What I have learned from my Action Research

For most part of our class, we listened to invited speakers and picked their brains too.  We had the chance to learn as much as we can from the experts in the business industry but the time has come for us to take center stage and share our very own story specifically our action research.  Before I go on and on about action research, I will define it first.

Action research is participatory inquiry focused on improving the organization and its processes.  Members of an organization can engage in this research to improve their own practices and performance.   It is a four-step cyclical process comprised of 1) constructing, 2) planning action, 3) taking action and 4) evaluating action (Coghlan & Brannick, Doing action research in your own organization, 2014, p. 9). 

Below are some of my learnings while doing the first cycle of my action research:

  1. Doing an insider Action Research is not an easy feat.  It takes more than just data and related literature to establish a problem.  One has to take a deep and thorough into what is going on with the organization and see if they can improve it.
  2.  Preparing an action research proposal has been very challenging for me.  I don’t have much background in research.   Selecting my issue didn’t come to me easily.   I had several issues in mind but finally settled with one after some contemplation.
  3. Looking for related literature is another major challenge for me.  I find it very hard to find studies and publications that are related to my topic but I kept on looking.  As I am just beginning on my action research, my related literature is quite limited; however, I intend to keep reading more while I am continuing on this action research.
  4. Addressing an issue within an organization is quite complicated and involves several stakeholders.  To be able to conduct the action research, I have to gain the approval and cooperation of the people involved.
  5. Implementing one cycle of action research is definitely not enough.  The initial cycle served as a preliminary inquiry and will pave the way to a clearer picture of the situation.
  6. An action research is involves a group of people with different personalities. It is very challenging to work in a group while keeping the integrity of the action research.  Collaboration is very important in this type of research.   This research is more than just presentation and presentation of date, it also includes social interaction.

The Marshmallow Challenge MBA style

Our class started with a little challenge  called the Marshmallow  Challenge.

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Our marshmallow structure after 18 minutes.  We failed to build the tallest one but ours is the sturdiest. It stood tall long after other structures fell. 

Our group quickly planned a way of putting up the highest marshmallow  structure  in the class.  The materials are limited so have to maximize every piece.  We have to make sure that there will be enough material for the structure  we have in mind and waste nothing.

We started with a square base so we could have a stable foundation but the spaghetti  pieces we used were so small we can barely hold it.  A stick broke at some point  which reminded  us how fragile the material is.  We decided then that we need a bigger  base and opted  for a triangular  base.

The challenge seemed easy at first until we started building our tower.  It was tricky and the constant  reminder  how much time we have left is quite unnerving but as MBA students  we are used to working under pressure.  We have to focus and stay  calm otherwise  our structure will fall.  We didn’t have a leader who took charge. We were open to ideas and tried another approach once the first one turned out to be not so feasible.  We had our own task such as tying the straw  rope around the sticks, cutting tapes/straw strips  and holding the tower while it is in progress.  We have to keep a steady hand all throughout the process.

Despite the tricky challenge  we still had fun.  It was not a matter of making he tallest taller but making sure that it remain standing.  We didn’t  win but our tower stood tall long after other groups’ fell.  We were so proud of our tower and ended up with a group with high morale and respect for each other.

The challenge  thought me several things such as: listening  to other members as they might have better ideas, trying a different approach when the current one is not working, staying calm and composed amidst pressure and chaos and enjoying the process instead of obsessing about it.

Learning a thing or two

Learning is a lifelong process.  Sounds cliché but true.  The moment we took notice of our surroundings when we were just babies, we started collecting data and transforming them into useful information.  Every waking moment is a chance to learn, whether we acknowledge it or not.  Continuous learning is essential for everyone especially leaders and that was the major key take-away from Ms. Chiqui Escarael-Go’s talk.

Chiqui Escareal-Go is the President and CEO of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., an advocacy-based marketing, sales, innovation and strategy training and consultancy company.   When Chiqui first started in Mansmith, she was not an expert in marketing at all.  On the contrary, she needed to learning almost everything from scratch.  That didn’t stop her from aiming for excellence.  She worked tireless to study how things work in that field.  She took things to heart and wanted her work to be a reflection of the standard of their professionalism.

