

 

 

If you want something, you need to work hard to get it. In my experience, there is no substitute for hard work. Yes, smart work complements hard work very well, but does not replace it.

It was a great pleasure to be part of this amazing week. Looking forward to Block II’s integration week.

 

Sushmita “Sushi” Nad, Full-time MBA (2020)

Going beyond theory: Putting my Cass MBA into practice

A trip to the library is a very good way to learn different theories about one field. On an MBA, this is magnified as myriad fields are studied in a very short span of time. In the blink of an eye, you have finished three modules and you have a new set of tools at your disposal.

The bad thing about theory? It is quickly forgotten if it’s not put into practice immediately. That’s why you should make any reasonable effort (and more) to apply the theory you learnt to your day-to-day work. It will not only reinforce the concepts you’ve learnt, it will help you deepen your knowledge in the areas you are interested in and provide immediate returns in your career.

A good way to exercise this is to identify existing problems in your work and apply what you’ve learnt to solve them, or at least to flag the problems and propose a course of action. This proactive approach is always welcomed from companies (and most welcome if you work for yourself) as it shows your willingness to take the lead in improving the area you are effecting.

Managing change

At work, I am experiencing first-hand a transformation process of an R&D-focused, fast-paced startup becoming a commercially ready engineering company capable of fulfilling moderate to big orders from utilities.

Before starting the MBA, this process might have looked scary to me, but I now understand what I should look for during this transition, how to anticipate foreseeable problems and be prepared to step in when required.

Applying the concepts learnt in Organisational Behaviour and Operational Management, I can help the company in its course to establish a robust supply chain to process the customers’ orders and shape the organisational culture moving forward.

Establishing the supply chain proved to be an easier process in the sense that it is driven by qualitative comparison of different partners, although establishing the criteria to be applied is key for a swift, overall process. Understanding concepts like reducing waste in the processes, establishing a Corporate Social Responsibility framework and Just-In-Time manufacturing helped us approach this task with a very clear idea of what the outcome should be and be confident in the result that will be obtain.

Overcoming resistance

Created as an engineering startup, the recruitment efforts (so far) had been focused on boarding people capable of working with minimal supervision, with a high degree of creativity and flexibility to react to changes in the environment.

Transitioning into a fully-fledged engineering company able to serve orders of thousands of units to utilities in a highly-regulated market presents several problems apart from the mere logistics and certifications. Typically people that thrive in an R&D setup are not equally fitted to working to tight-deadlines, deterministic, streamlined mode that is normally required to fulfil medium volume orders.

The transition period is the most delicate. Hiring enough personnel to create a completely new division to handle the operations – while the original team remain focused on R&D – is not really an option until the orders are received and cash flows generated.

Keeping balance

This limitation forces us to divert the existent resources into these new tasks, which are more tedious, and the current workforce feels less motivated to work on them. Balancing these tasks and R&D activities is important so as to keep morale high while attaining targets. In the longer term, there will be hires to carry out the bulk of the delivery and support activities, but for the next few months we will be busy keeping the current staff able and willing to perform these tasks.

Organisational Behaviour is a major enabler to understand the psychology and team dynamics. It doesn’t provide you with a universal recipe to handle all (or any) situations; rather, it opens your mind to better analyse each situation and know what the different theories say about them and what the pitfalls are, so you can be prepared to react if something doesn’t work as you expected. It did make a huge difference for me when I had to face these issues.

Alberto Perez Sanchez
Executive MBA (2020)

A top-tier Block One experience: Baking to learn strategy

Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s Block One – finished! I am still asking myself: “Where did the time go?”. We all put in a lot of hard work studying, but it is not only about the academics, there have been many skills to learn along the way, and the Cass Full-time MBA has a few unexpected ways of teaching those skills to us …

1. The Great Cass MBA Bake Off

For our Strategy module, we step outside the classroom for a baking competition. Yes, you read that correctly. We have been given all the ingredients, now it’s up to us to put them together and make something from them.

