A Costa Rican Experience in Sustainable Business Operations
Action learning is a powerful tool for developing the skills needed in today’s dynamic and complex global business environment. Action learning projects (ALPs) that successfully expands the world view of students and develops their capabilities for multicultural, analytical, and collaborative problem solving is essential to their future success as leaders and their ability to make informed decisions in the context of a global economy. In addition, action learning projects benefit businesses whose operating problems are addressed by student teams who participate in the projects (Randolph & Nielson, 2007). In today’s global economy, all managers need to understand the political, economic and social forces that shape the environment in which their businesses operate. Thus, the international course explores the challenges faced by businesses that operate in Latin America with specific emphasis being placed on the economic, social and environmental forces that affect business performance. Students will have the opportunity to work directly with local organizations to solve problems that have adversely impacted their potential to grow in a sustainable, environmentally sensitive manner.
The course is designed to provide students an international business experience that focuses on organizational sustainability in the context of social, economic and environmental factors. Students will be provided the opportunity to support local business owners in resolving a mix of operating problems of which the maintenance of the environmental integrity of the Costa Rican rain forest will be of primary consideration. The organizational impact on the environment and sustainable business practices will be examined as well as social issues and governmental influences. Students will spend time evaluating the business models of local businesses to better understand their operating practices and problems (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to support the development of a business proposal (recommendations and conclusions) that support the implementation of sustainable business operations. Prior to departure to Costa Rica students will be required to conduct preliminary research that informs their understanding of the business environment that exists within Costa Rica and the specific business operations of the organizations that their respective teams will work with while in Costa Rica.
The PMBA cohort will visit each business site where they will receive a briefing from the business owners who will describe the unique operating problems which limit their potential for growth. Once these cohort-level briefings are completed, each student team will then engage in more detailed discussions (one-on-one) with their respect organization’s business owner. Following their on-site visit during the subsequent 6 months student teams will work to analyze the data collected during their visit and any additional data collected during their pre and post trip research to formulate a written proposal which addressees the problems associated with their respective organization. Each team’s written proposal will be accompanied by an oral presentation and executive summary to faculty for evaluation. The written proposal will be forwarded to the respective business owners for review and consideration. The collaborative relationships established between the PMBA cohort and their Costa Rican business clients may be sustained through subsequent PMBA cohorts as may be appropriate to support the execution of the proposal (translation into an operating business plan).
In addition to the business development aspects of the international trip, the cohort will engage in a community service project that will allow the members of the cohort to make a meaningful contribution to the Costa Rican education system. The project involves the adoption of a local elementary school which in need of supplies and services as well as structural repair and/or maintenance. The cohort will communicate with local school officials to identify areas of greatest need and coordinate the delivery of services that the cohort deems it is most capable of providing and can effectively fulfilled during the visit.
To support their organization’s efforts to gain and sustain a competitive advantage in the global economy, graduates of the Professional MBA program should apply their leadership and management competencies to acquire, deploy and develop human resources in a spirit of inclusion and respect for differences, grow shareholder value, protect the best interest of stakeholders, maintain a high standard of ethical conduct, and support the implementation and execution of organizational objectives in a manner that protect the environment, satisfies the expectations of society, and enables the realization of desired business outcomes.
Rigor and Educational Objectives and Bloom’s Taxonomy*:
What is “rigor”? Rigor is a term you’ll hear frequently as a Daniels student. Sometimes individuals define it as the amount of homework associated with a course; other times it might be construed as the level of difficulty or complexity of a particular assignment. While both of these statements are correct, we at Daniels prefer to define “rigor” as the educational process applied to develop our students’ critical thinking skills. During this process, we will challenge you to not only know and understand the theoretical concepts that you will be exposed to throughout the degree program, but to apply those concepts in that supports their synthesis and evaluation to create new knowledge and understanding. The terms that we apply to support this process are defined below.