As an MBA student who wishes to excel in my field, I was awed by her story.  She exudes charisma and confidence.  Her passion to continuously improve herself in the world that keeps on changing is really inspiring.   She attended programs to compensate for her lack of practical knowledge in the field of marketing and pursued higher learning both here and abroad.

It is important to be aware of what you already and what you still need to know, to be humble enough to admit that you still have room left for improvement and make a commitment to pursue continuous learning even if it means leaving your comfort zone and throwing yourself in the abyss of the unknown.  I believe that not knowing what to expect is half the fun of learning such as my own adventures in the MBA program.  Term after term, I would meet new professors and classmates, work with new set of group mates  and face challenging academic requirement.  Most of the time, I don’t know how I survived but I am still here, better and a little bit smarter.   While graduate school has taught me a lot already, I am fully aware that learning is not limited to the four corners of the classroom.   Reading is a great way of learning and winding down (at least for me).  I believe that even the most mundane book has something to teach us.   Keeping up with what’s going on around us, both here and abroad, is another way of learning.   Talking to someone who is an expert in a particular field is another opportunity to learn something new.  I would love to have a sit down with an astrophysicist and ask her/him questions from the most profound to the silliest.   Even younger generations can teach a thing or two about the evolving society we live in.  It’s good to sometimes go out of the rock you live under and see how the young ones are behaving.

Mindfulness and Business

Our next speaker, Mr. Robin Bradshaw, is the Country Manager of Cathay Pacific Airways with a  degree in Philosophy and Theology (How cool is that?).  He has been with Swire for 21 years.  Swire, a highly diversified global group, is a 200 years corporation which is established as a trading company in Liverpool , UK by Mr. John Swire.

Mr. Bradshaw have moved around a lot and has been assigned in Indonesia, Hong Kong Singapore and Papua New Guinea (where he met his wife).   He shared that the downside in moving around a lot both in territories and functions is that he cannot share any technical expertise.  However, he said that the  best managers in the business are the people who get the best technical people.  He added that if you can manage people and finance then you can work in any business.  It is about finding the best people and bringing out the best in them.

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Mr. Robin Bradshaw

Swire’ motto is to be rather than to seem to be.   They stay in the background and  and let their brand and product do the talking for them.  Humility is one of the core values of the organization and something that is evident in Mr. Bradshaw.

He also made the conducted some sort of a pop quiz about Cathay Pacific and it definitely woke the audience.  It was like “The Price is Right” where you have to give the right number (like how many aircraft they have).  I even got a prize 🙂

Mr. Bradshaw share some of his defining moments:

  • Being pressured by his manager to do something he didn’t agree with.  He shared that in situations like this, you need to stand your ground and do what you believe is right and fair.
  • Having to terminate a long serving staff that kept on disrupting work.  It was very difficult for him because he knew and worked with that person for a very long time.   How you handle the conversation of this nature is very important.  He made sure that the person being fired understands the situation and make him see that it is also for his own good.  Getting fired is never a good thing but it will also free you to pursue a new job  that might be a  better fit for you.
  • SARS – During the SARS scare 80% of their flights has been cancelled and Cathay Pacific is on its way to bankruptcy. They were forced to to send employees on unpaid leave but when the business got back on its feet they paid them all back.  This move has earned the trust of the employees.
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Our class with Mr. Bradshaw

Aside from his business insights, Mr. Bradshaw also tackled work-life balance and how he is able to make it work.  It find it refreshing to hear someone of his stature talk about meditation and mind-fullness.  It was a reminder to never sacrifice everything else in your life in favor your career.   He also shared that being able to help people feels so much better than closing a huge deal with a client.

