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Studying MBA Abroad: Integrating Theory with Practice

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This paper is a reflection on my own experience learning-by-doing while I was an international student studying on an MBA programme in the UK. It adopts Gibbs' reflective model in an attempt to present a clear vision of my experience of engaging in two consultancy projects as part of the MBA programme. This article also attempts to review the consulting year experience against the Code of Professional Conduct and Practice. It shows how the Code influenced and shaped my approach and how I dealt with any conflicts with the Code. …………………………………………………………………………………………………..
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ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
ISEJ, Volume 4(1), Spring/Summer 2016
© The Author 2016
Student Article
Studying MBA Abroad: Integrating Theory with Practice
Abobakr Aljuwaiber
Community College, Taibah University, Saudi Arabia
Abstract
This paper is a reflection on my own experience learning-by-doing while I was an international
student studying on an MBA programme in the UK. It adopts Gibbs’ reflective model in an
attempt to present a clear vision of my experience of engaging in two consultancy projects as
part of the MBA programme. This article also attempts to review the consulting year experience
against the Code of Professional Conduct and Practice. It shows how the Code influenced and
shaped my approach and how I dealt with any conflicts with the Code.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Introduction
Reflecting on our learning experience is not only about being aware of our aptitude and ability.
Going beyond this, it helps us acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses, understand how we
should approach certain experiences differently, and realise what we have learned. At the
beginning of this paper I would like to share Biggs and Tang’s (2007, pp.43) an views on
reflection:
When you stand in front of a mirror what you see is your reflection,
what you are at the time. Transformative reflection is rather like the
mirror in Snow White: it tells you what you might become. This mirror
uses theory to enable the transformation from the unsatisfactory what-
is to the more effective what-might-be.
In order to provide a comprehensive reflection on my experience, I have adopted Gibbs’ model
illustrated in Figure 1.
ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
ISEJ, Volume 4(1), Spring/Summer 2016
© The Author 2016
Figure 1: Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle. Source: Adapted from Gibbs, G., 1988.
Description: From theory to practice
During the twelve months of my MBA study at UEA, I was required to conduct two different
consultancy projects that provided advice and expertise not only to clients but also to
consultants. These two consultancy projects provided knowledge about conducting
professional projects by utilising advisory tools. I learned how to apply consultancy tools in
business consulting and steer consultancy skills to benefit the client. Furthermore, I understood
that integrity, honesty and trust, among other factors, help improve consultancy quality and
client satisfaction (Sadler, 2001), making business consulting a valuable resource that plays a
vital role in developing businesses and improving an organisation’s performance environment
(Sadler, 2001).
This twelve-month journey was also one of personal development in terms of achieving
the high standards required in professional consultancy. As business consulting has become
crucial for many organisations, particularly due to the downturn in the economy, the consultant
has the opportunity to shape a firm’s future and find solutions for its problems (Biech, 2007).
The Code of Professional Conduct and Practice established by the Institute of Consulting (IC)
enabled me to understand how to be a team player in forging strong bonds with clients, and
providing a unique service with excellent outcomes.
Description
Feelings
Evaluation
Analysis
Conclusion
Action Plan
ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
ISEJ, Volume 4(1), Spring/Summer 2016
© The Author 2016
Feelings: First steps into real business
Working with people in the real business world and delivering a consultancy report was a new
experience for me. Two consultancy projects had to be implemented as a requirement to
complete the MBA. This section presents my impressions during my work on the two
consultancy projects and highlights what went well and what did not. In addition, it serves to
describe my contribution to these projects and the lessons that I learned from this endeavour.
The first consultancy project posed two big challenges. The first was the language
barrier. Being a non-native English speaker had a huge impact on my confidence and self-
esteem. On several occasions I was embarrassed and upset by my own inability to clearly
express my opinions before the client or the group. I found myself lost in some conversations
and unable to fully participate in discussions. Later, I discovered that I was not alone in this as
other team members who were not native speakers of English also had the same problem. One
of the things that I tried to improve my involvement in discussions and enhance the level of my
language proficiency was through increasing my knowledge about the firm and its industry
field. For example, the company from the first project was providing franchise consulting
services, and therefore, I started reading about franchising industry in order to broaden my
knowledge about the franchising industry and to involve actively in the conversation during
the meetings with the client.
Another challenge was my level of knowledge about the client’s business. For both
consultancy projects, I found during the first meeting with the client that project objectives
seemed vague and unclear to the team, owing to lack of prior knowledge or experience in the
client’s specific sector. Kubr (2002) states that the consultant should be prepared for the initial
meeting by collecting essential orientation information about the client, including the
environment and the problems existing in the sector of activity concerned. Therefore, as a
member of the team, I started to improve my knowledge about the industry from the sources
provided by the client.