In 1956, Benjamin Bloom headed a group of educational psychologists who developed a classification of levels of intellectual behavior important in learning. Bloom found that over 95% of the questions students encounter requires them to think only at the lowest possible level...the recall of information. Bloom identified six levels, from the simple recall or recognition of facts, as the lowest level, through increasingly more complex and abstract levels, to the highest order which is classified as evaluation. Verb examples that represent intellectual activity on each level are listed in the chart below. In the 21st Century, the ability to engage in careful, reflective thought has been viewed in various ways—as a fundamental characteristic of an educated person, as a requirement for responsible citizenship, and more recently as an employability factor for an increasingly wide range of professions. Thinking skills are necessary tools in a society characterized by rapid change, ambiguous work environments, alternative courses of action, and numerous individual or collective choices and decisions. It is for these reasons that Daniels’ students are evaluated based on their demonstrated ability to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate the theoretical concepts presented throughout their degree programs. Thus, we equate the term “rigor” with the comprehensive pedagogical process of preparing students to think critically.
Competence Skills Demonstrated:
•observation and recall of information •knowledge of dates, events, places •knowledge of major ideas •mastery of subject matter •Cues that “demonstrate knowledge” of key concepts:
•understanding information •grasp meaning •translate knowledge into new context •interpret facts, compare, contrast •order, group, infer causes •predict consequences •Cues that “demonstrate comprehension” of key concepts:
•compare and discriminate between ideas •assess value of theories, presentations •make choices based on reasoned argument •verify value of evidence •recognize subjectivity •Cues which demonstrate the “ability to evaluate” key concepts:
* Adapted from: Bloom, B.S. (Ed.) (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals: Handbook I, Cognitive Domain. New York; Toronto: Longmans, Green.
Specifically, the learning from this course will give you the ability to:
1. Analyze the theoretical frameworks that support the effective execution of organizational priorities to successfully achieve desired business outcomes.
2. Apply the cumulative knowledge and skills acquired in the PMBA curriculum to evaluate specific organizational challenges and propose appropriate solutions
3. Understand the affects of environmental constraints on the development of sustainable business practices and the successful execution of organizational strategy.
4. Apply intercultural sensitivity and perspectives that considers global environmental issues and their impact on people, profit and products.
5. Apply leadership and management competencies that enable effective collaboration and problem solving in a multicultural global context
6. Develop the professional competencies necessary to actively participate in the development of problem solutions that enable sustainable growth and organizational development.
The following assignments and activities will serve as the basis for evaluating student performance during the course. Your final grade will be based on a percentage. Grades may range from “A” (outstanding achievement) to “F” (failure), as indicated in the Student Handbook and on the web site.
94-100 = A
90-93.99 = A-
87-89.99 = B+
84-86.99 = B
80-83.99 = B-
75-79.99 = C+
72-75.99 = C
Each assignment has specific evaluation and grading criteria associated with it. Please carefully review the following assignment descriptions for specific deliverables. If at any point you are unsure of what is required for any assignment you are encouraged to immediately ask your professor for clarification. Professionalism defined: Professional behavior is expected of all students. This includes preparation for classes and appropriate participation in the form of attentiveness and contributions to the learning experience. Respect for the academic process is the major guiding principle for professional behavior and extends to all communications, including e-mail.
As may be appropriate, examination dates are listed in the class schedule. If you are in LEP or DSP, and need additional time to complete an examination, please arrange to take the exam in the LEP/DSP offices at the beginning of the quarter.
Course grades will be comprised of the following components:
· Written Proposal - 50%
· Status Update Report - 15%
· Team Presentation - 35%
Specific deliverables for each graded component of the course are contained in the Documents section of Blackboard. The presentation and final report are due the last day of class during the winter quarter of 2010. Specific instructions regarding the oral presentation schedule will be presented at the beginning of the winter quarter. The status update report is due at the end of the 5th week of the autumn quarter 2009. All team members must participate in the international trip to satisfy course requirements. Failure to do so will result in a grade of F for the course.
Students who participate positively learn more and do better in the course.
1. Class participation is based on the quality and quantity of your contribution to learning. This grade will be assessed based on the following components:
a. Preparation – reading all class assignments.
b. Relevant participation – includes, insights and demonstrated understanding of material, and linkages to theory discussed.
c. Verbal and non-verbal support – includes respect, courtesy, and attentiveness.
d. Participation with your Edge team members should be a positive engagement and should contribute positively toward the work product while encouraging and respecting the thinking and perspectives of others.
