Managing change at Cox’s Container Company Case Study
Read the case study ‘Managing change at Cox’s Container Company’. The case or a link to the case can be found on Blackboard and the full reference for this case study is:
Corbett, J. M. (1994) Critical cases in organisational behaviour (Palgrave/Macmillan), pp. 154-155 (Case 33).
Answer the following question:
- Outline and analyse the problems confronting CCC in the short and long term and offer recommendations for their resolution.
Please note that you should draw upon material from any or all sections of the OB unit as appropriate. This is a case that says a lot about organizational structures and cultures and processes of managing change (as well as motivations and power) and which also invites you to examine these issues in some depth (although choices about how much breadth and depth to go into will inevitably have to be made due to the word limit).
For further detailed guidance, please make sure you read very carefully the attached Guide to Analyzing OB Case Studies, which sets out at the end how the case study will be marked. Your answer should use the case study format outlined in that guide and should be 2,000 words in length (inclusive of references, etc).
A GUIDE TO ANALYSING OB CASE STUDIES
Using Case Studies
Cases are intended to provide vicarious experience based on real situations, allowing you to ‘observe’ the internal affairs of organisations and to develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Whether based on real organisations or more simulated, they require the application of relevant theoretical concepts and models to the analysis of organisational and management problems. Often, they require you to explore a range of issues in a holistic way, drawing upon more than one aspect of the course (e.g. motivation, structure, culture, change management). Whatever the subject area(s), if you expect to find the ‘correct’ answer to a case study problem you are likely to get disillusioned and frustrated! There is usually no one best solution but, rather, a number of different paths, which may lead to a similar outcome. The task is to identify a path that is likely to solve the immediate and long-term problems in the case without causing unintended negative outcomes.
The standards expected in analysing OB cases are that:
An answer should demonstrate your ability to analyse the facts presented in the case. It should highlight your understanding of relevant theories, concepts and research findings and your ability to relate these, in a well-reasoned discussion, to the facts given. It should demonstrate emphasis on the most important issues and explain the assumptions, conclusions and recommendations you make. An answer that is merely a statement of your conclusions will receive very little credit.
Although different cases may require slightly different approaches, a standard format with which to approach a case analysis is suggested below. This should help you to structure your case analysis and, even if this precise format is not required to answer the case study questions, it provides you with an outline of the essential steps needed in preparing your case study report.
Step 1. First reading
Read the cased study as you would a short story, trying to understand the general points that are being realised and the characters involved.
Step 2. Second Reading and Summarising
It is at this stage that you will want to proceed more systematically. Make a summary of the contents of the case study. The following questions should help you do this:
- What is the case study about?
- What are the main issues highlighted?
Note: This summary does not need to appear in your assignment. The starting point for the actual writing of your case study assignment is Step 3 below).
Step 3. Problem Identification
By this point, you should be ready to start writing your case study. First, try to define what the critical problem is in the case study. This may or may not be particularly easy. In addition, sub-problems may be present which may also influence the situation. You do not need to analyse the problems at this stage, but you should prioritise them. The following questions should help you:
- What seems to be causing the ‘problems’ in the case?
- What further information might be needed to help you understand the causes of the problems?
Step 4. Analysis
This is the most important part of the case study (see ‘balance of marks’ below). Analyse the situation that has led to the problem(s) you have identified. At this stage, you will need to relate the theoretical material covered in lectures, textbooks and journals to the issues and problems you have identified. You might need to cover one, some or several topic areas covered in the course. Remember too that the theories and concepts you apply to the case will inevitably be partial and incomplete – dealing with some, but not all, aspects of the problem. They may even be controversial or contested, in which case you might need to work at demonstrating their relevance and usefulness. Consequently, you should use the theories and concepts collectively as a ‘toolbox’ for analysing the case, probably using more than one theory or model (and possibly several) to analyse each issue. You might use the following types of questions to help you:
- Is this an issue or problem that is concerned with one or several aspects of the subject area?
- Which theories and concepts you have covered might help you to explain what is going on?
- How do these theories and concepts explain what is going on?