Evaluation: A consultant in student attire
As the first consultancy project was a new experience for me, I found myself struggling to get
the best out of it. As I work better alone, I found team work ultimately affected my contribution.
However, I did everything I could to take advantage of this project. For example, I read articles
and other sources to increase my knowledge about the nature of the client’s business. I also
decided to use my skills in research and design and utilise them to support the team.
ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
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© The Author 2016
I also found this project a good opportunity for me to work closely in a business context,
focusing on how to be professional in presenting consultancy skills through an understanding
of organisational cultural behaviour and business operations (Kefela, 2010). I also learned how
to bring in fresh ideas, particularly during meetings with the client. For example, the core
business of the client from the first project was to provide consulting services for companies
based in franchising industries. Therefore, I shared with the client some consulting tools and
new approaches that I learned from the MBA Consulting course. This shared knowledge
between academia and businesses could drive the business by widening the client's scope of
knowledge, particularly for small and medium businesses. Moreover, the team worked
harmoniously, with no critical disputes or fruitless arguments among members. I believe this
was a result of understanding and respecting each other’s needs and points of view, which
ultimately leads to compatibility between team members.
Presenting the work before the client was an important aspect as we frequently kept the
client in the loop about the overall task and our findings. I thought it would be good to impress
the client with an element of surprise, and suggested that we show the client selected aspects
of the desk research done, and provide a comprehensive picture only on the day of the
presentation. The team thus made a successful presentation which pleased the client and
resulted in an invitation to dinner for the whole team. At the end of this first consultancy
project, it was a great opportunity to enlighten myself about my strengths and weaknesses. I
felt sure that I would be able to contribute much more to the next project as this one helped me
to become a more active and aware learner.
Thus the second consultancy project gave me another opportunity to venture into a new
business context and improve my knowledge and skills, while implementing the lessons I
learned from the first project. I found myself feeling more confident and I was able to make
different contributions by coming up with new ideas, discussing my thoughts and also arguing
my side when necessary. From the beginning of this project, I made up my mind to be positive
and take part in each group discussion. Thus, I found myself participating fully and more
rewardingly in all aspects of this project in comparison with the previous one.
With respect to the project’s success factors, I found that establishing appropriate
objectives for every stage of the project and tracking them to ensure they were achieved was
helpful in developing a strategy for mitigating unexpected setbacks. The team used the Seven
Cs tool (Figure 2) to support the project, from the first meeting with the client to the closure of
the project. This framework describes different stages within the project lifecycle, and also
ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
ISEJ, Volume 4(1), Spring/Summer 2016
© The Author 2016
illustrates how the overall process of a consultancy project should be carried out and how a
team might cope with difficult situations.
The following stages are examples of how the team dealt with the Seven Cs tool in the first
consultancy project.
Client: Success of the consultancy project depends on the relationship between client
and the consultancy team, and its support to achieve the objectives of the project (Cope, 2003).
When the team submitted the proposal of the project to the client, they were very impressed
with it, particularly the details which explained our clear mechanism for carrying out the
project. The reaction of the managing director was that this proposal gave him “a good first
impression”.
Clarify: The team showed their understanding of the project’s objectives and the
client’s needs by submitting a detailed proposal of all aspects of the project.
Create: The team decided to conduct an online survey using SurveyMonkey. Along the
way, the team made calls and hold phone interviews. In addition, the team was successful in
supporting the report with academic research, news articles and analytical tools and models.
All these processes pleased the client, particularly receiving good outcomes of the report.
Change: The problem of low response rate forced the team to take immediate action to
resolve the issue by expanding the channels of communication with the target participants.
These factors underpinned the project process and helped the team explain the effect of an
inadequate database, suggesting that details should be updated for any future surveys they
might conduct.
Confirm: The team proposed to the client to conduct a survey through SurveyMonkey,
and explained the anticipated costs of using the tool as well as the expected period using this
Figure 2: Seven Cs framework. Source: Adopted from Cope, M., 2003.
2
Clarify 3
Create 4
Change 5
Confirm 6
Continue 7
Close
ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
ISEJ, Volume 4(1), Spring/Summer 2016
© The Author 2016
service. The client then agreed to support the team in taking the online approach. The client
also confirmed that the questionnaire was designed correctly, and consisted of quantitative and
qualitative aspects.
Continue: The team was keen to provide the client with a clear project to be used in
the future, with several business tools and models that can also assist them. We aimed to add
new value to their business to be continued in the future.
Close: The team was able to close this project down and please the client with a
comprehensive study, despite the lack of responses. Our desire was to handle this project
professionally and deliver the appropriate outcomes. The project ended with an invitation from
the client for a meal with the team, which was an expression of their satisfaction with the
findings from the survey.