Capstone Course Assignment Details
Oral Presentation of Consultative Business Proposal:
This assignment will be prepared and presented by your assigned team members with each team assuming the role of a consulting team. Each team will be expected to conduct pre- and post trip research on the business activities and the operations of their respective organizations. Each team will present their post-trip analysis (oral presentation and written proposal) to their professors at the conclusion of the spring quarter of 2010. Each team’s final written proposal will be provided to their respective business owners for review and consideration during the final quarter of 2010. Each presentation and proposal will include the following:
A. Background –
· Provide a brief description of the results of your team’s preliminary research on the business and/or industry group. This should include a summary of the findings of the Costa Rican trip.
B. Situation Description -
•A short summary of the organization and its operations•Key operational problems which hinder the future profitability and/or continued growth and development of the organization
C. Recommendations and Conclusions –
•What do you suggest as a plan of action to enhance organizational performance and improve operating effectiveness and results? •What stakeholders (employees, community, government, etc.) will be affected by your team’s analysis and recommended actions? How/why? •What assumptions, if any, were made to support your recommendations? •Are the recommendations, if implemented, sustainable?
1. What is their affect on the environment, people, or economic impact on the community?
The oral presentation of the proposal should be approximately 45 minutes in duration with time for questions and discussion. Each team presentation will be evaluated through the use of the Capstone Project Evaluation review form which will be posted on Blackboard prior to the start of the 6th quarter. Each team will submit an “Executive Summary”
of their proposal at the time of the oral delivery of their presentation which will briefly describe the recommended actions and/or conclusions proposed by the team. Each team should use the following format to prepare their executive summary.
Formatting Guidelines for Executive Summary
We use the business analysis process to apply practical experience and theoretical leadership and management concepts to solve real world problems. The expectation is that each student team will collect data and gather information necessary to understand organizational performance problems to form conclusions and/or make recommendations that address the problems or issues identified through the business analysis process (see handout, Diagnosing Organizational Performance Problems). The goal is to provide students with opportunities to practice and master: Critical thinking and the practical application of theoretical concepts to make informed decisions to resolve organizational performance problems.
Part-1, Brief Summary of Facts: Identify the key goals and objectives of the organization and its line of business – approximately 1 to 1 ½ pages in length.
Bullet point statements may be used.
Discussion: Several paragraphs that briefly identify and
discuss the social, economic, or environmental issues that confront the organization and are impacting its ability to achieve its goals and performance objectives.
Part-3, Closing Paragraph:
Briefly describe the alternatives you propose to resolve the key issues or problems that were identified through your research and business analysis.
Propose strong, well-reasoned recommendations and/or conclusions that were formed on the basis of your problem analysis.
Part-4, Bibliography or Reference Page:
Cite any references or sources of information that you used to support your proposal’s recommendations and conclusions.
Appendix: Teams may want to use additional reference material to reinforce recommendations, etc. This could include charts, graphs, or outside research material that may support the recommendations or conclusions drawn.
Written Business Proposal Preparation Guidelines:
Organizations require proposals to help them satisfy a variety of business needs to include; identifying and reviewing current options and evaluating alternative solutions to resolve performance problems. They also want to be convinced or reassured that the path they are on is the one that leads them to the achievement of their desired performance objectives. Or, to receive information that describes the path they ought to be on instead. In so doing, they want you to demonstrate your capabilities and your understanding of their problems and to be sold on your proposed solutions. In short, they want to believe you can help them and that you can answer their most basic question which is, "What should I do to succeed? A great proposal answers this question in a palatable format.
