Sunday, 25 January 2015

Building T-Shaped Skills

In addition to the various terms that effectively describe career enhancement, promotion and role change and the more obvious financial motivation, Royal Holloway MBA's expressed motivations as diverse as learning to think differently, personal growth, making a difference, happiness. (See left the spider-gram that summarises a group discussion on this - This exercise was undertaken on the first day of term this year - 22 Sep 2014)

What are the advantages of the qualification for the individual on completion ?

MBA = Wide and broad "T Shaped" skills

The accrual of a wide and broad base of business knowledge is key, combined with theoretical constructs that support creative problem solving and analysis. These T-shaped skills enable shoulder rubbing on an equal footing with other functional C-suite directors.

Coping with work load pressure and various intensive group based learning activities exposed to peers from a wide range of diverse cultural and professional backgrounds gives a plethora of 'safe' learning experiences to try out different management and leadership styles and reflect on successes and failures, in a non-career limiting context.

The transformation we see in many MBA's is profound and for some it can be a hugely significant life changing experience, says Royal Holloway's MBA Director Justin O'Brien.  "We use the notion of learning to look at life differently, many of our MBA's note this is the single biggest benefit from their studies, which results in better approaches and more positive outcomes to a range of problems."

Signalling the last post: from Penny Black to Amazon drones

Published here in first, read the pre-edit version here below.

Signalling the last post: from Penny Black to Amazon drones.
Historic British vs. efficient Irish stamps
I am fighting a home front battle against former-monopolies and outdated working practices, as I have finally succeeded in brokering an agreement to send e-cards next Christmas.  As a low volume personal customer I object to subsidising business post, sometimes known as spam mail, by paying 62p for a first class stamp and nine pence less for a second class stamp whilst business account holders pay much less, as little as 35p, would you believe it ? (on SPAM ) It has been so long since I purchased stamps I had to look up the pricing, having bought in bulk a couple of years ago to avoid having to stump up for the beyond belief pre-privatisation price hike. Call me Victor Meldrew if  you like, but it has been working....

The foundation to my griping is not the pricing per se, but service.  (on griping  ) It annoys me profoundly that the world’s largest German courier service Deutsche Post (trading as brand DHL in UK) can get boxes to me, quickly, and even when I’m not in the house.  They have pioneered an innovative garage agreement (Garagenvertrag  ) that allows the insurance liability to transfer following delivery to a specified place such as garage or neighbour.  Yet Royal Mail parcels insist on having me drive 13 mins to Woking, to a tiny sorting office, show specific identification that matches the name on the package and say thank you to them for not delivering it in the first place. And then drive home again. 

You see, I have a healthy online shopping habit, I spend big without the inconvenience of leaving my house. Historically I have found it very difficult to arrange a re-delivery because more often than not the 17 number package identifier on the ‘sorry we missed you’ slip is missing.  I am sure the Weltmeister’s would have a scanable sticky label as part of their quality assurance process.  (on Weltmeister ) Royal Mail don’t try automatically to redeliver the next day (like those nice DPD people do) or allow me to easily call a speaking robot (no ID, no work) to re-arrange for a time slot that suits me, I spend fully 25 minutes on hold waiting to speak to a very lovely and helpful real person, eating up pretty much my travel time to the depot.  Should be called a partial delivery service ? 

From my home office I interact with new entrants, who can have funky names like Yodel, using portfolio employment concepts ideal for retirees who usually use small, clean private cars, to pop by in the evenings when people are often home. Helping to make the roads less congested, delivering first time with happy, smiling staff who might deliver ten packages each shift…why is this kind of business model innovation so hard ?  Yet the propaganda of the freshly minted red army is intent on whining about being cherry picked by urban efficient Whistl (formerly TNT ) in a competitive market whilst beholden to the universal delivery obligation, every household nationwide, six days a week.  Letter delivery is a dying business, let us be upfront about this, bye bye Penny Black. Regulator Ofcom should continue to hold its ground deflecting the inevitable restructuring as long a possible.   Public ownership brings an even sharper stakeholder focus on the profit motive, but let’s not allow excessive profiteering take place in a terminal wind up.