This is the general idea at least. In practice, we are given too many of some ingredients, too few of others, and no recipe. We can seek advice from others, including a professional (though we would need to sacrifice some ingredients in exchange), and we can try to find additional ingredients and barter with the other teams.

An hour is a very long time to prepare a cake batter usually, but it feels much shorter when you do not know how to do it. So, this is where the skills come in, assessing what we need to do and how we can go about solving it.

We have:

  • Various ingredients, including lots of raisins;
  • Some vague memories of watching the Great British Bake Off – Cake Week;
  • Even more vague memories of watching family members bake cakes;
  • Seven people determined to bake the best cake Cass has ever seen.

I think it was the last asset that made the biggest difference. However, using all of these we worked out what type of cake we thought we could bake, what ingredients we didn’t need, what ingredients we did need and how to acquire the missing ingredients. There was just one thing missing – we weren’t 100% sure how much we needed of each ingredient, though we were sure it needed to be precise.

A key skill in teamwork is identifying expertise, and if you don’t have it within the team, seeking it out. We worked out the most valuable question we could ask, gathered up our spare ingredients to pay with, and spoke to the baking professional. Her guidance on quantities was the final piece of the puzzle. The team rallied together, furiously mixing ingredients, and writing out baking and decorating instructions.

 

I don’t know if Paul Hollywood would have given us a handshake, but happily our vision for a spiced fruit cake worked in the eyes of the judges.

2. Integration Week

We have been given all the ingredients, now it’s up to us to put them together and make something from them.

Hold on … I think I’ve heard that before … it sounds so familiar.  And it is. Except that instead of flour, sugar and raisins, we had Strategy, Accounting and Organisational Behaviour.  The team is given a consulting-style question on Monday and have to present the solution on Friday, using the knowledge learnt in the modules in Block One.  So, by the time the details have all been confirmed, we have three and a half days to identify the problems (there is never just one!), come up with options, pick one option as the ideal solution, explain how to implement it and its effects, and present.

The techniques to successfully complete this challenge were not so different from the Great Cass MBA Bake Off.  We had already picked our team coordinator (we choose a different team member for each project), and in the course of our research it quickly became clear which topic each team member would specialise in.

We came up with a plan, always making sure we were answering the key questions, challenging each other the whole time, so that when we presented, we could be confident and know that we could answer almost any question asked by our professors because we had asked it of ourselves.

3. Sandhurst

After Integration Week we all need a bit of fresh air and activity, which was ideal as we were off to The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for three days. We were put into new teams and given new challenges, focusing on teamwork and leadership.

Understanding where the skills of our team lie was crucial during every challenge. Some of the challenges were practical, hands-on challenges, so it was the team members with good hand-eye coordination and balance, or strength and speed, who led us successfully completing all the challenges.  Some of the challenges were problem-solving, so our team members who could riddle out a puzzle led the way there.

But then of course there were the challenges that involved both the mental and the physical. On our last day we had a race, a bit like a mini-assault course. It poured with rain the whole time, but I have to say, the rain made it all the more enjoyable! The challenges round the course required us first to work out how to do it (cue puzzle team members) and then actually do it (cue hands-on team members).

One of the challenges was moving a ‘Tower of Hanoi’ – simply put, you have a tower of pots on top of each other, getting smaller as it goes up, and you need to move the tower from one spot to another. However, there are only three spots you can place a pot, you can only move one pot at a time, and a big pot cannot go on top of a small pot. A member of our team had seen this puzzle before, so with their guidance on what to move where and when, the other members formed a tag-team, sprinting in and out moving the pots one by one, so as soon as one person got back, the next person was off! The whole team pulling together.

I think the ‘Before and After’ photos for our time at Sandhurst speak for themselves.  In the ‘After’ photo, we may be muddy, soaking and exhausted, but we are wearing smiles even bigger than the ones in the ‘Before’ photo.  I expect this transformation will not be unique to Sandhurst during our MBA.