My favorite part was when he talked about being true to yourself and keeping your sense of boundary.  Who are you? What do you really want to do? Know yourself. Be honest with your self.  Being aware of who you really are is vital in everyone’s journey through life.  We sometimes get distracted with so many things that we lose sight of what truly matters.  We tend to get so busy chasing our goals and dreams that we forgot to stop and stay still for a while and listen to what our hearts say.  We also need to take the time and contemplate on how  we are living our lives and the paths the we chose to explore.  We don’t want to work hard all our lives for something only to realize that it is not really what we want.

 

Grace under Crisis

Keeping your cool amidst crisis is one of the most essential traits of an effective leader.  Our class had its first case study “The COE can’t afford to panic” where a financial firm found itself in a middle of a crisis.

The case analysis is not just about coming up with the best course of action from a business/financial perspective but also considering the ethical implications of one’s decisions.  The Kaspa Gerald Smarten, CEO of Kaspa Financial Services (Kaspa) faces a dilemma.  While his team is on a company meeting of the company, a bomb exploded at nearby train station causing confusion, fatalities and panic around the area.  Give the scenario, the city  government requested Kaspa to let them use their lobby and cafeteria spaces to be used as a triage center and a temporary morgue.

Smarten is torn between doing what he think is best for their clients and fulfilling his ethical duty to the city and its people.  Smarten has to consider the the company’s reputation, safety of the people, morale of the employees and confidence of their current and future clients.  He also has to look at the long term negative effect or benefits of his decision.  Smarten need to keep his cool amidst chaos and pressure.  He  need to talk to his team and asked their opinions and listen to their arguments.

Our group’s recommendation is for Kaspa to allow the city to use their lobby and cafeteria as triage center and temporary morgue.  There would be pros and cons associated with this decision but at the end of the day, I believe that it is the best course of action.

The case study is centered on crisis management and as the scenario unfolds it clear that being a CEO is a job that not for everyone.  You have to stay focused, level headed and must not give in to panic.

It is very important for an organization to be ready for crisis.  They have to make sure than a crisis management team is well capable of handling situations that threaten the integrity of reputation of the company.  The team should also have a plan and they can do this by coming up with possible scenarios and coming up with ways to deal with those situations.   Good communication is very vital during the crisis.  A proper channel of communication must be identified to be able to control the situation avoid confusion and panic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new kid in the automotive block

Time now to write about our third speaker for this course, CEO series.  The past two speakers have made huge impression on me both as a CEO and an individual.  I was again looking forward to listening and talking to another industry expert from the automotive sector.

Mr. George Chua  earned his MBA at UPenn’s Wharton School and took Mechanical and Industrial Management Engineering at De La Salle University.  He held several top management positions in several companies such TIPCO and Armscor in the Philippines. He is currently the President and CEO of Bayan Automotive Industries Corporation (BAIC).

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Mr. George Chua

 

BAIC is known for its tagline “better and ingenious choice” which we can see through their variety and yet unique designs and selections.  BAIC shows excellence through their Italian design, German engineering and Chinese manufacturing.

My group had the opportunity to introduce to the class and I can’t help but be impressed with both his professional and personal accomplishments.  Mr. Chua is not the traditional CEO that I always imagined.  He was very passionate about life and always busy doing so many things without neglecting his personal happiness.  He loves car, motorcycles, guns and golf.

Mr. Chua shared his Successful CEO requisites with the class and we all keenly listened.  Here are some of them:

  • Acquire education and training at every opportunity.
  • Working smart is better than working hard.  Always ask yourself if there is a better way of doing it.
  • Efficiency is key.  Multi-tasking and starting things simultaneously is very efficient. It’s like planting all the trees at the same time.
  • Networking is essential.  Mr. Chua does not simply play golf because he enjoys but also to talk to fellow businessmen in a more casual and personal setting.
  • Timing is everything.  One should be willing to make bold decisions at the right time

These requisites helped Mr. Chua reached the status he has now and are vital to his success.

My key takeaway from his talk is to make every experience count.  It was like a reminder to me to never waste my time on things that I don’t like doing or something that I will not gain anything at all.   I’d be better off doing things that I am passionate about and will bring positive impact to the people around me.  Time is finite and the best way to make the most out of it is to do things that (a) I am passionate about (b) learn something new or improve my skills (c) will help other people and the society as a whole.