·Plan Before You Write the Proposal -
The first step in writing a proposal is planning. Planning begins with a comprehensive investigation of the owner’s business situation. You must first find and identify the organization’s problems, issues, concerns, and the expectations of current management. This will form the foundation of your entire proposal. The most obvious place to begin is with an in-depth analysis and research of the problems identified during your preliminary and on-ground research investigations. In addition to the discussions you will have with management, when feasible, interviews should be conducted with staff members or employees of the organization to better understand the problem(s), from their perspective. After you have gathered the information, spend time with your team reviewing and analyzing what you have learned about the organization’s operating procedures and business practices. The application of the principles of the SWOT analysis can help you identify what the owner might do to address their current performance problems.
·Discover What the Organization Wants
During the onsite owner interview, explain to the business owner the purpose and objectives of the interview. Make it clear that your goal is to gather information so that you can better understand the owner's goals/objectives, etc. The purpose of the interview is to determine key owner needs and wants. Before the interview, prepare a list of questions based on your preliminary analysis and research that may stimulate discussion of the issues. During the meeting, do more listening than talking and take good notes.
After the investigative process, you must ask yourself these questions: "Do we understand the real issues of the organization and can we solve them, or propose feasible solutions?" Your ability to propose feasible solutions or the formulation of conclusions and recommendations is directly related to your understanding of the issues. If the owner's expectations and goals are not within the team’s capabilities to address, then it may be appropriate to offer alternatives regarding how the organization may obtain the assistance they need, or address the problems which confront them (this could be the basis of your proposal). You should have four or more people on your team. Each has a different level of business experience that can be leveraged to address the operating problems of the organization. Thus, the owner should be given a brief description of your team members’ professional backgrounds and experiences which will be leveraged during the analysis and proposal writing phases of the project.
·Write to Inform with Clear Direct Language
The purpose of your proposal is to inform. You are endeavoring to provide information to the owner(s) that will help provide direction to the decisions they will make to ensure the sustainability of the organization. The owner should feel comfortable taking action based on your ideas or your proposed solutions and/or recommendations. Therefore, you should use positive statements to communicate your ideas. Avoid statements such as "We believe," We think," or “We hope” and replace them with confident, affirmative statements such as, "We will”, "You will”, or “Our analysis show”. Of course, only make such statements if you are indeed confident in your assertions. As an academic learning experience, your team will not be compensated for your efforts, thus no liability is incurred as a result (see Waiver and Release Agreement).When writing your proposal, try to avoid clichés and industry/business jargon. Remember to match the owner's problem with your recommendations and conclusions, etc. Another key writing tip is to keep it short. Many business owners today will not read a lengthy proposal. If you want to include more detail, put it in an appendix. Similarly, do not try to make a proposal appear shorter by cramming too much information onto one page. You almost cannot overdo the number of graphics you have in your proposal. You gain several advantages by using graphs and charts:
* They usually take less space than the printed statistics.
* They are more informative
* They are easy to comprehend.
The Completed Proposal
If you did your preplanning and research competently, then the actual writing of your proposal should be a simple process. Use the owner's name and company logo on the title page with permission). Place it first, and give it prominence. You may add color to make the title page appealing. Put the table of contents after the title page, although some may prefer to have it follow the executive summary.
Write your executive summary as if it were the only part of your proposal that is read by the owner. In fact, your written proposal is really just support material to the executive summary. The executive summary should not exceed four and ½ pages (see instructions above). Keep editing the document until all redundant information is eliminated. Reduce wordy sentences and paragraphs until they are crisp and hard hitting. Open with a strong lead line to gain the owner's interest. Use one or more of the owner's main concerns or problems, and turn it into a positive statement. For example:
After the opening sentence, identify the owner's problems, concerns, and needs in reasonable detail. This demonstrates that you have made good observations, listened, and understood the main issues.
After identifying the problems, offer recommendations with alternatives. The reason for alternatives is that the owner may not agree with all of your solutions and presenting options keeps the dialogue open for further discussion. Highlight the specific benefits the owner will receive by implementing your solutions. Be specific.
Written Proposal Content Suggestions
The bulleted items, 3, 4, and 5 should be included only if they are relevant to the owner's problems, concerns, or issues.
* Statement of the problem – the current challenges the organization needs to overcome to be competitive.
