Introduction to Business and Management

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This Course Guide has been taken from the most recent presentation of the course. It would be useful for reference purposes but please note that there may be updates for the following presentation.

COMR B204

Introduction to Business and Management

Welcome to COMR B204 Introduction to Business and Management! This is a 20-credit, two- term, foundation-level course for undergraduate students offered by the Lee Shau Kee School of Business and Administration.

This course does not require previous knowledge of business and management. It offers you a basic understanding of internal aspects of business, such as people at work, financial information and marketing, as well as organisational culture and structure. It gives you an overview of the external (economic and political) and global context of businesses.

COMR B204 is delivered using a set of seven study units, course readings (adopted from the UKOU course B100), online multimedia components and live online learning sessions.

 

Course aims

The overall aims of COMR B204 Introduction to Business and Management are to:

  • Equip you with the knowledge, understanding and skills related to the internal functions and external environment of a business.
  • Provide you with a comprehensive introduction to various topics related to business and management, including human resource management, finance, marketing, economics and business ethics.

 

Course learning outcomes

Upon the completion of COMR B204 Introduction to Business and Management, you should be able to:

  • Examine the nature of business, major business functions, the external business environment, and the main social and economic issues faced by enterprises.
  • Outline organizational structure, culture and values, and discuss how to manage people at work.
  • Evaluate the importance of accounting and financial information for business managers.
  • Solve marketing problems and analyse the sustainability issues in marketing.
  • Evaluate the nature and drivers of globalization, and business situations under ethical considerations.

The course is based around a set of seven study units, course readings and online components, supported by live online learning sessions.

 

The study units

The study units set out your study pathway through the course readings and other course learning resources. They provide you with learning material, such as case studies, articles and activities that are designed to facilitate your understanding about each topic. As you work through the study units, you will also come across various study tips, which aim at improving your study skills. You’ll therefore need to keep referring to the units as you work through the course. There are seven units, as follows:

 

Unit 1 The nature of business, the external environment of businesses, and stakeholders

This unit introduces the nature of business and other types of organisations, including some of the key aspects of organisations and their environments, as well as some core ideas about management.

 

Unit 2 Human resource management

This unit introduces the key concepts of work, reasons why people work, and managing people at work.

 

Unit 3 Accounting and finance

This unit introduces the importance of financial information for business managers, including the need for raising finance and managing financial resources accurately and prudently.

 

Unit 4 Marketing

This unit provides an introduction to the subject of marketing, including an introduction to marketing strategy, customer behaviour, the marketing mix, social media marketing, social and political marketing and societal and sustainability issues in marketing.

 

Unit 5 The economic system and business-government relations

This unit gives you an introduction to some basic micro-and macroeconomic concepts and ideas, including supply and demand and price determination, economic growth and national income, money supply and interest rates, and governmental economic and industrial policy.

 

Unit 6 Business ethics and corporate social responsibility

This unit introduces the idea of the wider responsibilities of businesses, beyond their own organisation and its financial goals and obligations. The unit introduces some ethical theories that can help managers make sense of their obligations and discusses important contemporary business ethics issues, including sustainability and human rights.

 

Unit 7 Globalisation and international business ethics

This unit introduces the global context in which large companies and even many small companies now operate. It covers topics and ideas from the meaning and nature of globalisation, drivers of globalisation, and the internationalisation and globalisation of enterprises, to ethical issues in international business.

 

The course readings

Each study unit has a corresponding set of readings, which were originally developed for UK Open University course B100. The overarching aim of the course readings is to enable you to acquire knowledge and understanding of:

  • the nature of businesses and organisations, including organisational structure, culture and values;
  • the principles of the main business functions (human resource management, accounting and finance, and marketing);
  • the external environment in which a business operates, including the economic and political context at the national and global levels; and
  • the principles of business ethics and the main social and environmental issues faced by businesses and organisations.

The study units will indicate at which point you should turn to each of the readings.

The units and their corresponding readings are set out in the following table.