I note that whilst Amazon the-virtual-shopping-mall is keen to capture your delivery experience for its trading associates, it does not invite the same feedback on its own service.  I would have recommended quite strongly to change its agreement with the Royal Mail, Amazon representing circa 6% of its packages volume.     It has figured this out without my help, with recent announcement that the trade-logistics western super power is building its own same day delivery using Connect Group’s newspaper distribution network.  
I’ve asked if the Royal Mail sells a safe store box, the Australians are on it already, the whinging POHM’s (Post Office of Her Majesty ?) offer Smart Lockers to solve the fake delivery note problem. 
The answer: no, and it does not recommend one either.  There is, however, a charged for service called SafePlace for business customers. Gouging a delivery premium for a basic service surely ? Hermes has recently arrived in our community of grocery store and customers rave about the pricing being one tenth that of the Royal Mail for packages to Australia. UK Mail have just emailed me a one hour delivery window and I can sign up for a free text alert for a tighter timing.  (For balance I have to note that my poorly wrapped drum has arrived damaged, again.)  And even if you do have a nominated safe place, they will not use it if the package needs signing for.  Customer empathy, what is that ?  The rules is the rules.  Of course lots of things in the Royal Mail system need signing for.  I assume through better tracking the newbie operators know where the packages are and can spot patterned theft.  I need not link up the gaps here… 

Now, to be clear - this isn't a rant about people in the Royal Mail, it's about the company.  Our posties are decent chaps (I'd say people - but both ours are men).  I particularly object to the whinging about the universal delivery obligation and being cherry picked when change focuses on squeezing additional sales revenues and shoring up a limited delivery offering.

I am delighted that finally in the 21st Century we are getting our postal delivery in the afternoon.  No pretense here, and the latest impressive performance stats show next day first class deliveries at 93.3%, 0.3 over target and second class 99%, half a point over target. Not just after at 11:00 - properly in the afternoon, in what is no longer an over night promise.  Great.  Of course, making deliveries in the afternoons makes that ‘next day’ delivery window that much easier to achieve.  Umm, is there not competitive pressure from our growing instant gratification culture to see same day deliveries ?  Customer problem solvers Amazon have city centre lockers, Prime for fast delivery and the headline capturing intention to drone.

I think the Royal Mail is in dire need of a CIO, Chief Innovation Officer, a Director for Service Excellence, and a Director of Marketing, not communications propaganda, which is terribly old fashioned. Look at how nimble, yet cash strapped, services are in the Irish Republic, innovating using generic reels of a sticky stamps, the price inked on at your point of order.  Resulting in fast and efficient service, gone the cost and hassle of managing high value stock books of paper money. Perhaps a broken economy helps drive the e-economy agenda harder. When will Royal Mail be introducing virtual stamps that you print yourself using PayPal or another online micro payments system ?  Australia Post, no longer targeted for privatisation, has got a clearer idea of its role in offering essential services for remoter communities.

Instead of droning on about the draining universal obligation, how about revolutionising the existing offer ?   Less Penny Black and more virtual enabled instant gratification is needed please. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Looking at Life Differently: Reflections from a graduated Distance Learning MBA student: Dimitar Filipov

Dimitar Filipov, MBA
Royal Holloway MBA by distance learning graduate Dimitar Filipov wrote:

It’s been several months now since I have finished the MBA programme (with merit :) ). I have been extremely busy for the last few months to catch up with my work, so I finally found some moments to drop you a few words.

When I started, I hadn’t studied for nearly 20 years. Besides, this was my first encounter with British educational system and my fist subject I studied in English. It was hard. I barely passed my first exam (50/100). However, it was really, really interesting. I have spent the last three years reading thousands of pages. I had never read so much, though I do read a lot. For this time I have never slept more than 5 hours a day. But all of this was really rewarding. I had read in a book that the difference between a training and an education is that the training is teaching you to do something better, whereas the education is changing your perspective. THIS IS what happened with me in Royal Holloway University of London – I got a different sight, another pair of eyes. Many schools are claiming to provide this, but very few are really doing it. RHUL is undoubtedly one of the seconds. I have been in the business for more than 20 years. For the last year I see things differently – in perspective and in a really clear way.

