I've been teaching Business for some years now. But I don't have any qualifications in the subject (my background is Economics). So this year, I thought it'd be fun to take my Business A-level. I'm getting sponsored within school on a per-mark basis with the proceeds going to a project the school is linked with in Ghana, but besides that worthy cause it's been a real eye-opener to be there in the thick of it with the students. With one exam to go, tomorrow, I thought I'd put up some thoughts on how its gone so far...
Writing. My hand hurts after an exam! Having not written much by hand since the last time I did exams, this has been quite an issue. Also, my legibility has never been that great...
Timing. I was writing down to the last minute in both BUSS2 and BUSS3. We all know these are time-pressured, and I have always told my students that, but it was quite different to actually experience it. Some of this may have been down to having more things to say than the average candidate, but I did struggle to fit everything in that I wanted. In BUSS3, I certainly had to miss out some ideas that I had planned to include. This reinforces the importance of planning and deciding which themes to develop and which to leave out or merely pay lip service to, something that will also be important tomorrow.
Quality of the questions. This has generally been pretty good. As we know, there have been some years where the questions haven't quite made sense (cough chocolate cough), but there were no howlers or particularly unclear questions. The only one that got close was the final question in BUSS2, which I found had little information to go on. My answer was quite speculative and relied a little bit on my own contextual knowledge of the industry in question. Which leads to...
The advantage of age. I saw this a little more in a mock exam we did in a class than in this year's exams, but I've only recently realised quite how much being older makes things easier. A recent BUSS2 paper had case studies on a small chain of ethnic and organic food shops, followed by one on a company that made storage boxes. My students struggled a little for good application - they don't buy the food in their households, nor do they buy storage boxes that frequently! I therefore had a slight advantage (especially in the first case study) in understanding a little more clearly what this market was about, what customers want and the key elements of the marketing mix, for example. I'm not saying students can't know these things or work them out, but I had a distinct advantage over them in making my answers fully applied to the case study. It certainly cut down some thinking/planning time.
Knowledge. I didn't do much revision for BUSS1-3, nor should I have needed to - I teach it, after all. But doing the exam hammered home the importance of good knowledge and understanding of content, even in something like BUSS3 which mostly examines the higher order skills. Knowing your stuff saves time. It allows you to pinpoint the key issues quickly, and provides a lens through which to analyse a case study. Those who know their content best do have an advantage even in the higher skills. Revise early and often (i.e. from the start of the course)!
Analysis. I think BUSS3 went well, but I do know where my answers could fall down in the eyes of an examiner. I think they were decent answers, but it could be argued that sometimes, in an effort to provide an overarching answer to the question, my analysis may have been a little lacking. Maybe - maybe - I was trying to provide too much evidence and not always taking a line of argument as far as I could. We shall see, come August.
All in all, it's been a fun, and extremely useful experience. I could pontificate all I want in class about timing and analysis and so on, and give feedback on what hasn't gone well in students' work, but now I feel like I understand a little better the pressures candidates are under. I have a bit more sympathy now - this certainly isn't easy!
Now for a nice early night ready for tomorrow's BUSS4. Bring it on...
A key issue for students looking at the challenge of changing organisational culture is whether new leadership is required? Can the change be achieved without someone new at the top?
Let's look at a sample essay case study to see how some potential essay points might be identified.
All Change at Barclays - Antony Jenkins and Project Transform
The new CEO of Barclays, Antony Jenkins, wants to change the organisational culture of the bank in response to a series of damaging revelations in recent years.
Like some other banks, Barclays has been hit by heavy penalties for the mis-selling of interest rate hedging products sold to small firms, and payment protection insurance (PPI) schemes to consumers. Barclays was also implicated in a LIBOR-rate fixing scandal which further damaged its reputation as a bank which had become too reliant on high-risk investment banking.
Jenkins has launched a culture change programme named "Project Transform" and has made it clear to Barclays employees that they must either accept the new corporate culture or leave the business.
To what extent does successful organisational change requires new leadership?
Possible points in support of the question: (i.e. that new leadership is required for organisational culture change to be successful)
Existing culture is likely to be a reflection of previous leadership style, so a change in leadership is a powerful signal of a desired change in culture.
Organisational change unlikely to be successful under existing leadership who will be too closely associated with the culture that needs changing! They may have been part of the problem!
Existing leadership may not accept the need for change (may actively resist), so without new leadership culture change will not be a strategic priority.
Much evidence that new leadership is often the stimulus for broader strategic change – including culture (e.g. a change in strategic direction, retrenchment etc). Often the case when the new leader comes from outside the business or industry.Possible counter-arguments (i.e. that successful org culture change can be achieved without new leadership)
Case study application points:
[don’t forget – at least two references to the stimulus case]
Barclays (banking / financial services) diversified activities in a highly competitive services sector – so culture change has to reach far and wide to be effective
Powerful sub-cultures in Barclays – particularly in the investment banking division, which may be difficult to change in the short-term (e.g. “bonus culture”)
Note the impact of leadership style on culture: Bob Diamond brought different values to Barclays from investment banking when he became CEO.