 

UnitReadings
1. The nature of business, the external environment of businesses, and stakeholdersUnit 1 Readings
Readings 1–11
2. Human resource managementUnit 2 Readings
Readings 12–20
3. Accounting and financeUnit 3 Readings
Readings 21–27
4. MarketingUnit 4 Readings
Readings 28–36
5. The economic system and business-government relationsUnit 5 Readings
Readings 37–45
6. Business ethics and corporate social responsibilityUnit 6 Readings
Readings 46–55
7. Globalisation and international business ethicsUnit 7 Readings
Readings 56–61

 

The Online Learning Environment (OLE)

The third main place you will refer to for learning resources during the course is HKMU’s Online Learning Environment (OLE). There, you will have access not only to the course materials (including the study units and the course readings) in different formats (both PDF and e-Pub versions), but also to a rich array of multimedia materials such as videos, web-based activities, etc. At the same time, you will be able to discuss topics with other students and your tutor interactively via the course discussion board.

 

Learning support

Students will be supported throughout the course by regular learning sessions in the form of live online tutorials and a live online revision surgery. Details of the dates and times of these sessions can be found in the Presentation Schedule. The following is a summary of the online learning sessions offered.

 

UnitNo. of weeksFace-to-face supportHours
14Live online tutorials 1 and 26
24Live online tutorials 3 and 46
34Live online tutorials 5 and 66
44Live online tutorials 7 and 86
55Live online tutorials 9 and 106
65Live online tutorials 11 and 126
76Live online tutorials 13 and 14
Live online revision surgery
9
Total32 45

 

Assessment

During the course, students of COMR B204 will have their progress assessed both formally and informally.

Formative assessment includes various case studies, web activities, exercises and online discussions that you will undertake while working your way through the study units and course readings.

Summative assessment consists of four individual assignments and one oral presentation (compulsory assignment).

 

Assessment summary

The summative assessment items are outlined in the following table.

 

Summative Assessment ItemsWeighting
Assignment 1
Covers Units 1 to 2
15%
Assignment 2
Covers Units 3 to 4
15%
Assignment 3
Covers Units 4 to 5
15%
Assignment 4
Covers Unit 6
15%
Assignment 5
Covers Units 1 to 7
20%
Oral presentation (compulsory assignment)
Covers Units 1 to 7
20%
Total100%

 

Assignments

There are four individual assignments and one oral presentation (compulsory assignment) for the course. You will be expected to apply concepts and techniques acquired during the course when completing assignments.

  • Assignment 1, worth 15% of the total marks for the course, is due in Week 8 (Autumn term) and evaluates material covered in Units 1 to 2.
  • Assignment 2, worth 15% of the total marks for the course, is due in Week 15 (Autumn term) and evaluates material covered in Units 3 to 4.
  • Assignment 3, worth 20% of the total marks for the course, is due in Week 8 (Spring term) and evaluates material covered in Units 5 to 6.
  • Assignment 4, worth 30% of the total marks for the course, is due in Week 13 (Spring term) and evaluates material covered in Units 1 to 7.
  • The oral presentation (compulsory assignment) is worth 20% of the total marks for the The due date will be announced in due course. It evaluates material covered in Units 1 to 7.

 

How to submit assignments

You must use word processing software (such as Microsoft Word) to prepare the assignments, and submit the assignments via the Online Learning Environment (OLE). All assignments must be uploaded to the OLE by the due date.

Failure to upload an assignment in the required format to the OLE may result in the score of the assignment being adjusted to zero.

 

Assignment extension policy

The assignment policy of the University as stated in the Student Handbook should be observed. You are required to submit assignments for this course in accordance with the dates communicated by your course coordinator. You may apply for a submission extension on the grounds of illness, accident, disability, bereavement or other compassionate circumstances.

Applications for extensions of up to seven days should be submitted to the tutor. The tutor shall consider valid and unexpected emergencies on an individual basis. Normally, documented proof of the extenuating circumstances is not required for extensions of up to seven days. The tutor shall decide and advise you of the revised date for submission.

For extensions of over seven days, you should note the following:

  1. If you require an extension of more than seven days on the grounds of illness, accident, disability, bereavement or other compassionate circumstances, you are required to submit your application to the Course Coordinator via the OLE.
  2. Supporting documents must be submitted along with the application for extension of over seven days to justify the claim.
  3. Applications for extension should normally be lodged before or on the due date.
  4. Applications are considered by:
    1. the Course Coordinator for extensions of 8 to 21 days; and
    2. the Dean for extensions of over 21 days.

After an assignment is submitted via the OLE, it is your responsibility to check that the assignment has been successfully submitted. Extension applications due to any problem with uploading will not be accepted. The University cannot accept any responsibility for assignments that are not received by your tutor due to any problem with submission via the OLE. As a precaution, you are advised to keep a copy of each assignment you submit.

