WHAT TO EXPECT FROM IN-CLASS CASE DISCUSSIONS
As you will learn, classroom discussions of cases differ significantly from lectures. The case method calls for your instructor to guide the discussion and to solicit alternative views as a way of encouraging your active participation when analysing a case. When alternative views are not forthcoming, your instructor might take a position just to challenge you and your peers to respond thoughtfully as a way of generating still additional alternatives. Often, instructors will evaluate your work in terms of both the quantity and the quality of your contributions to in-class case discussions. The in-class discussions are important in that you can derive significant benefit by having your ideas and recommendations examined against those of your peers and by responding to thoughtful challenges by other class members and/or the instructor.
During case discussions, your instructor will likely listen, question and probe to extend the analysis of case issues. In the course of these actions, your peers and/ or your instructor may challenge an individual’s views and the validity of alternative perspectives that have been expressed. These challenges are offered in a constructive manner; their intent is to help all parties involved with analysing a case develop their analytical and communication skills. Developing these skills is important in that they will serve you well when working for all types of organisations. Commonly, instructors will encourage you and your peers to be innovative and original when developing and presenting ideas. Over the course of an individual discussion, you are likely to form a more complex view of the case as a result of listening to and thinking about the diverse inputs offered by your peers and instructor. Among other benefits, experience with multiple case discussions will increase your knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of group decision-making processes.
Both your peers and instructor will value comments that contribute to identifying problems as well as solutions to them. To offer relevant contributions, you are encouraged to think independently and, through discussions with your peers outside of class, to refine your thinking. We also encourage you to avoid using ‘I think,’ ‘I believe,’ and ‘I feel’ to discuss your inputs to a case analysis process. Instead, consider using a less emotion-laden phrase, such as ‘My analysis shows…’. This highlights the logical nature of the approach you have taken to analyse a case. When preparing for an in-class case discussion, you should plan to use the case data to explain your assessment of the situation. Assume that your peers and instructor are familiar with the basic facts included in the case. In addition, it is good practice to prepare notes regarding your analysis of case facts before class discussions and use them when explaining your perspectives. Effective notes signal to classmates and the instructor that you are prepared to engage in a thorough discussion of a case.
Hanson 6e – Case Analysis
The case analysis process described above will help prepare you effectively to discuss a case during class meetings. Using this process results in consideration of the issues required to identify a focal firm’s problems and to propose strategic actions through which the firm can increase the probability it will outperform its rivals. In some instances, your instructor may ask you to prepare either an oral or a written analysis of a particular case. Typically, such an assignment demands even more thorough study and analysis of the case contents. At your instructor’s discretion, oral and written analyses may be completed by individuals or by groups of three or more people. The information and insights gained by completing the six steps shown in Table 1 often are of value when developing an oral or a written analysis. However, when preparing an oral or written presentation, you must consider the overall framework in which your information and inputs will be presented. Such a framework is the focus of the next section.
PREPARING AN ORAL/WRITTEN CASE PRESENTATION
Experience shows that two types of thinking (analysis and synthesis) are necessary to develop an effective oral or written presentation (see Exhibit 1). In the analysis stage, you should first analyse the general external environmental issues affecting the firm. Next, your environmental analysis should focus on the particular industry (or industries, in the case of a diversified company) in which a firm operates. Finally, you should examine companies against which the focal firm competes. By studying the three levels of the external environment (general, industry and competitor), you will be able to identify a firm’s opportunities and threats. Following the external environmental analysis is the analysis of the firm’s internal organisation. This analysis provides the insights needed to identify the firm’s strengths and weaknesses.
As noted in Exhibit 1, you must then change the focus from analysis to synthesis. Specifically, you must synthesise information gained from your analysis of the firm’s external environment and internal organisation. Synthesising information allows you to generate alternatives that can resolve the significant problems or challenges facing the focal firm. Once you identify a best alternative, from an evaluation based on predetermined criteria and goals, you must explore implementation actions.
Strategic Profile and Case Analysis Purpose
You will use the strategic profile to briefly present the critical facts from the case that has affected the focal firm’s historical strategic direction and performance. The case facts should not be restated in the profile; rather, these comments should show how the critical facts lead to a particular focus for your analysis. This primary focus should be emphasised in this section’s conclusion. In addition, this section should state important assumptions about case facts on which your analyses are based.
Exhibit 1 Types of Thinking in Case Preparation: Analysis and Synthesis
General Environmental Analysis
Your analysis of the general environment should focus on trends in the six segments of the general environment . Many of the segment issues shown in Table 3 for the six segments are explained more fully in Chapter 2 of your book. The objective you should have in evaluating these trends is to be able to predict the segments that you expect to have the most significant influence on your focal firm over the next several years (say three to five years) and to explain your reasoning for your predictions.
Porter’s five force model is a useful tool for analysing the industry (or industries) in which your firm competes. We explain how to use this tool in Chapter 2. In this part of your analysis, you want to determine the attractiveness of an industry (or a segment of an industry) in which your firm is competing. As attractiveness increases, so does the possibility your firm will be able to earn profits by using its chosen strategies. After evaluating the power of the five forces relative to your firm, you should make a judgment as to how attractive the industry is in which your firm is competing.
