A reflective OU MBA study and action journal on management-related topics.

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A post I wrote on innovation for the OU’s Business Perspectives portal.

Business Perspectives

Guest blogger:

Fiona Beukes Fiona Beukes, The Open University MBA, UK Marketing specialist, BNY Mellon

Innovation in some respects is like the Holy Grail of business – How do you do it: disruptive or continuous? How do you foster it in your organisation: Incentives? Creative downtime? Hire the right talent? Although these are obviously worthy avenues to explore, they do take time to implement.

I think many organisations are hampered by their internal environment which prevents a dynamic, agile response to market change. There is definitely a tension, in my view, between Grant’s internal resource perspective and Porter’s economic view of the workings of the external business environment.

From a practical perspective, I also think many companies find it hard to innovate through disruptive change. In my view, the larger and larger an organisation becomes the more bounded I feel it is to its BAU (Business as Usual)…

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Written by ona76

31/10/2012 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Theory-In-Action

New world order

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Well despite my best intentions I haven’t managed to update my blog for more than a month! But I have a good excuse seeing as I started a new job a few weeks ago. I also found out my OU MBA result. I was awarded a Merit so I am “well-chuffed” as they say! I am now busy working out the details of my graduation ceremony. I am hoping for Paris and the Palais de Congress Versailles. It’s not everyday you can graduate from the grounds of a palace…shame it isn’t the Chateau itself, but I think my husband believes my ego is inflated enough already!

In many ways it seems that my MBA journey is over. No more assignments to write-oh the horror-or projects to research. But in other ways a new world order has been created and I see the world differently. I have already been researching the value of process mapping the customer’s sales and marketing journey and thinking in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. What can I say, I am a changed woman.

I’m still interested in further study and I hear that the OU are thinking of launching a Distance learning DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) so my plan is to keep blogging and researching whilst I dream up a practical business project as my next study goal. For now, however, I will enjoy my time off and new job.

Taking ownership of your personal development

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One of the main mantras that prevail in the personal improvement/effectiveness movement is this idea of personal responsibility and ownership. The discourse tends to argue that you can improve yourself by “owning” your own destiny. Take on a new project, develop a “can-do” attitude or change how you see problems. The theory seems to state that we are all happier and more committed when we have a sense of meaning and a level of autonomy in our lives. Apparently, we are less stressed as a result.

Tips three and five in the Harvard Management Tips book builds on this idea by advising you to open your mind to new things and increase your desire to learn. Ask questions and find ways to apply your expertise to different situations. Adopt a learner’s approach. Tip eight advises you to stop making excuses for your bad behaviours and change! Think of the impact your character flaws have on others around you.

How to change your behaviour is outlined in Tip 33. Firstly, you should take ownership and believe you can change. Secondly, be patient and persist with your personal changes. Thirdly, accept any difficulties you encounter on the way. Fourthly, refuse to be distracted. Fifthly maintain your changes constantly. If you can persist with your changes you will find that you are a better leader, apparently!

I guess a good way to start improving yourself is to audit your behaviour and ask others for feedback. Feedback seems to be a key requirement in the self-improvement process. I would accept that it serves as a useful reality check, but only if someone is willing to accept other people’s criticisms of their conduct.

Although I do wonder sometimes, whether our character flaws are what make us human. If we change too many things about ourselves, do we deny the past experiences that brought us there in the first place? Who has the authority to change you? Why should you change if you get things done well? And when do we stop improving? How long does this process continue for? The phrase life-long learning is very popular, but can you really teach an old dog, new tricks? So many questions – I guess I must be opening up my mind!

Harvard Business School, (2011) “Management Tips from Harvard Business Review”, Boston, Massachusetts, Harvard Business Review Press, p5, p7, p10, p43.

Finding Feedback to Improve your Performance

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Feedback Flower

Feedback Flower (Photo credit: jonathanpberger)

One of the main ways to improve your “self” is to ask for feedback from friends, family and work colleagues. In theory, inviting feedback on your performance should help you understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s also a way of clarifying your perceptions and ideas about your own performance. The Harvard Business Review Management Tips 4, 7 and 8 expand on this ideology.

