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Assignments: Guidelines
To understand what is expected in the assignments, be sure to examine the Assignment Example; it is intended to give you direction regarding the structure and content of your assignments.

As indicated previously, your assignments must be divided into predetermined sections. It is important that you fully understand what is expected in each section. To help you, each section is described below.

Executive Summary

As its name suggests, the Executive Summary should summarize the document’s contents. While this may seem obvious, far too often an executive summary introduces a document rather than summarizing it. To avoid this, it is imperative that you keep in mind that an executive summary should stand on its own. Think of it as a thumbnail image on a website. The goal in displaying a thumbnail is to reduce the download time or to allow you to see multiple images simultaneously. If you like one of the images, you can click on it to see a more detailed (i.e., higher resolution) version. The same goes for an executive summary. It should provide a rough idea of the document’s contents but should save the details for those who are sufficiently interested to read the entire document.

It is essential that the Executive Summary not be too long. Actual length often depends on the length of the document being described. It also depends on professional norms. That said, it would be unusual for an executive summary to be more than 10% of the entire document. And more often than not, it would be closer to 5% of the overall length, particularly when there is a word limit on the length of the overall document (as is the case with your assignments).

Introduction and Company Overview

The Introduction and Company Overview should introduce the reader to the report. Since your report is focused on a single organization, among other things, it should introduce that organization. In the first two assignments, the organization will not need much of an introduction, since the marker will have read the case on which your assignment is based. But in Assignment 3, you cannot assume that the marker knows anything at all about the organization. For this reason, it is essential for you to provide sufficient context to make sense of the subsequent sections. Toward this end, you may also need to introduce the organization’s industry.

Author(s) of analytical documents often discuss the limitations of their report. This may happen in a separate section toward the end, or even in the conclusion. However, because you are not required to provide a conclusion to your report, you ought to discuss any limitations in your Introduction and Company Overview. While you need not go into too much detail, you should at least identify the sources or assumptions on which your report depends. Additionally, you should identify the sources or information that would enable you to provide a more detailed or more confident analysis.

Mandate

In Lesson 1 and Lesson 2, you will learn about organizations’ mandates. Briefly, an organization’s mandate describes why it exists, what it hopes to accomplish, and the limits to what it will do. Every organization has a mandate, and many make their mandate, or at least a portion of it, explicit in the form of a mission statement, vision, core values, etc. However, as you will learn, these public declarations often have more to do with window dressing than guiding the organization’s actions. The publicly stated mandate is not always the same as the assumed mandate. It is important to recognize this distinction, for it is the latter that you are to provide in your assignments, not the former. If you find that the organization does not have a mandate, then your role is to ascertain what the Mandate is from the information provided or you have obtained.

In your assignments, your Mandate should be divided into four elements. The first is the Mission Statement or Core Purpose. The second is the Vision and/or Major Goals. Third is the organization’s Core Values or, alternatively, its Guiding Principles. The final element is the Stakeholder Analysis.

Each of the foregoing should be kept relatively brief—even briefer than they might be in reality. So while some organizations might have lengthy mission statements, your Mission Statement or Core Purpose should be no longer than a couple of sentences. The same is true of the Vision and/or Major Goals. Ideally, an organization’s vision will be quite detailed. However, you should need just a few sentences to convey your understanding of what the organization hopes to be and/or accomplish in the long term. This also applies to the organization’s major goals. If your organization has more than a handful, you need include in your assignments only the five or six that convey the most important outcomes.

As with the other elements of the mandate, the Core Values/Guiding Principles should reflect your impressions of the organization’s core values. This is particularly important if your organization has a code of conduct, which is often quite detailed. It’s up to you to distill this code into a handful of values or principles that convey how this organization expects its representatives to conduct themselves. Somewhere between five and ten values or principles ought to suffice within the context of your assignments.

Stakeholder Analysis is the final element of the mandate. A full-blown stakeholder analysis can be a report unto itself. For your assignments, all that is required is a list of the most important stakeholders and their most important implications for the organization you are analyzing.

External Analysis

An external analysis is a review of the organization’s industry, as well as the societal forces that shape it. Usually, the objective of an external analysis is to identify an organization’s opportunities and threats. When an organization can increase the size of its operations or accrue more benefits from its existing operations, it has opportunities. When there is potential for reduced activity levels or for fewer benefits from these activities, the organization is facing threats. Needless to say, the goal of every organization is to exploit its opportunities and eliminate its threats.

