You should read these notes at the beginning of the semester and then study in depth specific sections as you work on various assignments during the semester. The Strategic Management Model section at the beginning is a brief introduction to (and link to more detail about) the three-phase model of the strategic management process that is both our core organizing structure for reviewing conceptual material in the text and the model we will use in analyzing each of the cases; you should learn this model extremely well during the first two weeks of the course and restudy it several times during the semester.
Strategic management is an ongoing process of managing an organization strategically. This involves ongoing diagnosis of the organization in the context of its environment, which leads to a set of management decisions and actions that result in formulating and implementing strategies that determine the performance and success of the organization. The focus is primarily on large-scale, future-oriented strategies that allow an organization to achieve its objectives, considering the environment in which it operates. Strategic management requires good strategic thinking to be successful.
Throughout this course, we will use a model of the strategic management process that has three phases: diagnosis, formulation, and implementation. This process and related topics are covered in a separate module.
The case method is used widely in strategic management c ourses to bring more realism into
classroom and to help students learn about complex business situations in the "real world."
Through your work with cases you can:
o Improve your critical/strategic thinking
o Cultivate skill in thinking systemically (i.e., thinking about the broader system involved and interactions within it when considering specific decisions)
o Integrate previous course concepts so that you will be better able to use the concepts in the future
o Develop your skills in analyzing complex business situations, identifying key issues, and developing appropriate strategies and actions to deal with the issues, including consideration of the complexities of international environments
o Improve skills in dealing with complex problems involving uncertainty and ambiguity
o Improve your ability to support your conclusions and recommendations, and communicate clearly, effectively, and cogently.
The kinds of skill-building that can come from active participation in case analysis can help you avoid the dilemma of the graduate who lamented:
A student of business with tact
Absorbed many answers he lacked.
But acquiring a job,
He said with a sob,
"How does one fit answer to fact?"
All of the cases used in this course deal with real organizations. In some semesters, one or two cases may have been disguised to maintain anonymity for the organization and people involved, or a case may have been constructed as a composite of several organizational situations. Each case usually contains a mixture of information about the organization, the nature of its business, its competitive environment, and its members. For a number of reasons, no case will ever contain all the facts you would like to have to make the best possible decisions. Also, some cases may contain conflicting information.
The result is a situation not unlike those faced by managers in organizations. Seldom does a manager have complete, unambiguous information on which to base a decision. Often he/she is not even sure which facts are most critical to a particular decision. In some cases information is too expensive to obtain or would require too long to get. In spite of such uncertainty, decisions must be made--and often are very good ones.
When information is missing in a case, or incomplete, or conflicting, it is expected that you will proceed, just as a manager in business would have to proceed, rather than allowing yourself to be "hung up" by the challenge. It often is useful to proceed along these lines: first, recheck the information available to you to make sure you have not overlooked information relevant to the current impasse; second, draw reasonable inferences from the available information to supply missing or resolve conflicting data; third, if necessary, make assumptions based on the facts already available. If you make such assumptions in your analysis of a case, they should be explicit and you should explain why you feel justified in making them. Many cases will require you to make some assumptions; it is therefore important that you make them carefully and that they are stated clearly.
In this course, you are not expected to do research to obtain more information about the organization, i.e., you can work entirely with the information in the case - with one exception: you are expected to obtain comparative financial information for your financial analysis on the full case reports and any short financial paper. The module, "Sources for Financial Data," on my web site suggests some sources of information. Whenever you use outside information, be sure to identify it and cite the source. If at all possible, do not use information that would not have been available on the date the case ends. In addition to comparative financial data, you frequently will need to draw on general knowledge and information, such as concepts and techniques learned previously.
You should adopt the focus and perspective of a general manager, or a consultant to a general manager, concerned with the total organization, in contrast to a specialist who is concerned only with a few aspects. This focus includes accountability for the continuous process of determining the nature of the organization and setting, revising, and attempting to achieve its goals. This perspective also requires considering the firm as a complex system in which various functional areas are interrelated and need to be considered simultaneously, rather than individually and provincially.
The focus should be on thinking, rather than finding the "right" solution to the case. Very rarely if ever is there only one desirable answer to questions of strategy and policy. This thinking includes: (1) organizing information; (2) drawing conclusions; (3) separating important from other problems, issues, and information; (4) creatively generating a rich range of alternative solutions (in contrast to settling for the first one you can think of); (5) choosing one or a group of solutions; and (6) planning implementation, including anticipating obstacles plus outcomes of various actions and planning for them. The general manager typically has to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, including a lack of knowledge, inability to control many things directly, and operating in a context that involves past, present, and future time considerations.
The use of cases in this course is quite different from their use in law and medical courses, where they are used particularly for their value as precedents and as illustrations of correct ways to handle future situations. In contrast, in this strategic management seminar, the primary value of the cases will come from your process of thinking and sharpening your analytical abilities as you work with each case. The cases are not given to illustrate good or bad ways of handling business situations, or to provide precedents for future use.
The tasks involved in analyzing cases can be confusing and intimidating on first exposure. Fortunately, the process gets easier and more interesting as you practice! Some suggestions are given in the rest of this set of notes, to be followed by more details in class.
Meaningful analysis of cases requires an investment of effort over a period of time, preferably in several sittings. The complex nature of business cases (and business situations) requires the use of both your conscious and unconscious thought processes. Your conscious mind orders the facts and systematically analyzes important aspects of the case. Your unconscious mind integrates these often diverse parts of the total situation and helps to generate solutions that deal with the problems in their total complexity, rather than from a limited perspective. Don't try to analyze a case in the night before you must be prepared. Rather, do it over a period of time, in several sittings. First, read the case quickly to gain a brief sense of what is there. Then, read the case again one to several times, highlighting and making notes of the important facts and how they relate to one another. As you do this, look for focal points, problems and opportunities that require a decision by management. Once you have done this, put the case away for a day or more--give your subconscious a chance to do its work. When you go back to reanalyze the case later, the critical issues should be much clearer. These days of reflection will have given you better insight into the case. Then you can complete your detailed analysis and preparation of recommendations.
Another valuable aid in analyzing cases is to work with others. This is encouraged strongly, but left to your initiative. Groups have been found to be very effective in solving complex problems, primarily because each individual sees a situation from a different perspective. You will find it of advantage to discuss the cases with others--after you have done some individual analysis. However, after such discussion, your case reports that are graded must be written individually and present your unique conclusions and recommendations.
Various modules on my web site give you some ideas on how to proceed with cases in a structured way, and also provide the format you should use for case reports. Although most case problem solving has many common requirements, you should work out an approach that suits the unique features of the case at hand, and also fits you and your skills.
|Last modified January 2, 2009||Copyright 1982-2009 Rex Mitchell|