About the quality of the education. For the last few months I have finished a few Coursera courses from some top American business schools (part of their MBA programmes). These were an Organisational analysis from Stanford (voted No. 1 Coursera business course for 2014), Advanced competitive strategy from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and a couple of Entrepreneurship courses with Maryland University. I found all of these much easier than RHUL’s ones, all of them based predominantly on empirical approaches. Their assignments were jokes compared to RHUL ones (including Stanford’s ones) and I easily got marks in the 90s. My conclusion is that RHUL education was much more theoretically based, but ALL of the principles we studied in strategy, economics and marketing modules WERE used in one form or another in these courses. I could easily cope with all of these and I knew where this knowledge came from, whereas for most of the students this was an enigma. This is to say that now I have a base for comparison and I can clearly see that the RHUL education is a really of a top class and is deeply holistic and fundamental.

Finally, I believe the money I spent on this programme is amongst the best spent one in my life. I don’t regret a single penny of it. Now I have a totally new perspective, my life has totally changed due to this new perspective, I have plenty of colleagues and friends around the world and I am part of the alumni community of one of the best universities in the word. I am really proud of being part of all this.


Dimitar Filipov, MBA

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Why alumni are so important for MBA programmes

Andrew Arnold MBA 2013 addresses newbies

ALUMNI defined: The terminology draws on latin and is another of those strange university pieces of jargon that you know if you know, but not if you have not been initiated.   A few years back I was corrected in my own use of the term - Alumni describes the plural, with alumna the female singular and alumnus the male singular.  I think.

Valuing experience

MBA candidates tend to find it very useful to speak with their predecessors, picking their brains for a wide range of advice that includes social, studying insights and how the group interaction works. MBA Director Justin O'Brien includes 'connecting with alumni' at various points in the MBA journey.  View Royal Holloways extensive alumni network here.

Thankfully a number of graduated students from Royal Holloway's MBA programme continue to want to be associated with their alma mater (from latin nourishing/kind & mother) and offer to speak or email with applicants.  Justin is keen to ensure that the third or fourth most important/expensive adult life personal decision (wedding, house, kids the top three ?) is made with good knowledge of what the Royal Holloway MBA can offer.  

Alumni guests are invited to meet students at the pre-Christmas end of first term celebration festive luncheon, where candidates are invited to practise their networking skills over a glass of mulled wine and traditional turkey with all the trimmings.  Images here

During the end of June plenary session there are fantastic opportunities to network with the large group (usually ranging from 70-100) of students following the MBA/MSc International Management via flexible and distance learning.  A number of alumni, especially Ash Mishra and Simon Vadgama join the group for the formal Picture Gallery dinner and sometimes knock of work early enough to make the Thames river cruise.  

Alumni support the college in many other ways e.g. Anna Cimino-Harkin introduced her Reading headquartered employer, US B2B telecoms/tech giant Verizon to the MBA last year and e.g. Moran Sacagiu as a poacher-turned-gamekeeper led the MBA business consultancy with her employer Norman Hay plc having been at the other side of the table the previous year.  Images here

Thanks to a new initiative from the College Alumni office, led by dedicated Alumni Relations Director Rosie Sugden, which was trialled last year, we are formally offering an alumni based mentoring scheme for all MBA candidates, details here.  If you are interesting in stepping forwards to support this programme please let us know.

Lucky for us just, just finished MBA Andrew Arnold (pictured above) was passing through campus following some relaxing holiday time with his family and he kindly offered to speak to the 2014/15 cohort during induction fortnight this year.  

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Analyse a mug

"Analyse a Mug ?"

Imagine you have been assigned an essay question like this: 

"Analyse a mug."  

This is immediately quite challenging as it is so open and superficially it might appear to be very straight forwards. Too easy and banal in fact ?

An initial quick blast at the question might look something like this perhaps ?  (shadow text)

Describing a mug

This mug is a cylinder made from clay and glazed in popular white with a burnt orange and slate grey logo about the size of a medium can of baked beans. It has a large D shaped handle for carrying. On the base is often embossing to indicate where the item is manufactured. Although they can vary in size, the most common mugs have a capacity of around a third of a litre, the metric equivalent to the 12 fliud ounce Coca Cola can.   Although they can be used to drink cold beverages such as soft drinks, water and milk, they are most often used to aid consumption of warm and hot drinks such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate and even soup.  A mug offers a more informal drinking experience compared with a cup (and saucer) and has double its capacity.