Lesson 3 provides you with a variety of tools with which to carry out an external analysis. Ideally, each of these tools should be utilized. The usefulness of a particular tool will vary depending on the organization and its circumstances. Nevertheless, whenever possible, and to the degree possible, you should attempt to use each tool. That said, you should not include the results of these attempts in the body of your assignments. If included at all, they should be in Exhibits at the end of the report. In the body of your report, you should instead provide a well-argued statement of the organization’s opportunities and threats that builds on the analyses that you undertook with the tools from Lesson 3.

The manner in which you organize the External Analysis section is up to you. You will need to consider the information you have at your disposal and how much space you intend to devote to this section. This decision, in turn, will depend on how much space you think you need for other sections. So before you write this section, make sure you have a clear vision of the structure of your report, its argument, and the emphasis to be given to each section.

Internal Analysis

In contrast with an external analysis, which examines the world of which the organization is a part, an internal analysis looks inward at the organization itself. Ideally, it provides an objective assessment of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Needless to say, strengths and weaknesses are relative measures and, for this reason, the Internal Analysis does make reference to the world outside the organization. Even so, the emphasis is decidedly internal, with the Internal Analysis being, on the one hand, an inventory of what the organization has and, on the other, an inventory of what it can do (and how well it does it).

Some of the tools with which an internal analysis is carried out are described in Lesson 4. As with the external analysis, the utility of these tools will vary from case to case. And here as well, you are not expected to include the raw results of the tools’ application in your reports. Instead, you are once again expected to sift through these results and, after considering how much space you will devote to the Internal Analysis, to decide which information you are going to include. As above, how this information is organized is up to you. In the end, what you will be evaluated on is the specific strengths and weaknesses that you identify and the level of support that you provide for them.

Strategic Options

In this section, you are expected to provide three distinct strategies for the organization being analyzed along with a balanced assessment of each strategy. In the context of this section, strategy is used in the broadest sense. In fact, it might even be better to invoke the concept of a business model here, provided that it is used in the broad sense described in your textbook. Whatever the term, you are required to put forward three distinct directions in which the organization might go in its efforts to carry out its mission and realize its vision.

The Collis and Rukstad (2008) article from Lesson 1 explains how a strategy can be articulated in a sentence or two. As well, the five basic elements of a strategy are described in the Hambrick and Frederickson article assigned in Lesson 5. Briefly, these include the differentiators, the arenas, the vehicles, the staging, and the economic model. If not explicitly, then implicitly, you will describe each of these for each strategy. It is also expected that the strategies you propose will be compatible with the organization’s mandate and its situation. And in that regard, it is assumed that you will provide an assessment of each strategy that allows its pros and cons to be compared with those of the other strategies.

Recommendation and Implementation

In the Strategic Options section of your reports, you are expected to identify several options for the organization being analyzed. In this final section of your report, you are expected to recommend one of those options and then elaborate on it. More specifically, you are expected to provide some guidance with respect to how the recommended option ought to be implemented.

In this section, you need not review the details you provided in the previous section. Nevertheless, you may end up doing so as you elaborate on the strategy you have recommended. The goal in this section is to address implementation issues. On one side of the coin are the things that the organization will need to do, and for these you will draw heavily on the ideas presented in Lesson 12. On the other side of the coin are the things that can go wrong, meaning the things the organization needs to watch out for. What are the key risks? What could stop the strategy you have proposed from being successful? And what, if anything, can be done in the event that something does go wrong?

The challenge in writing this section will be deciding what should and should not be included. You could easily use up all of the space in your report (and much, much more) on implementation issues alone. Thus, you will need to have a clear sense of the amount of space you can devote to this section and the information that ought to be included. This decision will depend in part on the organization being analyzed. If it’s a very large organization, the implementation effort may be outlined at a very high level of abstraction. If it’s a small organization, it may get into specific details regarding particular individuals, processes, or products.

Exhibits

Your assignment may contain up to ten pages of exhibits. These exhibits will not be marked per se and, in fact, may not even be examined. Nevertheless, they could have an influence on your mark if the marker decides that something you suggested in the body of your assignment would be significant if it were better substantiated. For example, you may wish to provide pro forma financial statements as an exhibit in order to support your earnings projections.

As with the word count, if you exceed the limit of ten pages of exhibits, your assignment will be returned to you unmarked. And should this happen more than once, you will receive a grade of zero on the assignment.

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