Rhiannon Ludlow
Full-time MBA (2019)

 

Chat with Rhiannon on Unibuddy to find out more about the course.

Cass International Consultancy Week: Providing real companies with real solutions

Early Saturday in Hanoi, the tropical heat starts to build up on the streets, MBA students wearing suits and pushing their carry-ons roll out of the international terminal at Nội Bài Airport, heading to a five star hotel in the central area, south of the Old Quarter.

It’s been 12 months since this group first met in a cold and grey London morning. Twelve incredible months of constant challenges and big achievements, all in preparation for this moment.

We are in Vietnam!

Some of us arrived a couple of days earlier and the pictures shared on a messaging app look very promising. The remaining group just landed from a connection in Doha and that is the group I am looking for at Hanoi’s international airport.

My trip followed a different route, through Dubai, where I dealt with life and taxes, met friends for the first time since I left one year ago, and generally had a good time. I arrived in the country the night before in Ho Chi Minh City and after yet another sleepless night in an airport (oh so many), landed in the domestic terminal some 30 minutes before my cohort.

After a stroll between terminals I meet our local contact, Chris, Dean of the British University Vietnam. Slowly, familiar faces passed through the terminal gates and joined us in the lobby, everyone displaying a mix of tiredness from the long trip but also a certain freshness. The excitement was visible.

We are all here for one reason: to climb a mountain. It’s a rite of passage that marks the culmination of a year of learning. It is International Consultancy Week.

Our mission is to help local companies with diverse challenges, from Human Resources Management to Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Finances, Innovation and Digital Transformation. There is something for every background and interest.

So much to do, only one week to go.

If I had to pick only one life lesson from the first year of my MBA studies, it would be that front-loading pays off, always, and that was the force behind our engagement strategy. By the time we arrived to our client on Monday morning, we have had a couple of conference calls with our project’s sponsor, defined and clarified the scope of our study and had learned a lot about the country and the business, their cultures, challenges, and opportunities.

Hoffstede’s cultural dimensions, Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT and PESTEL analysis, the voracious consumption of industry reports and our secondary research enabled us to touch the ground running. By the end of the first day we had our hypotheses lined up, our primary research planned and the data to backup our analysis on its way.

In the pursuit of helping the company to move forward with their mission of benefiting the Vietnamese society, we leveraged our knowledge of Economy, Business and Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Finances and Organisational Behavior.

From the group dynamics perspective, we accelerated the group transition stages through our pre-engagement preparation which helped us understand our individual strengths, styles and preferences, allowing us to split the work so each one of us was challenged and confidently capable of delivering significant value. Some of us focused on secondary research, the elaboration of financial models and preparing the presentation, while others went to the client’s office daily for a series of stakeholders interviews that allowed us to form a firm grasp of the issue at hand.

In this process we used proven frameworks and cutting-edge knowledge, balanced with the realism and pragmatism that only a deep immersion in the business of our client could provide.

What followed was hard work, more learning, more hard work and the resulting satisfaction of knowing that our input was not just valuable, but potentially transformational.

The rite is complete

As a smart and quirky man once said, there is no honest way to explain the edge because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over it.

These words feel very appropriate to describe my experience with the International Consultancy Week. As a rite of passage it successfully marked the transition into our second year of studies, and as a life experience it pushed us into a new realm where we can all feel confident in our ability to bring positive change to our companies, our host country’s economy, but most importantly to society.

Postscript

On a not-so-early Saturday in Hanoi, the freshness in our eyes was replaced by dark circles and, in some cases, a well-deserved hangover. The sense of accomplishment is visible.

Some of us left the night before, heading to Sapa to climb another mountain, the Fansipan.

As for me, I’m off to explore beaches and tombs, the old and the new, the north and the south of Vietnam, from Hanoi and Ha Long to Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, all before departing towards Singapore and London in a few weeks… but I’ll tell you that story another time.

 

Luiz Grzeca
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

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