Historical background

Mugs have been in use for a long time. Traditionally formed by hand, perhaps using the sausage construction technique, and then fired or exposed to heat for a prelonged period. Glazing is a supplementary coating technique that fixes a thin water proofing layer.  Wikipedia ** explains further "Ancient mugs were usually carved in wood or bone or shaped of clay, while most modern ones are made of ceramic materials such as earthenwarebone chinaporcelain or stoneware. Some are made from strengthened glass, such as Pyrex. Other materials, including plastic, steel and enameled metal are preferred where break resistance and reduced weight are at a premium, such as for campers. Techniques such as silk screen printing or decals are used to apply decorations; these are fired onto the mug to ensure permanence." 

(n.b. the bright coloured font is similar to the markers view of a Turnitin report flagging matching text)

Marker comments might highlight;

** Lazyman's Wikipedia has been provocatively used to illustrate 'path of least resistance' research and its use here is not in any way designed to encourage or substantiate this practise.  Many university academics abhor Wikipedia referencing and mark down hard for its use.

Couldn't get a better cuppa !

Analysing a mug

To be brief and avoid reader tedium, this section looks to identify a number of possible approaches, rather than offering up a complete exemplar analysis.

A marketing approach should lead to consideration of fitness for purpose (how well does the item match customer needs) and a likely initial consideration of customer needs and wants, possibly developing a number of descriptions of typical customers.  (we are always wary of the dangers in using stereotypes) Additionally as awesome marketers, we never forget the competition.  Thus a competitor comparison with other mugs, similar and different should be under taken.  Inducing key functional criteria might come from this, but don't forget there may be other dimensions derived from intangible product/service elements.  

Why ?

Which ?

When ?

What ?

Who ?

How ?

Although rather functional sounding the 5ws and an H framework offers an effective starting point there are other approaches you might want to consider in addition to this to include functional and emotional dimensions (aka cognitive and affective dimensions)

Functional - why do we use a mug ?

Brain storming around the idea of; a vessel for movement -> camping, travel, on ships, picture of captains mug, use of tougher materials e.g. Metal....coated steel, or lighter aluminium, or forms of plastic e.g. Sports bottles, camelpac hydration packs for military and serious endurance sports. 

Energy retention
Hot drinks, ceramic a reasonable insulator that keeps hot hot and cool cool, but thermos vacuum skins and lids can offer longer insulation periods.  Comparison of different materials across this dimension ?

Emotional - how does it make us feel ?

Finest materials and decoration, to bring pleasure to the drinking process or to give the owner social kudos whilst hosting others to drink with them.
Symbolic consumption, the ritual of tea drinking, e.g. japansese tea houses

Perhaps with a pastime motif or football club logo the mugs owner identifies themselves with this other and is reminded of this and/or might generate social capital or derision from others whilst utilising it.

Stakeholder analysis

Having already considered customers and competitors, often forgotten are wider stakeholders -: employees, company owners, the supply chain, neighbours, government and others in wider society, which should stimulate consideration of the corporate and social responsibility, perhaps in the context of the triple bottom line. Look at the issue from their perspective and capture any issues you might uncover.  

Wider ideas for further analysis, although the direction taken should be related to the wider context and module learning. 

Why are standard white mugs so prevalent ? Economies of scale limiting choice, Henry Ford famously opted to offer model T buyers any colour they wished provided it was black. Neutral white offering the least worst background for template overlays ? Or ease of cleaning, tea stains easy to spot on a white glaze.  A hygiene/public health poke yoke.  

Ceramic goods often described as China, from the higher quality bone China clay that allows a finer, thinner design and the sort of high cost drinking vessel you would expect to be using as a guest at Downton Abbey, perhaps. Fine, hand crafted cups and saucers that might be hand decorated by crafts people demonstrating wealth and perhaps also bestowing the owners a sense of psychological well being. 

The business of mug manufacture, for use as a promotional tool or as a gift item that offers brands opportunities to develop a revenue stream in the birthday and festive season.  The business of mug manufacturing and decoration - now that sounds interesting....

Structural analysis ( or rather; what did we do differently the second time ?)

In the above analysis we have covered a number of key elements:

  • Deconstruct and reconstruct or synthesise: KEY Question - Is it any good ?
  • 5W's and an H
  • Define mug, vessel that contains fluid for safe & convenient consumption ?
  • Beyond superficial functional usages
  • Stakeholder perspectives
  • Evidence scholarship (wide research) and pertinent management concepts (for management degree)

The former is easy.  Read lightly using easy to find internet sources or worse, writing off the top of your head (as I did & then found to my chagrin that the wikipedia entry was quite similar !)  Analysis takes time, is best approached over the course of several good nights sleep, which allows thoughts to develop and progress through a number of iterations.