* Detailed analysis of current business environment (internal and external) - an analysis of critical and potential environmental factors that affect the organization’s ability to remain (or become) competitive – analysis of the critical and potential internal skills, capabilities and constraints that affect the clients ability to attain the organization’s goals and objectives.
* Policies and procedures assessment (as appropriate) - analysis of the business practices, policies and procedures that hinder or adversely affects the organization’s ability to execute its business plan and/or achieve its goals and objectives.
* Marketing plans (as appropriate) – an analysis of the organizations current marketing practices and plans as they either support or hinder the organization’s ability to achieve its desired business objectives, or to execute its strategic plan.
* Financing options and/or sources of funds (as appropriate) – an analysis of the organization’s financial position and/or recommendations that address the organization’s ability to raise capital necessary to support the execution of its business plan, or necessary to implement the recommendations included in the proposal.
* Recommendations and conclusions – any specific recommendations that the team wants to propose to the owners should be thoroughly detailed in this section by topical area (e.g., marketing staffing, resources, etc.)
Once the content and format of the proposal are complete, you are ready to forward it to the owner. Here, too, details and appearance are important. When someone gives you a proposal enclosed in an inferior binder, with loose pages and sloppy contents pages, how do you perceive the quality of the person or the work? The written proposal is a reflection of your team and the quality of your work. Binders and section dividers should be user friendly. Information should be easy to find and cross-reference
The Top 10 Checklist
Ask yourself the following review questions as proposed by Tom Sant in his book Persuasive Business Proposals:
1. Is the proposal too vague or abstract?
2. Are the facts accurate?
3. Are the recommendations supported by sufficient evidence, examples, and details?
4. Are there too many details without an overview or sense of perspective?
5. Is there a central and unified theme?
6. Are the parts arranged in a coherent, logical sequence?
7. Is there a closure to each major section?
8. Are the sentences clear and readable?
9. Is the writing appropriate to the owner's expertise?
10. Are there mistakes in grammar, usage, spelling, names, dates, addresses, etc.?
The most important aspect of business plans and/or proposals is the actions or recommendations and conclusions section, with the main purpose being to achieve the maximum return on investment consistent with appropriate economic, social and environmental considerations. Always consider issues appropriate to the organization’s position and/or aims regarding ethics, social responsibility, etc. These are not normal considerations within the typical business analysis and proposal process but are critical reference points in today’s post modern business environment. Descriptions of the typical components of the proposal follow:
1.The Executive Summary - concise summary of everything that’s contained in the formal report (see details above).2.The Market Opportunity (SWOT) - if appropriate quantify the market potential and/or realizable market share - Refer to the competition and real or potential, threats, and advantages over the competition (in terms of strategy, partnerships, etc.). It's logical and appropriate to refer to ethical or corporate social responsibility issues in this section. 3.Strategic Action Plan - actions with outputs necessary to realize objectives and goals etc.; identify costs and required resources where known or applicable. List a logical series of action steps with measurable outputs. 4.Recommendations/Conclusions– Recommendations based on your analysis of the situation that have the potential to resolve the identified issues and operating limitations of the organization
Proposed Schedule...a working copy for general ideas
TBD Leave SLC
TBD Arrive San Jose
TBD Transport to Hotel and check in
Red = Meals that are provided
7:30 am Breakfast at Hotel
9:00 am Intro Welcome meeting with Costa Rican official
Overview of week
11:30 am Lunch on your own in San Jose
1:00 pm City Tour
5:00 pm Meeting with Embassy official/Bus Representative
6:30 pm Dinner provided then on your own and San Jose
Blue = entire cohort events
(spouses are welcomed)
7:30 am Breakfast at Hotel
9:00 am Meeting with Rainforest Alliance
10:30 am Depart for Southern Coast
Noon Lunch together at restaurant on the way
5:00 pm Arrival at hotel and check in
5:30 pm Pool time, dinner, conversation, on your own
Green = cohort business visits
(Spouses are invited)
7:30 am Breakfast at hotel
8:30 am Depart for ½ day school project
Noon Lunch on your own in Dominical
1:30 pm Visit 1st business partner
3:00 pm Free-time for beach, surfing or time in town