The case study has been a central tool in management education for decades. It can, when well-written, succinctly illustrate a management challenge, such as wage negotiations or pricing, and enables the student to actively engage with the issues and discuss and learn from them. However it is not a panacea, and as that champion of the case method, Harvard Business School's recent introduction of the FIELD method indicates, a diversity of approaches is beneficial.
One of the problems with case studies is their transience. A student may immerse themselves in a case today, but tomorrow they have moved on to another, with no backward glance or ability to understand how the decisions they took may impact on issues that arise further down the line.
IE Business School, has developed a new methodology that has been successfully used in its functional executive education programs for the past six years: the integrated cross-functional case.
These programs last four to six months, either with a face-to-face format or a blended format, and are designed to refresh and instill knowledge from a very practical and applied perspective. They cover specialized management functions such as Corporate Responsibility, Digital Marketing, Executive Coaching, or Lobby and Advocacy; or specific industries such as Real Estate, Luxury Goods and Services, or Healthcare Policy and Corporate Affairs, amongst others.
The integrated cross-functional case is an innovative application of the traditional case method because it incorporates the diverse knowledge participants acquire from the program, both progressively and from an integrative perspective throughout the various subjects of a course. Furthermore, this new methodology is easily adapted to each program while keeping to that particular program’s unique academic pace and curriculum.
These cases deal with real-world, current situations in order to link executive development to business objectives. The methodology does not substitute the traditional case method which is still used to illustrate specific concepts in each subject of the program. Rather, it is a great complement to the case method.
Because the integrated cross-functional case is based on real information, it includes different milestones where students must make a strategic or tactical decision, according to the studied subjects. At each point, students are guided by a professor, and must hand in a report on a specific date.
The ALSA case from the Executive Program on Digital Marketing exemplifies this. Students are presented with a serious problem: even though ALSA, a Spanish long-distance bus and logistics company, is not very active in the digital world, dissatisfied clients are opening social media profiles under its name and uploading negative comments.
Due to the negative impact of spontaneous comments in social media referring to its service, ALSA – who had never before been active in the internet – must reverse the situation and generate positive conversational capital.
At four different points in the executive program participants working through the case must provide a solution to the problem the company is facing. ,. These milestones are synchronized with the different subjects of the program and stretch throughout the curriculum, whether the program lasts four months or six.
First of all, two months after starting the course, participants must prepare an analysis of the company’s situation as well as a strategic digital marketing proposal. This coincides with the content at the start of the program, where they analyze digital marketing from a strategic, economic, business and legal perspective which allows them to align digital marketing with corporate strategy.
One month later, participants must choose the social platforms they would advise ALSA to use just at the moment when the program goes into greater depth about the different advertising formats found in the digital world (SMO, SEM Contextual Advertising, SEO, Podcasts, YouTube and Rich Media Ads, Mobile Marketing, Advergaming…).
Afterwards, they are asked to design other non-social digital marketing actions and other offline marketing actions that will reinforce their previous measures. This coincides with the part of the program which is dedicated to learning about the integration of digital marketing actions with off line marketing.
Finally, towards the end of the program, participants have the opportunity to analyze the economic impact of their decisions. This occurs just when the program turns to digital marketing metrics and analytics. At this point, students also establish the budget and ROI of their plans.
The results go beyond what was anticipated:
“I’ve been capable of transferring the knowledge to my real environment.”
“In a world changing so rapidly, having the possibility of relying on a learning tool such as the integrated cross-functional case means a huge difference.”
“From theory to practice through a single case that integrates all the learning of the program. It´s incredible.”
“Besides from being useful, the integrated cross-functional case is highly effective in learning, and it’s very motivating: your ideas might contribute with a prominent value and a solution to a real problem.”
This methodology, therefore, is key for developing the skills necessary for business growth. It is absolutely pragmatic and addresses current business challenges that equip leaders to lead collaboratively, using cross-functional skills and enhancing their leadership and decision making skills.