According to the University’s policy, no extension of the due date will be allowed for the final assignment. This policy will be strictly enforced. Any late submission of the final assignment will result in the score of the assignment being adjusted to zero.

The following table gives a general overview of the course structure. It suggests the amount of time you should allow for completing units and provides a broad schedule for you to plan your work. This estimation includes time for reading the study units and course readings, completing activities and assignments, and attending live online tutorials.

 

UnitNo. of weeksAssessment
1. The nature of business, the external environment of businesses, and stakeholders4Assignment 1
2. Human resource management4
3. Accounting and finance4Assignment 2
4. Marketing4
5. The economic system and business-government relations5Assignment 3
6. Business ethics and corporate social responsibility5
7. Globalisation and international business ethics6Assignment 4 and oral presentation (compulsory assignment)

Case studies are a useful and increasingly popular form of learning and assessment in HKMU’s School of Business and Administration. In this section we will look at why case studies are used and then suggest some learning strategies that you can use to approach case studies. We will also briefly discuss some problems that you may encounter as you learn from case studies.

 

What is a case study approach to learning?

One main purpose of a case study is to explore an issue or a number of issues in relation to an organization. The intention is to get you to carefully diagnose an organization; to focus on key problems, and to suggest how these might be resolved. Often the case is a real-life account of an organization which you are required to analyse in order to focus on a problem. Usually, the information that is provided is incomplete and you are often expected to observe developments in the organization over a period of time. The case study approach is an excellent opportunity to actively apply material that you have read and conceptual knowledge to the reality of an organization.

At HKMU, case studies may be used as part of assignments, exams, study units, or dayschool exercises. You normally are given some information about a company (this could be both text and graphical information, such as figures and tables). You are then asked to think about some problems related to the company and to use concepts and apply theories that you have learned in your course to propose possible solutions for the company.

Let’s have a look at two kinds of case study questions that you might be asked to work through in your courses. The first example is quite structured, while the second is much more open-ended.

 

Two examples of case study questions

  1. Read the case study entitled ‘ABC Consultants’ and consider the following issues:
    • Using your understanding of the resource-based model, what measures could be taken to improve ABC’s returns?
    • Drawing on your broad understanding of the consultancy industry, assess ABC’s relative competitiveness and its profit potential.
    • To what extent do internal factors account for ABC’s financial weaknesses?
    • Based on your assessment of ABC’s financial weaknesses, formulate a new strategic intent and develop a mission statement for ABC.
  2. Read the case study entitled ‘XYZ Industries’.
    • Identify the key problems that are currently faced by XYZ’s management.
    • Propose viable solutions to these problems.

 

Why case studies?

As you can see from the above examples, a case study approach to learning requires a great deal of thinking and often will not easily yield a quick ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ answer. However, case studies are also good preparation for dealing with real-life business problems. Cases may be short and relatively simple, or longer and complex. The purpose is the same for both types: to give you an opportunity to develop your skills in analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the organization under examination, to consider the processes at work within the organization, and to make decisions about future actions.

Case studies are not meant to replace textbooks, but rather to ask you to draw connections between theories and practice and to apply abstract ideas, concepts, and principles to specific concrete situations. Consequently, case analysis develops a number of skills that are crucial in business. In particular, they help you to:

  • analyse complex, unstructured, sometimes ambiguous situations;
  • identify critical issues and problems;
  • question your own and others’ assumptions;
  • improve your problem-solving skills;
  • develop your ability to find alternatives and make informed decisions;
  • make decisions with incomplete information and think strategically;
  • self-educate yourself and draw on a broad range of resources and knowledge; and
  • present and justify recommendations in writing.

You may find that there are many possible ‘right’ answers to the questions in a case study. This illustrates that there is often no single best way to responsibly manage and solve real-life business problems.

 

Some guidelines for analysing case studies

The following strategies should help you to successfully analyse case studies:

 

1 Read the case and become familiar with the facts

First, skim read the case to obtain a general understanding of the main point(s). Highlight or underline the pertinent points as you read.

Read the case again, and this time note down critical facts (such as names, time sequences, and where events occurred). Try to understand how events have influenced decisions. Identify the important individuals or stakeholders, and try to assess the importance of supporting information in the case. How reliable is this supporting information? Are there any gaps in the information that is given?

Make a note of any questions that you have as you read the case.