For instance, there is a suggestion about meeting with former co-workers each month to keep in touch and well-informed about industry changes. And that you could use this session to invite feedback on your contributions to your industry’s space. Another tip suggests that you reflect on your annual work performance review to find ways of turning any highlighted weaknesses into strengths. Furthermore, you are encouraged to ask people who you are in continual contact with (such as direct reports, peers and customers) to critique your ideas and approaches.

But can we deal with this level of constant feedback? How much can one’s ego take? Is it possible that we could just develop a hard exterior shell to deflect so-called constructive criticism? Will our defensive mechanisms deep within our sub-conscious rise up to protect us? No doubt asking for feedback on our performance is a necessary activity from time-to-time, but could it end up being an exhaustive pursuit distracting us from actually getting things done?

The personal improvement industry is a very Americanised one. I sometimes wonder how well ideas developed by North American gurus translate in Europe or even the UK. Our cultural worldviews have been honed by differing socio-economic paradigms, language, and historical contexts. For example, Europe, including the UK, too a large extent has socialistic, liberal and secular leanings. The US in comparison seems to have a more individualistic culture emphasising personal autonomy and responsibility.

McCabe (2011) in his article Opening Pandora’s Box touches on these considerations in his analysis of the effectiveness of Stephen Covey’s ideas in a UK context.  He believes Covey’s ideas are entrenched in the American dream of freedom and self-determination (p186) and are therefore context-specific. McCabe’s main argument is that ideas are hard to implement as intended because interpretation, context and organisational make-up can markedly influence the end result.

I remember a time early in my career when 360-feedback was introduced as part of the annual performance review. It was a disaster. Senior members of staff, whom you would have liked feedback from, did not have time to respond to your requests, and personal agendas from colleagues surfaced in the feedback/criticism.

Maybe this situation occurred because it was an HR/senior staff implementation failure or because new American owners wanted to take charge. But I don’t think it was much of a coincidence that a quarter of the department left by the end of the year. I suspect that many people were not keen on the new working environment! Extensive organisational change I think can trigger unanticipated behaviour. After all, people make up organisations!

I am more of a fan of feedback with specific evidence. For example, “that was good/bad because of doing X and Y”.  It anchors people to unambiguous action. Daniel Pink’s book discusses how children respond to direct feedback and not generalities. Pink suggests praising effort and strategy as children are more likely to take on more difficult tasks that stretch and develop them.

Pink also implies that adults need meaningful achievement too. He believes that Type 1 behaviour (intrinsic satisfaction derived from a task) such as displayed by Warren Buffet or Mozart is made from circumstance, experience and context.  It stems from a human desire to improve and master something that matters to others. So maybe we can all become more effective as long as we are willing.


Pink, D. H. (2009), “Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates us”, Cannogate Press, Edinburgh, pp178-79.

McCabe, D. (2011). Opening Pandora’s Box: The Unintended Consequences of Stephen Covey’s Effectiveness Movement Management Learning, 42 (2), 183-197

Written by ona76

25/04/2012 at 8:15 pm

My leadership vision

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Using the handy Harvard Management Tips booklet for guidance, I have decided to work through its advice to see whether I can improve my management perspective and self. Tip one advises you to clarify and refine your leadership vision by articulating your values and re-examining your goals for the future.  It says to find a few important episodes in your life that you think defines your values/you.

I guess one important value for me will be the achievement of my MBA in June 2012. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I have enjoyed the course materials and the re-development of my analytical thought processes. It has left me wanting more, particularly now that I feel that I have mastered the art of writing merit-graded assignments! Maybe that’s a little self-absorbed, but it feels nice to gain academic validity from something that I have put a lot of effort into. I’m a better student, more careful and mature, than I was when I completed a BA in English in my early twenties.

Another rather important value for me is nurturing my family. It has taught me to be a little less self-absorbed and more considerate of others. I think I’m more ethical and interested in longer-term, more sustainable things because of it. Before marriage and children I was more hyper and impatience. I’ve learnt to temper some of that by listening more and trying harder to see beyond the right-now. Mind you, it’s not always easy!

After thinking of what these episodes mean, you then need to write a personal leadership statement explaining the type of leader you want to become and the contributions you want to make by 2025. I assume this means how you want to lead yourself and not others. In that context, I hope that I’ll be using my talents and expertise to keep myself busy! If I’m a little more specific I hope that I have a Ph.D. and a sustainable writing career. I hope I can keep myself motivated and open to new perspectives and ideas. If I manage to influence others and gain some sort of recognition for it in years to come then that would obviously be a bonus.

