Cases in companies

The Case Centre explores how corporate organisations are using cases and the benefits.

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Whether field or desk researched, the subject of most teaching cases in our catalogue is a company, or business situation. While these cases are usually developed for use in the undergraduate, masters or executive classroom, increasing numbers of companies are using them in additional and often innovative ways ranging from research, to marketing, recruitment, product development and branding, to training and cultural transformation. And organisations that have actively participated as case subjects are gaining new opportunities and positive challenges as a result of the experience.

A powerful mirror for reflection

According to Jamie Anderson, Adjunct Professor of Strategy and Innovation Management at the Antwerp Management School and the Lorange Institute, companies that agree to become subjects of a case can potentially reap uniquely powerful benefits when they use the case with their own people at a later date. He cites the cases on Deutsche Telkom he wrote with Sholomo Ben-Hur, as examples of how the exploration of a company situation can help its own employees reflect on the organisation they work for and contribute to ongoing cultural renewal. Deutsche Telekom, under the leadership of CEO René Obermann, proved an open and honest partner for the case research, which looked at the period from 2006, when the previously state-owned, ailing, company, was trying to undergo transformation. The firm allowed the authors extensive access to executives and their truthful impressions, which Anderson feels fed back substantial benefits for the organisation when the finished case was used with its own people.

“The case is all about people understanding the need for change, and reflecting upon past behaviours that saw the organisation face a crisis,” says Anderson. He has been tasked with using the case extensively with hundreds of Deutsche Telekom staff: “By being about their own organisation and written in a very honest way, it creates an impact with employees that could never otherwise be achieved.” He feels the impact of such an exercise can reach the level of each individual: “It helps participants to reflect upon their own behaviours and to appreciate that every single person within the organisation can have an impact in achieving a turnaround.”

Attracting talent

Some organisations use cases to provide a more general insight into in the corporate sector, especially useful for students of subjects other than business. Nicolas Harlé, Partner and Managing Director at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Paris, reports that the company uses cases to train new consultants at various points during their induction. In fact, BCG uses cases even before selection as a way of interesting potential recruits in the intellectual and practical aspects of being a consultant, many of whom may never have considered a career in consulting, or even know what a consulting company is, or does. Harlé, and other colleagues, regularly take time out to go into universities to teach strategy, often using cases with undergraduate classes. “Cases help students understand what BCG’s work is; as well as making a class successful, they can be a good way of simulating what the experience of working as a management consultant will be like.” Cases are also integrated into a BCG competition held at various universities across Europe. Harlé describes this ambitious initiative as “helping talented students know what BCG ‘is’ – marketing, rather than actual recruitment.” It creates a very positive ‘buzz’, he says, and is in no doubt that it contributes to BCG being able to interest a good share of top students in the corporate scramble to attract the best new talent.

Learning for future leaders

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Iain McLaughlin, Head of Global Resourcing and Mobility for KPMG, has indicated that cases are “often used” across the global KPMG network. He describes the practical role they play in staff training and development, in particular how they “assist new employees develop their understanding of specific business issues and situations.” McLaughlin is also responsible for the KPMG International Case Competition (KICC), which has involved as many as 30 countries over the last ten years, engaging the brightest young minds on both a local and international level. According to McLaughlin, “This truly international competition is viewed as a learning experience as well: at the end of each stage, the students are given feedback on their performance and evaluation of the case they were asked to look at; this feedback is then expected to be taken into consideration and used to improve their showing in the next round.” A number of cases are selected each year for use at different stages of the competition. The 2011 Richard Ivey School of Business’ Qantas: Which route out of the turbulence? is an example of a case that was successfully used in the final stages of the 2012 competition. Following several hours of work on the case, teams faced probing questions from KPMG Partners and Directors on the solutions they had proposed, before the winner was selected.

External brand awareness and internal benefits

When the relatively small Portuguese company Renova SA began producing innovative, vividly jewel coloured toilet tissue, it faced a challenge to break into worldwide markets that had rarely bought the product in a colour that was not white or pastel. Luis Saramago, Marketing Director at Renova, is in no doubt that the Award winning INSEAD case Renova Toilet Paper – Avant Garde Marketing in a Commoditized Category has had a substantial impact on promoting global brand awareness and recognition for the company and its products, especially among young people, an important target market. By December 2012, the case in its English, French, Portuguese and Spanish editions, had been used with an extraordinary 5,136 students at 54 institutions in 19 countries, since it was registered with The Case Centre in 2010, providing direct exposure to the brand far wider than the company could have otherwise achieved without substantial resources. Furthermore, wider brand awareness has led to requests for site visits to Renova. Saramago recognises the opportunity this represents: “Renova is an open organisation; every year, the production plants and facilities are visited by more than 10,000 students from many different school levels. The case is helping that number to increase, as requests for new visits are arriving each day. This is a strong opportunity for Renova to engage with new customers, frequently young people.”

Saramago has also taken up requests to join faculty in the classroom teaching the case. This exercise in particular has, he feels, helped the company to fresh insights that have been fed back into new product development: “Rich debate, often with students bringing new perspectives from different countries and markets, has helped us to turn ideas into projects and new working subjects. This work in progress is bringing new, positive, challenges for the company.”

Cases for research and more

Alongside the diverse corporate uses of cases explored above, The Case Centre receives many requests from organisational executives or librarians interested in cases for research purposes, perhaps about a client company, competitor or business trend. The Case Centre’s corporate membership programme facilitates rapid access to such cases at reasonable cost and gives access to a wide range of further management publications and benefits for the corporate environment. For more information on the programme visit www.thecasecentre.org/corpmember.

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