Possible lines of further analysis & evaluation
Whether new leadership is really required or not, many well-known firms link the need for change with a change at the top! E.g. Nokia, Sony, RIM, Royal Mail
What do we mean by leadership? Not just about the CEO. Archie Norman believes that up to 80% of the senior management team need to be replaced if organisational culture is to be transformed. That might involve large numbers of managers, depending on the size and complexity of the business.
New leadership by itself is not enough. It needs to be credible new leadership.
In our exam preparation workshops, we coach students to develop their essay writing technique by using a series of approaches which help students write relevant answers to the required depth of application, analysis and evaluation.
A core part of that approach is the PEEL technique for writing powerful paragraph points. PEEL is a particularly powerful approach because it allows students to reach the highest levels of application (good application) and analysis (good analysis) in just one well-developed and argued paragraph point.
Here's a key-point summary of the PEEL method.
PEEL and Planning
The PEEL approach is proven to deliver better exam performance in BUSS4 when (properly applied) because it provides an appropriate structure and depth for each point that you make in your essay.
However, the PEEL approach is only effective if you firstly plan the key points you are going to make in each essay. Usually (not always) an answer will develop arguments both for and against the underlying assertion in the essay question. Plan the points you are going to make and the examples you want to use to help support your point.
Every Paragraph Makes ONE Point
This is the key to making PEEL work.
Taken together, the points made in your essay should combine to provide a relevant response to the chosen essay question. You can only write a persuasive essay if you identify a relevant point and develop it fully.
Before you start a paragraph, be absolutely clear what point you are making & why it is relevant to the question. Then off you go!
Star the paragraph point by stating the point you are making. Even better - use the words in the essay question.
For example, a paragraph point might begin:
"One way in which the external environment is unfavourable to UK retailers at the moment is..."
"An important way in which it is important for new leaders to implement change programmes quickly is..."
"A key reason why contingency planning is increasingly important to multinationals operating in a fast-changing external environment is..."
"One way in which retrenchment is a suitable strategy for a market leader facing intensive competition from more innovative competitors is..."
Explain the Point - Step by Step
The next step in PEEL is to develop your point. Explain your reasoning - perhaps by applying a relevant theory - and/or by explaining the nature of cause and effect. This is the basis of your analysis.
Try to do this by us by using a stepping-stones approach: explain your point step-by-step. Imagine the examiner is a little tired or slow - explain it to him/her! This leads to lead - which in turn can mean this - leading to this.
Putting in some relevant theory (e.g. a model like Ansoff, Porter, Lewin, elasticity can really help this part of the paragraph point - it adds credibility to your point. You don't have to write everything you know about the theory - just show how it is relevant.
Back Your Point with Evidence!
You've stated your point and explained it.
Now back it up with some examples and evidence!
In Section A of the exam you are provided with a brief case study item. In order to achieve good application you must use the item plus your own real business examples.
Try to make at least 2 references to the Section A case study but use it to help explain the point you are making.
In Section B there is no case study except a brief mention of a business at the start of the essay title. You do not need to mention this business so only do this if you know some detail about it and can use it to make your point. Otherwise bring in a few of your own real business examples in detail to help make your points. Your example must be used to support a relevant argument in order to achieve the top level for this skill.
As you use your research examples in both Section A and Section B it is important to avoid "story-telling" and the regurgitation of too much irrelevant detail. The examiner does not want to know how much you know about your real-life business examples. Rather, he/she wants you to explain HOW and WHY the examples you have chosen support the points you are making.
A good way to think about using research examples in both Section A and Section B is that they add credibility to your answer. As you make and explain a point relevant to the chosen essay question, your use of evidence is there to support the argument.
As you introduce research examples into each paragraph point, also try to compare and contrast the evidence. How does one example compare with another - or do they both lend support to the point you are making?
Evaluate Your Point
Don't leave evaluation until the end of your essay. Evaluate each paragraph point as you go.
Evaluation needs to take place during the essay and not just at the end. A simple way to evaluate at the end of the paragraphs is to say “however, this would depend on…..”.
How important is the point you have made to your overall argument? Really important? Then say so. Not convinced? Then explain your reservations.
...And finally...LINK back to the essay question
This is a very powerful way to ensure that your answer remains relevant - and it also signals to the examiner that your paragraph point has helped answer the essay question!
Use the words in the essay title once again.
"This point has shown that the external environment can be judged as very unfavourable for many high street retailers at the moment..."
"This point has illustrated how important it is for significant change programmes to be implemented decisively with the total commitment of the firm's leadership".
Hopefully, if you apply the PEEL technique, you'll be well on the way to reaching good application and good analysis (+ some evaluation marks too) and scoring highly in both your BUSS4 essays!
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