Tip 46 builds on this leadership vision by suggesting that you develop a leadership brand and articulate it in a statement. Mine is “I want to be known for good research skills so that I can deliver useful ideas and perspectives to others”. Once you have your leadership brand you should ask others for feedback on whether or not you are living up to your brand. Let’s see how the next few months pan out for me!


Harvard Business School, (2011) “Management Tips from Harvard Business Review”, Boston, Massachusetts, Harvard Business Review Press, pp: 3, & 60.

Continuous Self-Development

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Although I’m working on my last OUBS assignment “What makes a Good Manager?”, I have been distracted by a handy little Harvard Management Tips book I picked up in WH Smith recently. The book is a compilation of the Harvard Business Review‘s Management Tip of the Day and suggests “useful”personal development, team and business advice. It has given me an idea. I fancy blogging my way through the advice and sharing my experience of it here. A sort of Julie and Julia approach (the American girl who blogged her way through a 1950s cookbook but I’d be doing it on management.).

The first tip is to Create a New Leadership Vision. I need to articulate my values and re-examine my goals for the future. I will then need to draft a statement illustrating what I hope to have achieved by 2025! I’m not sure I can even think that far ahead. It is already making me feel older than I am already. And what does it mean by leadership and major contributions? I assume it is about how I plan on leading myself to something big. But will I drink (you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!) by the time I get there?  What if I change my mind? And what if my goals are not to win a Nobel Prize but rather more mundane?

Well, I suppose some of the things that might make my personal development list this week are: potential Ph.D study and my imput as a Professional Advisor to the OUBS’ Alumni Advisory Board. Although I didn’t make it to a seat on the board, I have been offered an expertise role, which is very exciting. I will hopefully find out more in the coming weeks.  My research into Ph.D. programmes continues too. At the moment, my research ideas are about blogging and reflection, the limitations of reflection, and entrepreneurship. All the research ideas are works-in-progress. Hopefully, I’ll have some further inspiration once I press “submit” on my last MBA assignment.

Last MBA essay in sight

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Phew! I managed to hand in my last tutor marked assignment (TMA 03) two weeks ago. I was more than happy to press send on that 7,500 monster, packed with evidence and, hopefully, insightful commentary. It consumed so much of my time in January and early February that I didn’t have a spare thought to blog. It also had the added pressure of being worth 50% of the overall assignment marks. Writing for fun is so much easier. When you have to submit content for marking it is really stressful. Well for me, anyway.

The assignment situation reminded me of Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” and his chapters on intrinsic motivation. Here he discusses research undertaken by Amabile on commissioned and non-commissioned art work and the role creativity plays in it. He states that a panel of experts, not privy to the design of Amabile’s experiment, constantly rated the non-commissioned art work as more “creative”. The artists even stated that they felt constrained by commissioned pieces. Sometimes it seems the boundaries of the task or the context itself really “fences you in” to paraphrase Cole Porter.

Although the end of my OU MBA journey is in sight, I still have one last exam to complete. This time I have to submit a 2,000 word essay on the role of management theory and whether a perfect manager can ever exist. I can certainly think of examples of what makes a bad manager! I have started with my refreshed mind-mapping skills and had fun reversing the open exam question. It’s funny how looking at the question in a different light can give you a new perspective. I hope to complete this essay by the end of March – then I can enjoy a stress-free Easter break.

But the more pressing question for me is what happens next? Once my B830 module is completed in April I will just be awaiting my final MBA result. So far I’m focussed on two potential areas continuing on with academia and embarking on a Ph.D. or just writing more. In order to take more action on the former, I’m attending the Post-Graduate Ph.D. Fair in Victoria this weekend. I’m hoping to meet some university representatives and discuss their different management programmes. I quite like the idea of going to CASS or Birkbeck because I could self-fund my studies. On the latter, I’m going to blog more regularly and launch my online management magazine. My husband even bought me the Genius Guide to WordPress – I think he’s worried that I’ll have too much time on my hands soon!

Written by ona76

08/03/2012 at 1:27 pm

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