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Mr. Chua with the class

Getting out of your comfort zone: CEO edition

Time for another article about my recent favorite subject, CEO series.   After  a very inspiring story from an entrepreneur last week, we are now given a chance to pick the brain of another CEO in the person of the country new Citi Bank Country Chief for the Philippines, Mr. Aftab Ahmed, who has 40 yours of banking experience.  Mr. Ahmed  has worked for Citi Bank in 10 countries across North America, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific.  His broad breadth of experience covers multiple disciplines including Business Banking, Corporate Banking, Correspondent Banking, Consumer Banking, Distribution, Operation & Technology (O&T), and Treasury.

He shared his experiences as he went along  and one of his finest moments was when he was in Egypt during the Arab Spring.  It was a period in Middle East in 2011 with series of anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions.  His team was advised to leave the country during turmoil but  instead of getting on the plane he decided to stay and kept the wheels turning.  Such an impressive move if you’ll ask me.  He displayed tenacity and resolve amidst chaos.

Mr. Ahmed also talked about setting up a criteria when choosing a job. He said that one should ask the following questions before making a decision:

Can I make a difference?

Can I contribute?

Can I learn?

These questions sound so simple and direct but also very important.  I believe that once you get a positive answer on all these questions, then you are on your way to a very rewarding and satisfying job.  I even applied said criteria to my current job and I am so happy to realize that I am indeed in a good place.

The most important of the talk (at least for me) was when he shared his Three Leadership Imperatives and here are my take on them:

  1. Taking risks.   Uncertainty should never be a reason for you to give up on your goals. If you always wait for the right time, you’ll never get anything done at all.  It is when you let go your fear of the unknown that you become truly free to explore the world and realize your full potential.  You’ll never know what’s out there if you will not go beyond what’s comfortable and safe.  The possibilities are endless.
  1. Willingness to fail.  If you are brave enough to take risks then you should be willing to fail.  Based from personal experience, the things that taught me the best lessons and stuck with me for the longest time are the ones I’ve learned through failure.   Failure is not the ending, it is just a detour to a more exciting and beautiful adventure waiting ahead of you.  Failure is just the universe’s way of nudging you into the right direction.  As  JK Rowling once said “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
  1. Believing in yourself. The first two would not be possible if you don’t believe in yourself.   Believe in yourself.  Yeah, it’s such a cliché, we all have heard it before, and we hear it so often sometimes it doesn’t mean anything at all.  However, if you truly live by those words, you’ll be surprised at what you are capable of doing.   For me, having faith in yourself, is one of your most important duties in life.  If you don’t trust yourself, no one else will.   There is nothing more annoying than a person who keeps on second guessing her/himself.

My key takeaway from this talk is that you have to go out of your comfort zone and do something that your gut tells you to even if you are not quite sure confident about.   It is really true that you do not regret the things you do but the things that you didn’t.

I also learned something new from him, the PQ or positive quotient.  We are all familiar with IQ and EQ but most of us haven’t heard about PQ at all, the concept is quite new.   Positive Intelligence is an indication of how well your mind acts in your best interest .   PQ is also about bringing about change within your organization.

Mr. Ahmed really knows how to deliver a powerful message to a crowd.  He would walk around the room and ask members of the audience randomly and it was so exciting (at least for me).   You’ll never know when and what he’ll ask you.   He made the whole experience interactive and took time to ask ideas and opinions from the audience.  It was like a surprised graded recitation and I was one of the student who was given the chance to share my  thoughts on keeping on track despite failure.  I got so giddy when he told me that what I said was very insightful 🙂

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My group with Mr. Aftab Ahmed

It was such a pleasure to listen to him talk about the things he deemed important to share with us.  I am grateful that despite his busy schedule.   As he pointed out during his talk, he’s got 50+ things to do that day but he chose to spend hours preparing his presentation and delivering his talk to us.   His stories are relatable and his talk is not strictly about the corporate world but also about living life and dreaming big.