I personally found that using a clear model to steer the project along the right track is
very important to ensure its success. For example, the consultancy project was dependent on
the relationship between client and the consultancy team, to achieve the objectives (Cope,
2003). I remember how impressed our client was during the submission of the project proposal,
particularly with regard to the details which explained our clear mechanisms for implementing
the project.
Participation in a real business context comes with several challenges and obstacles that
may affect the timeline of the project. Perhaps one of the main obstacles we met, as a group,
during the consultancy project was there was no direct contact with the actual client in order to
obtain information to take the work to the next level. For example, in the second consultancy
project which dealt with entrepreneurship issues, the team struggled to understand the client’s
main objectives, and found that the contact person was not clear about the needs of the
chairman. However, to overcome this obstacle, the team sought to draw up several hypotheses
in order to lead us to ask the right questions and perform the correct analyses for our objectives
(Rasiel and Friga, 2002). It is difficult to work in a new environment with a lack of information
and experience. Furthermore, as a student, I may have used some terms commonly used in
academic contexts, such as ‘critical evaluation’, which, in the client’s view, are inappropriate
in a business report.
Analysis: How the theory influenced my practice?
The MBA course aims to develop managerial skills for students to enable them to deal with the
real business environment. I personally believe that theory without practice learned in lectures
ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
ISEJ, Volume 4(1), Spring/Summer 2016
© The Author 2016
may not support MBA students in understanding business life in the real world, as such, the
Code of Professional Conduct and Practice provided by Institute of Consulting influenced my
approach as an MBA student providing consultancy. Business consulting requires codes of
professional conduct that govern the mechanisms of consultancy and provide high standards in
the final results of a project. Sadler (2001) highlights the following basic principles that codes
of professional conduct should embody:
High standards of service to the client;
Independence, objectively and integrity; and
Responsibility to the profession and to the institute.
Applying the Code of Professional Conduct and Practice to business consulting assisted me in
determining how best to approach the two projects, and what actions to take. Despite each
project having its own characteristics, this Code enriched my understanding and enabled me to
enhance my strengths and overcome my weaknesses. Moreover, during the two team projects,
I sought to use the most relevant points of the Code to shape my approaches to these projects.
For instance, I appreciated that having a sense of responsibility and accountability would reflect
positively on the outcomes of the project. I believe that consultants could be good ambassadors
for their organisation if they surpass the expectations of stakeholders, since reputation, whether
positive or negative, is associated with the name of the organisation rather than with the names
of individuals. Hence, the responsibility of achieving the organisation’s objectives lies more
with the team than with individuals. According to Sturdy et al. (2009), the Code of Professional
Conduct illustrates the best practice a consultant needs to adopt in order to bring new
knowledge into organisations and to provide high quality outcomes to the ultimate beneficiary.
I was also able to improve my own personal management practice, particularly in the
first project. I sought to strive for excellence at all times and continued to develop my
management competences. Furthermore, working on these two projects was a unique
opportunity to consolidate the “theoretical” and the practical in a real business context. The
lesson that I learned from each project was to take into consideration not only the clients but
also the need to impact on other stakeholders, such as the University, by providing excellent
outcomes. Fombrun (1996) indicates that reputation is considered an intangible asset and a
source of competitive advantage; hence, as a team, it was our responsibility to deliver
outstanding projects that help to enhance the competitiveness of the organisations and achieve
the required objectives through the consultancy projects. Moreover, a good reputation has a
ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
ISEJ, Volume 4(1), Spring/Summer 2016
© The Author 2016
positive impact on client satisfaction and also on the client’s brand image, thus adding value to
their business.
Furthermore, when I applied the core competences (outlined in the code) to my personal
management practice, I found it would be better to act within my level of competence and
skills. When team members divide the responsibilities according to their skills it can assist
them greatly in delivering a good project. Kubr (2002) believes that the consultant should
possess qualities in two broad categories: intellectual abilities (e.g. dilemma analysis) and
personal attributes (e.g. integrity). I agree with Kubr that, in management consulting, the
consultant should possess analytical and problem-solving abilities to be able to implement
projects in a professional way.
These Codes imposed on me a degree of accountability to achieve the objectives and tasks
throughout the stages of the projects, irrespective of any obstacles I faced. For instance, in one
of the projects there were several obstacles and challenges related to ambiguity of objectives
and working under time pressure, but I got through by using the resources available in order to
fulfil what was expected from me. For instance, I contributed by reading the three allocated
articles and summarising them for the team, as part of our desk research. I came to understand
that it is a shared responsibility to identify any problems and consider all possible solutions.
From my perspective, shared responsibility is what the Code of Professional Conduct and
Practice embodies in terms of helping consultants achieve the highest possible standards for
clients at all times.
Furthermore, the Code emphasises the importance of effective, open communication.
