The Business Questions We Should Be Asking
On Tuesday, April 28 in BAC, AUBG President Kevin Aspegren and his wife Eva gave a rather interactive lesson on how to solve business problems. A humble audience of students and BUS and JMC professors were engaged in problem identification process. The goal was not to simply identify an issue, but to make sure it is the right kind of wrong, since enterprises often prioritize challenges in a false order: going straight to C while neglecting A or B.
The model presented by the Aspegren family is referred to as the Baseline Process and is a valuable mechanism in consulting, and business & non-profit environments. For about 90 minutes, the attendees were engaged in a live-simulated case study between a fictional client (the two speakers) and a consulting company (the audience).
Rather hesitant in the beginning, after 10 minutes the students became more comfortable asking questions about the client. Everyone was warned to ask relevant questions and to pay close attention to the interaction between Kevin and Eva Aspegren as they entered their characters of family business owners. The questions covered broad spheres of information: the fictional company’s product, its management, competitors, marketing and HR practices, accounting and sales, supply chain, technology, etc. The objective was to give advice on whether the company shall invest in a new efficient piece of machinery that would enhance the production process but is beyond its financial capabilities.
While it might seem like a simple issue to solve – just a matter of fine calculations and research into the topic – there was an additional challenge: discrepant opinions of the owners and an emotional factor to be very delicate about. Interrogators had to be cautious, move fluidly from one to the next line of questions, and not allow for the respondents to carry them away into stories with no strategic information.
However, straightforwardness is not a given and one needs to play diplomatically in the attempt to attain the real numbers, especially at the first meeting. Still, there are some guidelines and if one sticks to them, they will only advance in the process. One of them is predisposing the clients to talk about what you want unobtrusively, but by no means suggesting explicit actions or induce action because the clients might get offended. Another point to avoid is making conclusions and insisting continuously on information without getting the sign that it might not be available. Sensitive areas are those of finance, competition and market demand, so keep them for the end.
Kevin and Eva Aspegren stressed that the need for developing a report of the company and how it contributes to problem identification, is very important. The baseline is to always establish the line A by asking as much as possible, taking into account that “90 percent of the problems are inside of the box,” as president Aspegren said. “How can you jump into conclusions if you don’t have all the information? Your final recommendation should not be of any surprise for your client,” he added, meaning that by the end of the consulting process you should have familiarized your client with all possible developments.
Eva Aspegren suggested a solution for occasions when people from one company have divergent agendas, as was in this case. The question to ask is the following, “Would you mind following up on that over facts, let’s say, next week?” In this way you provide room for the client to form a position and for yourself to get more acquainted with the origin of the various opinions.
“The role play organized by President Kevin Aspegren and his wife was very interesting and unconventional,” a third-year student Iva Gabrakova shared after the event. “I am considering working in the consultancy sphere post-graduation and this was an eye-opening experience for me. The technique employed was different from all I have done in class and very effective as I learn better by doing rather than solely reading.”
A fourth-year student Artemie Bilevici, who has already used management consulting in his preparation for case-interviews, evaluated the talk as follows, “A new and interesting way of looking at problems. It definitely works, especially for case problems and aids to get a better perspective of a situation. Apply it and you can cover all possible information and not miss a thing. It is a rather structured way of dealing with a situation.”