In Henley MBA assignments, your recommendations chapter/section is typically the second biggest mark earner (the first being the analysis chapter). While every assignment will be different, there are some relatively straightforward practices that you can follow to ensure a high-quality recommendations chapter, every time. In this post, I’ll discuss 6 practices to help you rock the recommendations chapter.
#1: Directly address the key issues from your analysis chapter.
It sounds obvious, but all too often, there is a disconnect between the analysis chapter and the recommendations chapter. In other words, students start solving problems that didn’t exist in the analysis and ignore those that did.
Simply put, there should be a firm, intuitive, logical link between the end of your analysis chapter and the beginning of your recommendations chapter. There should really be no surprise for the reader – in fact, they should pretty much be able to anticipate what you’ll prescribe. To highlight this link, you should have a brief summary (in bullet point or visual format) at the end of your analysis chapter that reminds the reader of your key findings. Then, your recommendations chapter should directly address the issues/shortcomings highlighted there.
There’s always a temptation to digress into the irrelevant when writing assignments. Don’t create new issues and don’t present new information – stay focused on the key issues raised in your analysis. Keep yourself on track by regularly checking whether your recommendations directly link to the issues you found in your analysis. If not, it’s time to kill your darlings.
#2: Explicitly discuss the “what”.
Another obvious sounding one, but one which is no less common in assignments. All too often, I read lengthy recommendations that roll on for pages and pages, and I’m still left asking myself, “but what exactly are you recommending be done?”.
Simply put, students are not specific and detailed enough regarding their recommendations. They speak at a high level, very conceptually and theoretically, but not practically. There is not enough real-world detail and, as a result, it’s unclear what exactly is being recommended. They might draw on plenty theory, but there’s no real-world application – resulting in limited marks.
Here’s an example:
“The reward structure must be strategically realigned to encourage and incentivise staff behaviours which are required by the organisation’s strategy (Higgs, 2006).”
Sounds great, right? It even includes the word “strategically”! But what does it mean? There are no specifics, no details. It means nothing.
Compare it to the following:
“The focus of the reward structure must be shifted from the top left quadrant (pay structure) to the bottom right quadrant (work environment) to encourage collective behaviours (teamwork), intrinsic motivation and discretionary behaviour, as required by the organisation’s innovation-centric strategy (Higgs, 2016). For example, leadership communication could be improved by…”
The difference is in the level of detail. Notice how the latter example explicitly states what must be shifted, from where to where, and what the outcome is expected to be. Additionally, it provides a practical example, linking theory to practice, the conceptual world to the real world.
For complex recommendations, you might also consider presenting a revised model or framework, visually demonstrating the recommended change(s). In other words, you’ll have a “before and after” type presentation. For example, if your recommendation was to revise a process map (which you presented previously in the analysis), you could present the new and improved process map in the recommendations chapter. Oftentimes, visual representations can save you a good deal of word count, while also aiding marker comprehension and breaking “walls of text” – so make use of this approach wherever you can.
#3: Justify your recommendations both practically and theoretically.
You’ll notice that the last example also touched on the “why?” – in other words, the justification for the recommendation. It’s critically important that your recommendations are justified. There are, however, two forms of justification – practical and theoretical:
Practical justification: which problem (identified in your analysis chapter) does this solve? Be very explicit about which problem(s) each recommendation solves, so that you systematically resolve as many of the highlighted issues as possible. Also, briefly explain how this solves the problem – it might be obvious, but don’t leave it to the markers imagination. This needn’t be lengthy and detailed, for example:
“This recommendation resolves the key issue of X by ensuring that…”
Short and sweet.
Another aspect of the practical justification is (very brief) consideration of the feasibility. In other words, how likely is it that the organisation can pull it off. Naturally, good recommendations are realistic ones, so make it clear how each recommendation is feasible in the real world. Again, this can be a one-liner, something like this:
“This recommendation can be implemented using the organisation’s existing resources, including X and Y.”
Don’t get into an implementation discussion (this is typically a separate chapter, if at all) – just demonstrate that your recommendation is not a far-fetched pipe dream.
Theoretical justification: simply put, I’m talking about citations/references here. Whenever you make a recommendation, be sure to credit the author of the underlying theory. While some of your recommendations may just be common sense or logical deductions, it’s still likely that you came to each conclusion as a result of a model, framework or theory, which needs to be cited. By citing generously, you’ll demonstrate the link between theory and practice, which will earn you marks.
#4: Aim for a handful of key recommendations.
Typically, you should aim to present 3-5 hearty key recommendations, as opposed to a list of 10-15 lightweight recommendations. In other words, go deep, not broad.
If you have a long list of recommendations, run through them and bundle them into homogenous groups. By doing so, you’ll add more depth to each recommendation, while also making your overall argument easier for the marker to digest. Aim for quality, not quantity. Also, note that some assignments may require that you only make “one key recommendation” (for example, MP). In such cases, you need to think very carefully about how you package your recommendation to earn good marks.
On a related presentation note, you should aim to maintain a consistent structure and argumentative approach for each recommendation. In other words, for each recommendation, structure the discussion in the same order. For example:
- A detailed explanation of what is being recommended.
- Identification of what issue(s) it resolves.
- Explanation of how it resolves the issue(s), including examples.
Consistency is more important than order here. Pick any order that works for you, but be sure to apply it consistently.
#5: Summarise at the end of the chapter.
In common with the introduction chapter, you should provide a concise summary of your key recommendations at the end of the chapter to aid digestibility of your full argument. Remember, while this is the umpteenth time you’ve read your assignment, it’s the first time for the marker. Make it easy for them to understand and recall your key points. After all, this is what they’ll mark you on…
In terms of presentation, there is nothing wrong with using bullet points to summarise previously discussed content, as long as you are not presenting new information. Alternatively, if you used a particular model or framework to summarise your analysis issues, you could again present a “before and after” figure, detailing how your recommendations resolve the issues. For example:
#6: Note the assumptions and limitations.
Last but not least, you need to briefly acknowledge the assumptions and limitations of your recommendations. Every argument features assumptions and qualifications, and as a result, has limitations. Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge the assumptions that went into your analysis and consequently recommendations, and the resultant limitations these create. Highlighting the potential shortcomings of your work is not a weakness, but rather a strength in academia. It shows that you can think critically, not just of other’s points, but of your own.
That said, there’s no need to go deconstruct and discredit your entire argument. Just include a concise paragraph highlighting the key assumptions and limitations. You might also mention how these could be resolved with further data or fieldwork.
Incorporate these 6 practices into your next recommendations chapter and you will no doubt increase your mark earning capability. To recap:
- Directly address the key issues highlighted in your analysis.
- Explicitly discuss the “what”.
- Justify your recommendations both practically and theoretically.
- Group similar recommendations and apply a consistent structure.
- Summarise your key recommendation at the end of the chapter.
- Note the assumptions and limitations.
Have a question or suggestion? I’d love to hear from you. Simply leave a comment below.