Throughout both projects, although I was not the team leader, I worked with the team members
and sought to build trust and communicate clearly with the client. This certainly helped me to
anticipate any problems and explain any unclear points. According to Kubr (2002, p. 69) “A
consultant who demonstrates sincere interest, an understanding of the client’s problems and
concerns, and flexibility can expect the same from the client”. The Code also enabled me to act
independently and objectively, particularly when there were differences of opinion in the team
and I needed to be objective so as to deliver the projects’ aims. Another point in the Code,
regarding managing others, refers to the importance of having clear team rules which can be
adhered to by all team members. This helped me to deal with my colleagues, respect their
opinions and give them support, particularly when under time pressure.
The Code assisted me in my adaptation to a new culture, especially as we were dealing
with external clients. We showed respect to the clients’ stakeholders in our communications
ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
ISEJ, Volume 4(1), Spring/Summer 2016
© The Author 2016
with them and found appropriate times to obtain the required information from them.
Moreover, acting in an ethical manner, complying with the regulations of professional ethical
behaviour and respecting customers, is an essential part of strengthening the consultant’s
relationship with the client and with any other relevant parties (Higgs-Kleyn & Kapelianis,
1999).
Conclusion
Working in the field of business consulting through the various stages involved in the two
above-mentioned projects has given me experience that will help me in my future professional
life. I have had the opportunity to develop my competence in management consultancy and
also my understanding of how to deal with clients professionally. Furthermore, I learned how
to plan, establish the foundations of consulting work, develop a marketing plan, build an
effective team, and hone managerial and other skills that are summarised in much of the theory
of the MBA course at UEA. Besides, I realised that understanding more about the topic helped
me make a better contribution to the project. However, if I had had the opportunity to study for
the MBA in my native language, this would perhaps have improved my learning capacity,
which would have positively affected my understanding of, and engagement in, the business
context. Moreover, if I had had a chance to improve my competence in management consulting
and get to know more about the UK business environment, I would have involved in a part-
time job while doing the English course before the commencement of the MBA course and
become familiar with the business process.
As my aim of this report is to transfer the experience that I gained in my MBA studies
to my future job, it is important keep in touch with my MBA colleagues who are interested in,
or working in, the consultancy field and exchange information and experience. In addition, I
will subscribe to magazines and periodicals related to consultancy work. Finally, it is important
to carry out research and studies concerned with management and development issues in my
home country, Saudi Arabia. I will make this a goal for my learning and carrying out research
in the consultancy field.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR
abobakrju@gmail.com
ISEJ International Student Experience Journal
ISEJ, Volume 4(1), Spring/Summer 2016
© The Author 2016
References
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
This paper investigates the regulation of ethical behavior of professionals. Ethical perceptions of South African professionals operating in the business community (specifically accountants, lawyers and engineers) concerning their need for and awareness of professional codes, and the frequency and acceptability of peer contravention of such codes were sought. The existence of conflict between corporate codes and professional codes was also investigated. Results, based on 217 replies, indicated that the professionals believe that codes are necessary and are relatively aware of the contents of such codes. Despite these ethical tendencies, respondents (particularly lawyers) believe that their peers contravene their professional codes relatively often. No significant differences in ethical tendencies between professionals consulting to and those working in business were found. Many respondents were regulated by more than one code of ethics, but few experienced conflict between such codes. In the events of conflict occurring professionals chose to adhere to their professional code above others.
Book
Management consultants are typically seen as key mediators in the flow of management ideas. And yet little is known about exactly what happens when they work together with clients, behind closed doors in consulting projects. Do they really innovate or simply legitimate existing knowledge? This book presents research from a three year long 'fly-on-the-wall study' of consulting projects and challenges our taken for granted view of consultancy. It draws on and integrates theories of knowledge and social boundaries to reveal a picture of complex and shifting insider-outsider relationships. Here, the outsider or expert status of consultants in relation to their clients cannot be assumed in their day-to-day project interactions. Different actors, roles, and types of knowledge are involved in an interactive and dynamic process where various boundaries are constructed, reinforced, negotiated and transformed. The chapters selectively explore these dynamics, revealing the importance of boundary complexity, the role of humour and challenge in often tense relationships, and the importance of shared knowledge domains such as sector knowledge. This in-depth analysis of inter-organizational project teams also covers a wide range of consultancy contexts, drawing on cases studies which include: * a US-based strategy firm and a multinational client, * the public and private sectors, * a sole practitioner consultant, * IT implementation in financial services. The book is important for all those with an interest in management consultancy, project working and management knowledge as well as in innovation/change, inter-organisational relations, boundaries and professional services. The authors include some of the leading research experts on management consultancy as well as a former management consultant and current expert in management learning.
The Business of Consulting: The Basics and Beyond
  • E Biech
Biech, E., 2007. The Business of Consulting: The Basics and Beyond. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.