- Are other concepts and theories needed to analyse other aspects of the problem?
- Are they needed to provide ‘triangulation’ to bolster certain parts of your analysis?
Step 5. Alternatives
Based on your identification of the problem(s) and through your analysis, it should now be possible to highlight a variety of alternative course of action that can be taken. It is useful to identify a number of general alternatives (say 3 or 4) that address all parts of the problem(s) you have identified. (An obvious starting point here is to consider ‘do nothing’ as the default option!) As in any real situation, no alternative is likely to be ideal, so each should be evaluated in terms of its pros and cons (in dealing with all aspects of the problem), as well as the risks involved in implementation of any change required.
Step 6. Recommendation
After outlining all the alternatives available, you must now make a clear recommendation regarding which of the alternatives you prefer. Again, the following questions will be helpful:
- What needs to be done to resolve the case study problem?
- In what ways do these resolutions relate to the theoretical analysis of the case?
Step 7. Plan of Action
The final stage of case analysis is the most practically focused and involves outlining the procedure by which you would implement your recommendation. The following questions might help you:
- Which people might be involved?
- How long would the process take?
- What parts of the organisation might be affected?
- What sorts of side effects might be expected?
Avoid excessive problem identification. It is too easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time identifying or listing problems (including superficial aspects such as conflict or poor communications) without spending enough time and not enough time analysing and understanding them. Think about it – a doctor treats a cough and chest pains as symptoms, but only a deeper diagnosis will get to the underlying medical problem or problems. It’s the same with case analysis.
Analysis is not just conjecture. A vital feature of good case study reports is that they tend to be analytical, rather than subjective and judgmental. They tend to expose how and why various conditions link together (i.e. expose inter-relationships) and how they produce particular outcomes. They rely on theories and research findings to understand and evaluate the case problems and to support suggestions about how those problems could be tackled.
In contrast, poor case study reports rely on personal judgements, conjecture and prejudice, rather than on analysis. In poor case study reports, the author takes side with little or no evaluation and expresses subjective likes and dislikes. Advice on what should have been done is given, without first focusing on how the main problems can be understood and tackled. Statements like ‘all the problems would be solved if the process was re-engineered’ are given without support or consideration of their consequences. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but it is surprisingly easy to slip into conjecture, rather than analysis. To avoid conjecture, you might want to ask yourself a series of ‘why’ questions, such as:
- Why have I made this statement?
- Why have I come to this conclusion?
- Why are there these problems?
Analysis is not just description. Avoid the trap of simply re-describing the original case study in your report in your own words. Your tutor knows what the case study said, so get straight on to problem identification and, most importantly, your analysis. You should certainly use examples from the case to illustrate theoretical concepts and your main argument, so do not go to the other extreme and present a lengthy review of the literature without ever mentioning the case! Use theories to inform your understanding of the particular problems you have identified in the case, but let the problems identified in the case drive your arguments and use of theories (rather than letting the history of the subject area do that!). Remember that a case study represents an integration of theory and practice.
Be selective. You can’t hope to cover every possible theoretical angle or research finding that may apply to the case, so there is a need to be selective. The word limit will force you to make choices in the range of material you include to enable you to develop a good depth of analysis in the areas you explore. A good case study will therefore achieve a nice balance between breadth of coverage and depth of analysis – not trying to cover everything too superficially; but not narrowing the subject area too tightly and going into too much depth in any one area.
Integration. Take a look at your case study report as a whole to check that your arguments are logical and that the inter-relationships between different points are clear. Finally, make sure that your arguments are clear to the reader and that you have reached a conclusion that captures the most significant aspects of your analysis.
Use a proper referencing style. The ‘Harvard system’ of referencing is the simplest and preferred system of referring to book and articles in the text, so please use this. For example: Smith (2012) or (Smith, 2012), depending on context. If you do use direct quotes, make sure this is clear and that page numbers are also indicated (e.g. Smith, 2012, p. 75). Make sure too that you give full details of sources used and referred to in the text in an alphabetical list of ‘References’ or ‘Bibliography’ at the end. Further information on proper referencing should be available from your course handbooks.