Analysis implicitly expects and requires wide research and the application of a sub-set of key tools (many are outlined to you above).  They don't sound that fancy, but used appropriately they can draw out "light bulb moments" of insight - "OF COURSE !" - but you often only get there by applying time to the process.

Never forget:  academic staff want you ALWAYS to demonstrate scholarship of the module materials.  If you can not point to new learning directly from the programme you have been following - there is something horribly wrong !

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Kelliann McDonald's MBA graduation reflections

Kelliann McDonald awarded best MBA dissertation by Royal Holloway Principal Professor Paul Layzell

Text re-published (permission granted) from recent Royal Holloway MBA graduate Kelliann McDonald's blog/vlog

"On Tuesday, 16 December 2014, I accomplished a major item on my bucket list. I strolled across the commencement stage, chin up and chest high, at Royal Holloway University of London as Principal Paul Layzell handed me a symbolic diploma certifying that I am a Master of Business Administration. 

The sense of relief I felt was uncanny. A sense of calm, certainty, peace... and pride. I am happy to acknowledge my true emotions without feeling bashful about them. 

For the past few years I have been striving and strategizing on how I might take my life from the comfortable to the extraordinary. I decided that studying and living in London and travelling Europe would be my ticket.

To be clear, I was not running from anything at home. I lived a very comfortable and privileged life, but I wanted to stretch myself. I wanted to push the boundaries and see how far life would take me without the constraints of fear and self-doubt.

It is a bit of a drug, accomplishment is. Addicting. Once you figure out the formula, it's hard not to want more and more of it. Fear then becomes an element that you face, but mainly disregard in future pursuits, as the high of accomplishment far trumps the depression of fear. 

You're habitually seeking the next fix. Searching for the next hurdle to leap over, all the better if you can make it look easy. At times restless and antsy... haunted they might say.

But for this one, this MBA... I felt a sense of peace. I lavished in it a bit for the first time. I enjoyed the win, soaked it in. I don't take this one lightly. 

This one has been quite good."

Link to Kellianns excellent blog here: k. Melanie Unfurled

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Setting up for a Successful Summary

The summary writing is quite straight forwards, but you are likely to be tired and potentially very jaded with the significant time and effort required to get this far already.   

Idea Overload
The best advice I can give is to plan into your work schedule taking a couple of days (ideally a week) off to allow the ideas currently buzzing around your head to go away.  A good night out & some physical exercise are often effective 'clearing' approaches that can give you the appropriate space to allow you to re-read what you have actually written (rather than what you think you want to say).  

Having just read something, when you re-read it (at speed) it often says what is in your head, not actually what is written down.  This advice is particularly important.  

My department at Royal Holloway University of London operates (even for undergraduates) a reasonably laissez faire attitude to content ordering, indeed academic writing in leading journals can use non-traditional structures to some good effect.  You will likely need to include consideration of the limitations of the study (generalisablility of findings,  offering up recommendations for (slight, not major) improvements to the methods, opportunities that were identified too late/because they were too big to be included in your current study).  Take care to recognise some (minor) shortcomings, but not over work this, lest your work be perceived as poorly constructed and executed.  

You are also likely to need to make managerial recommendations or implications, these should be modest and very much grounded from the results.  They should reflect detailed argumentation within the paper.  You should not be offering up solutions to company and industry profitability based on five in depth interviews.  Do not over state your findings.  Writing as an experienced marker I find that modesty here is very appealing.

Functional, not flowery

You summary is merely a re-run of your introduction, something between the abstract (very concise) and the intro (drop the flowery hooks).   The conclusion/summary should explain what happened in each chapter and is different from the introduction, which seeks to engage the reader and justify the importance of the problem being addressed, because it will include a clear focus on what the findings and recommendations were.  It is tempting to cut, copy and paste the introduction - but the reader often remembers the phraseology and it is better to say similar things in a different way.  

Boom, Boom and Boom again

Whilst this may feel like you are repeating yourself - remember the reader is not as familiar with the text as you are & signposting acts as a guide to the reader to remind/reinforce the key messages that you want remembered.    Watch the news at 10 - headlines boom, boom, boom with the striking of Big Ben, 5/6 stories in detail, reminder of headlines & you still will not likely remember more than half of a 30 minute show.