Case Studies in MBA Strategic Management Curriculum Development from Australian Universities

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In recent years the Business Council of Australia (BCA) has drawn attention to the importance of the availability of a well-trained supply of employees for the Australian workplace. Specifically the BCA highlighted the benefits of a quality education imparting skills in the areas of collaboration, teamwork and leadership all of which greatly assist the effective practice of creativity, innovation and strategy. This paper makes a useful contribution to teaching practice in several ways. The paper links comments from the BCA to a significant and ongoing debate in the strategy literature on the best approaches to teaching the practice of strategy. The paper then demonstrates, with case studies from the RMIT University MBA and the Central Queensland University MBA programs, different approaches to how this can be done. This is followed by a critical discussion of the literature and case studies. Suggestions are made for future research and teaching practice.

Keywords: management education, 'soft' skills, 'hard' skills, strategic management, case studies, student assessment

INTRODUCTION

In recent years the Business Council of Australia (BCA) has drawn attention to the importance of the availability of a well-trained supply of employees for the Australian workplace. Specifically the BCA highlighted the benefits of a quality education imparting skills in the areas of collaboration, teamwork and leadership all of which greatly assist the effective practice of creativity, innovation and strategy (Lahey 2006a). The BCA has called for Australian Universities to do more to assist the development of these skills in Australian workers. Skills the BCA highlighted as important are the same skills as highlighted by management thought leaders - such as Henry Mintzberg, Kenichi Ohmae, Tom Peters, Robert Waterman, and British experts Richard Whittington and Loizos Heracleous - which are skills required for strategy making. This convergence of insight caught the attention of faculty at RMIT University (RMIT) and Central Queensland University (CQU) providing part of the motivation for this paper. Recent literature also indicates that these skills are of interest to management educators globally (Rubin and Dierdorff 2009).

The teaching of sound strategy-making skills is a complex task as it requires the integration of 'hard' financial and operational skills with 'soft' creative, people-oriented collaborative, teamwork and leadership skills executed at the right time, in the right balance and in the right measure (De Wit & Meyer 2010). This skill set is made even more difficult to teach and impart as its practice varies according to the firm and industry setting (O'Shannassy 2005). As a consequence there are three aims for this paper. The first aim is to provide learning from a broad synthesis of insight on the teaching of strategy- making in business schools, including identification of the required 'hard' and 'soft' skills and the usefulness or otherwise of case study analysis in a business school setting. The second aim is to explore two case studies in Australian Universities demonstrating practice in this critical area of business education and making further suggestions for improvement. The third aim is to provide a meaningful discussion of the implications for theory and practice in relation to the teaching of strategic management from the learning from the literature review and the two case studies, including fresh suggestions for improvement of future teaching and research in this area. In this way, the paper participates in an important conversation in the academic, business and consulting community on strategic management curriculum content, teaching practice and assessment in MBA programs.

BACKGROUND

The current debate on the role of business schools in developing managers indicates that past practices in management education need to be scrutinised and reviewed with a view to improved capabilities in graduating students (Gosling & Mintzberg 2004, 2006; Pfeffer & Fong 2002, 2004; Rubin and Dierdorff 2009). …