There is a world of experience out there, quite literally. Every situation – be it conflict or success – could be a potential case study for Management students.

As a Lecturer in Management at the University of Adelaide Business School, Dr Ankit Agarwal is fuelled by the multitude of teachable moments that case studies provide. When teaching the PLOC structure of management – that is, Planning, Leading, Organisation and Controlling – case studies give students and educators a platform to stand on.

Dr Agarwal was tasked with the project of writing four end-of-chapter case studies for Schermerhorn’s Exploring Management, 1st Edition. He took on the challenge and sourced cases that would help students learn management fundamentals within the local Australasian context.

Ankit Agrawal

Dr Ankit Agarwal
Lecturer of Management at the University of Adelaide

Are all case studies useful?

According to Dr Agarwal, the question is whether educators are choosing the right case studies for the students and their local context. Without local context and a genuine sense of foundational understanding of an organisation’s culture, there can be a disconnect for the students. Educators can sometimes be attracted to using a multinational company like Apple as a case study. To students, Apple is a shiny beacon of interest, but 1st Year management students can’t necessarily relate Apple to a local management context.

Dr Agarwal explains, “the context of the PLOC structure can become lost due to this disconnect, and students struggle to work out which theory of management they should be using to analyse the case study. Lecturers help students understand a theoretical concept, and then analyse the case study using that concept. Using the right case studies makes a big difference to the students’ learning outcomes.”

What makes a good case study?

Living in Adelaide, Dr Agarwal was immediately drawn to Haigh’s Chocolates as a case study – a South Australian chocolatier. The combination of local context, the family business aspect, and their known best-practice in leadership management is showcased in the Leadership chapter of Exploring Management.

As Dr Agarwal describes, “One of the benefits of the Haigh’s Chocolate case study is the opportunity to demonstrate how employees are not treated as assets or resources. Rather they are treated as partners in the organisation. It shows that creating a collegial environment is important.” He adds that the ‘family business’ lens also provided value. “It is constructive to consider how business owners try to keep their personal life and work-life separate, and not let their personal life influence their work outcomes for the family business.”

Some key characteristics of good case studies include:

Relatable but not opinionated
Management students need a local context, as predominantly this is where their careers will start – and hopefully flourish. Therefore, relatability is key – which is why Exploring Management includes local case studies. However, it also needs to remain objective. Opinions drawn from business reviews or potentially biased newspapers should not be used to form a case study. This distracts from the theoretical framework and leads students to ill-informed conclusions.

Opportunity for discussion
Educators usually don’t want to preach, and so case studies are critical to helping open a dialogue. Educators can ask students’ questions, and not get trapped in a monologue. Educators should let students read case studies in advance so they can prepare their answers to the textbook questions and consider questions they would like to pose themselves.

Dr Agarwal also suggests taking the lead from the students with any side topics that present. “It is powerful when I ask students ‘what was the worst management you’ve experienced?’ – their hands will shoot up and students will eagerly discuss, agree, and disagree.” Interestingly, funny and sad stories often arise in Dr Agarwal’s classrooms, and through laughter or tears, the learning is cemented. After all, management is about the human in us all.