Firms also need to analyse each of their primary competitors. This analysis should identify competitors’ current strategies, strategic intent, strategic mission, capabilities, core competencies and a competitive response profile (see Chapter 2). This information is useful to the focal firm in formulating an appropriate strategy and in predicting competitors’ probable responses. Sources that can be used to gather information about an industry and companies with whom the focal firm competes are listed in Appendix I. Included in this list is a wide range of publications, such as periodicals, newspapers, bibliographies, directories of companies, industry ratios, forecasts, rankings/ratings, and other valuable statistics.
Assessing a firm’s strengths and weaknesses through a value chain analysis facilitates moving from the external environment to the internal organisation. Analysis of the primary and support activities of the value chain provides opportunities to understand how external environmental trends affect the specific activities of a firm. Such analysis helps highlight strengths and weaknesses (see Chapter 3 for an explanation and use of the value chain).
For purposes of preparing an oral or a written presentation, it is important to note that strengths are internal resources and capabilities that have the potential to be core competencies. Weaknesses, on the other hand, are internal resources and capabilities that have the potential to place a firm at a competitive disadvantage relative to its rivals. Thus, some of a firm’s resources and capabilities are strengths; others are weaknesses.
When evaluating the internal characteristics of the firm, your analysis of the functional activities emphasised is critical. For instance, if the strategy of the firm is primarily technology driven, it is important to evaluate the firm’s R&D activities. If the strategy is market driven, marketing functional activities are of paramount importance. If a firm has financial difficulties, critical financial ratios would require careful evaluation. In fact, because of the importance of financial health, most cases require financial analyses. Appendix II lists and operationally defines several common financial ratios. Included are tables describing profitability, liquidity, leverage, activity, and shareholders’ return ratios. Leadership, organisational culture, structure, and control systems are other characteristics of firms you should examine to fully understand the ‘internal’ part of your firm.
Preparing an effective case analysis
Identification of Environmental Opportunities and Threats and Firm Strengths and Weaknesses (SWOT Analysis)
The outcome of the situation analysis is the identification of a firm’s strengths and weaknesses and its environmental threats and opportunities. The next step requires that you analyse the strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats for configurations that benefit or do not benefit your firm’s efforts to perform well. Case analysts and organisational strategists as well seek to match a firm’s strengths with its opportunities. In addition, strengths are chosen to prevent any serious environmental threat from negatively affecting the firm’s performance. The key objective of conducting a SWOT analysis is to determine how to position the firm so it can take advantage of opportunities, while simultaneously avoiding or minimising environmental threats. Results from a SWOT analysis yield valuable insights into the selection of a firm’s strategies. The analysis of a case should not be overemphasised relative to the synthesis of results gained from your analytical efforts. There may be a temptation to spend most of your oral or written case analysis on results from the analysis. It is important, however, that you make an equal effort to develop and evaluate alternatives and to design implementation of the chosen strategy.
Strategy Formulation—Strategic Alternatives, Alternative Evaluation and Alternative Choice
Developing alternatives is often one of the most difficult steps in preparing an oral or a written presentation. Developing three to four alternative strategies is common (see Chapter 4 for business-level strategy alternatives and Chapter 6 for corporate-level strategy alternatives). Each alternative should be feasible (i.e., it should match the firm’s strengths, capabilities, and especially core competencies), and feasibility should be demonstrated. In addition, you should show how each alternative takes advantage of the environmental opportunity or avoids/ buffers against environmental threats. Developing carefully thought out alternatives requires synthesis of your analyses’ results and creates greater credibility in oral and written case presentations.
Once you develop strong alternatives, you must evaluate the set to choose the best one. Your choice should be defensible and provide benefits over the other alternatives. Thus, it is important that both alternative development and evaluation of alternatives be thorough. The choice of the best alternative should be explained and defended.
Strategic Alternative Implementation–Action Items and Action Plan
After selecting the most appropriate strategy (that is, the strategy with the highest probability of helping your firm in its efforts to earn profits), implementation issues require attention. Effective synthesis is important to ensure that you have considered and evaluated all critical implementation issues. Issues you might consider include the structural changes necessary to implement the new strategy. In addition, leadership changes and new controls or incentives may be necessary to implement strategic actions. The implementation actions you recommend should be explicit and thoroughly explained. Occasionally, careful evaluation of implementation actions may show the strategy to be less favourable than you thought originally. A strategy is only as good as the firm’s ability to implement it.
You should ensure that your presentation (either oral or written) has logical consistency throughout. For example, if your presentation identifies one purpose, but your analysis focuses on issues that differ from the stated purpose, the logical inconsistency will be apparent. Likewise, your alternatives should flow from the configuration of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats you identified by analysing your firm’s external environment and internal organisation.
Thoroughness and clarity also are critical to an effective presentation. Thoroughness is represented by the comprehensiveness of the analysis and alternative generation. Furthermore, clarity in the results of the analyses, selection of the best alternative strategy, and design of implementation actions are important. For example, your statement of the strengths and weaknesses should flow clearly and logically from your analysis of your firm’s internal organisation.
Presentations (oral or written) that show logical consistency, thoroughness, and clarity of purpose, effective analyses, and feasible recommendations (strategy and implementation) are more effective and are likely to be more positively received by your instructor and peers. Furthermore, developing the skills necessary to make such presentations will enhance your future job performance and career success.
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