 

2 Assess the context of the case

Trytounderstandtheenvironmentoftheorganizationandthewidercontextofthecase.

Ask yourself questions about:

  • The state of the organization: What is the state of this organization: good, bad or in-between? Usually this involves thinking about interpersonal relationships, and assessing production or financial problems.
  • Key players and systems: How do systems and people operate in this organization? Why do they operate like this? Are the systems undergoing change? How successful are the changes? Is there someone who could sabotage any future strategy? Is there someone who can ensure the success of a future strategy?
  • Significant trends: How does this industry operate? What are the main or unique characteristics of the industry? What were they five or ten years ago, and what are they likely to be in the future? What impact are trends likely to have on the organization under investigation? How does this organization’s performance compare with that of competitors?
  • Constraints: Clearly identify all constraints in the A constraint may be viewed as anything (usually beyond the control of the organization) that may prevent an otherwise feasible course of action from becoming a success. What is outside the control of individuals in the case study? For example, it is unlikely that any company or individual in Hong Kong could prevent a foreign government from imposing tariff barriers on imports.

A SWOT analysis is a good way to get a better understanding of the organization and the context or environment in which it is operating. A SWOT analysis considers the Strengths and Weaknesses of the organization, and the Opportunities and Threats which the organization faces in the external environment.

 

3 Recognize the case's symptoms

Read the case again and as you read, try listing all the symptoms of the case. The symptoms of a case are not the problems, but they may help you to identify the problems. Symptoms are all the things that are undesirable or that are not as expected. For example, falling sales could be a symptom of several problems such as poor market segmentation, poor product quality, or problems in a supply chain. At this stage of your analysis, you should just try to observe all the symptoms, and avoid prematurely identifying problems or suggesting solutions. Like a doctor who consults a patient, you first need to observe and note all the symptoms before you can give a definite diagnosis of the problem. Think about how the symptoms may be interrelated. Relationship diagrams, like the one below, may help you to see the relationships between symptoms.

 

case_study_Eng

 

4 Diagnose the case's problems

After you have a good sense of the symptoms, you’re ready to determine key issues that need to be analysed more closely. You are now diagnosing the situation, like a doctor diagnosing a patient’s symptoms. Ask yourself ‘what seems to be the trouble in this organization?’ and make a list of what you now perceive to be the key problem(s). You will probably need to go back to the details of the case and as you do this, you may add to or refine your list of potential problems.

If there are several problems, you need to order and prioritize them. You might want to number problems according to how you perceive their importance, or make a matrix, like the one below, which shows relationships between various criteria and each problem.

 

CriteriaProblem #1Problem #2Problem #3
Importance: what will happen if the problem is not addressed?   
Urgency: how quickly must this problem be solved?   
Centrality: To what extent does this problem cause others?   
Solvability: Can this problem actually be solved?   

 

Also try to establish if there are relationships or themes in common among the various problems. Perhaps different problems in your list are actually variations of a broader central problem.

Ask yourself what assumptions you have made about the case. Are these assumptions reasonable, and are they supported by the facts? Would other people objectively suggest the same problems, based on the facts that you have? Are you suggesting problems that are not supported by the facts of the case?

After you have considered and put into order the possible problems and questioned your assumptions relating to these problems, you should write a statement of the problems as you perceive them. Avoid suggesting solutions at this stage.

Once you have a problem statement, you need to find evidence in the case to support your problem diagnosis. Also, try to identify ideas, concepts and theories from your textbook and course units which help to explain what is happening in the case.

 

5 Formulate criteria for a 'good' solution and identify possible constraints to solutions

Before you propose a solution, you need to consider the characteristics of a ‘good’ solution. Obviously, your solution should bring benefits such as improved productivity, reduced costs or greater profits. However, it also needs to be viable and to accommodate the constraints that you have already identified, i.e. Is the solution legal? Is there a budget for this solution? Does it conflict with the organization’s culture?

Try to brainstorm alternative solutions. Aim to generate a broad and creative range of options and then try to rate each according to various criteria.

The following matrix demonstrates how this can be done.

 

 CostEase of implementationImpact on organization cultureImpact on profits
Option 1*******
Option 2*********
Option 3*******

 

Also refer to ideas, concepts and theories from your course materials as you consider and assess each possible solution.

It’s often wise to propose a solution that allows for plausible alternatives if it should fail. Managers use the term satisfice when they are considering acceptable alternative solutions, that is, the solution is able to satisfy the situation while also making some realistic sacrifices to existing constraints. Therefore, it is a satisficing rather than a maximizing solution.

Finally, don’t forget to consider the possibility of taking no action. What will actually happen if no action is taken? Are any (or all) of the solutions less viable than taking no action at all?

 

6 Recommend a viable solution

After you have assessed the merits and pitfalls of each alternative solution, select the best solution for the situation.

Remember that the solution needs to be viable. Can the recommended solution be introduced? Are there the resources and the willingness to implement it? Be realistic about what may work.

Explain why it is the best solution within the constraints of the existing context and explain how it can be applied to the organization. Suggest a time-frame for the solution’s implementation.

Outline possible strategies for implementing your solution, either partially or completely. As many feasible courses of action as possible should be considered before you choose the one that seems the most likely to succeed. The more ideas you have, the greater your chance will be of finding a solution that will work well. The complexity of most organizational problems means that it is highly unlikely that one idea alone will correct the situation. Usually a combination of actions is required, and these need to be funded differently, timed carefully and staffed as necessary.

 

7 Present your solution as a written recommendation

Review your final solutions and then prepare a set of written recommendations. These should clearly outline your proposed solution in relation to the problems that you have identified. Your recommendations should also include details of why these solutions are the most appropriate given the circumstances and constraints of the case. Finally, you need to clearly state how and when your proposals will be implemented.

Your tutor and your course Assignment File can provide some guidelines on how to present your recommendations.

 

Some mistakes to avoid as you analyse cases

When you first tackle case studies, you should be careful to guard against the following mistakes:

  1. One of the most common mistakes made in case analysis is repeating or simply summarizing the facts of the Your tutor is already very familiar with the case details, so you do not have to restate them. You are required to use and analyse the facts, not repeat them. Your analysis should contain only enough case material to support your arguments. Therefore, be analytical!
  2. You may often be tempted to just deal with symptoms and ignore the causes of the It is very important to analyse the background of the case (and the climate in which the events of the case unfold).
  3. Avoid discussing problems in isolation and do not overlook their interrelatedness. If you try to think in terms of ‘systems’ rather than in terms of individual problems, you are more likely to avoid this pitfall.
  4. Students often fail to state the assumptions underlying their If any important assumptions have been made, have you questioned them and are they reasonable and appropriate? Avoid selectively using and interpreting case material in order to justify a preconceived solution.
  5. Practical limitations and constraints may sometimes be For example, a recommendation that a whole team be fired is probably unrealistic.
  6. A very common mistake is poor integration of the facts in the case with the concepts, principles, and theories in the Such integration is vital. Ask yourself if relevant theories from your course have been fully and constructively applied.
  7. Finally, recommendations are too often not spelled out in detail or are A timetable for implementing them is also often not given.

Analysing cases poses many challenges, and this is one reason the case study method is so rewarding. It is a very active form of learning. It offers you a risk-free opportunity to gain managerial and organizational experience and should greatly increase your confidence to make informed decisions in the real world.

Good luck and we hope you enjoy working through the cases that you encounter!

COMR B204 Introduction to Business and Management is an important foundation course that equips you with a basic understanding of business and management. This course aims to develop your cognitive, practical and professional skills for your studies and work situation. It focuses in particular on the effective use of academic and business language, some quantitative skills, information search and digital literacy skills, and critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

COMR B204 covers the following topics: the nature of businesses and other organisations, the main business functions (including human resource management, accounting and finance and marketing), some elements of the external environment in which businesses and organisations operate (mainly the economic, political and global context), and business ethics.

The course is presented through a blend of printed and multimedia materials. As you work through COMR B204, you will need to refer to your study units, course readings and the OLE, and you are provided with support through regular live online learning sessions.

The course is assessed through four assignments and one oral presentation (compulsory assignment).

We hope you find COMR B204 stimulating and valuable for your professional development.

If you wish to defer your studies of this course until a later date, you should apply for deferment of studies. For the regulations governing deferment of studies, please refer to your Student Handbook. If you have applied for deferment of studies you should continue with your studies of this course and submit the required assignments until formal approval is given by the University. Should you have difficulty in submitting an assignment, you are advised to liaise with your Course Coordinator and apply for a assignment extension. Students who have been granted deferment of studies will not be allowed to submit assignments due before the date that their application for deferment of studies is received by Registry.

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