London Connection Q&A: Dr Sarah Warnes

UCL academic Dr Sarah Warnes talks about a new MOOC on the myriad of global issues that finance professionals need to consider
Dr Sarah Warnes
"MOOC participants will come from a vast array of different countries and types of organisations": Dr Sarah Warnes
While it’s an area that organisations can’t necessarily control, they do need to be aware of what’s happening in the market place

In collaboration with the University of London International Programmes and online education partner Coursera, UCL is launching a new MOOC, ‘Keeping up with Change: Issues for the Finance Professional’. One of the course instructors is Dr Sarah Warnes, a Teaching Fellow in UCL’s School of Management (UCL pictured below left).

Sarah has tutored and lectured across both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in the subjects of management, leadership, strategy, reflective practice, change, research methodology and dissertation completion. Her experience in developing modules includes all aspects of delivery, assessment and feedback.

UCLPrior to joining the public sector, Sarah worked for a private training company, and spent two years setting up operations in the UAE. She is a Senior Fellow of the HEA and holds a Doctorate from Essex Business School, University of Essex.

Dr Warnes talks to London Connection about culture, context and control.

Who is the MOOC aimed at?
It’s an interesting target audience. It’s made up of ACCA qualified accountants and affiliates who would have gained their qualification five-plus years ago, as well the wider population who are interested in this particular flavour of this MOOC. And for those who are ACCA qualified, it provides a route for them to progress on to the MSc in Professional Accountancy. This is so that they can get back into the demands of studying, before they undertake a full MSc. For the wider audience, it will offer an interesting take on the myriad of global issues that finance professionals deal with, or which they may need to consider as part of their work.

"Increasingly, more and more people are involved – as they should be – in the decision making of the organisation and the direction it’s going in." 

So the MOOC would be of interest to the generalist as well as ACCA members?
Absolutely, without question. It’s accessible to anyone in the industry, due to the generalised nature of this particular MOOC. Anyone who has an interest in, or responsibility for, the organisation’s strategic direction and involved in the strategic decisions taking place at all different levels of the organisation. And when I say strategic I don’t just mean the Director or the CEO. Increasingly, more and more people are involved – as they should be – in the decision making of the organisation and the direction it’s going in. So, anybody that has some level of responsibility for that, which arguably all employees do, would find this useful. It could be new managers who perhaps haven’t taken an academic route and want to understand some of the models and tools that can be used. 

What exactly will the MOOC cover?
The title of the MOOC is ‘Keeping up with Change: Issues for the Finance Professional’ and there are three key components all lasting approximately eight hours long. The three components are: Governance, Risk and Ethics; Corporate Reporting; and Business Analysis, which is my component. The Business Analysis element is broke down into four specific topics. The first one is assessing the strategic position. The second one is around exploring strategic direction and choice that organisations have. The third is exploring the right environment for strategic action. And the final one is monitoring and evaluating strategic action.

"What I’m really trying to stress in the module is the importance of responding to, and reading, the business environment as accurately as possible."

And in terms of your specific area, what are the current hot topics that you’ll be looking at?
One of the important ones is the impact that technology has had on the business environment in general, both the internal business environment and also the activities that take place within the organisation itself. That has to be a key feature. What I’m really trying to stress in the module is the importance of responding to, and reading, the business environment as accurately as possible. While it’s an area that organisations can’t necessarily control, they do need to be aware of what’s happening in the market place. And another aspect is the culture of the organisation: the importance of recognising whether the culture is working for or against the organisation, and whether it’s inhibiting progress and change. The other important thing to remember is context – everything we do in the module has to be applied in context. So with the theory that we’re covering, I’ll always put it in the context of an organisation or business environment as it is today.

Will the theories that you look at be applicable wherever you are in the world? Do they have global resonance?
Absolutely, and that’s another key area: globalisation. I’ve tried to use different organisations and examples, and from different industries, because I fully appreciate that the participants taking this MOOC will be coming from a vast array of different countries and types of organisations.

Could you talk a little bit about one or two of the case studies that you’ll be looking at?
One example would be using one of the TED Talks videos. Ricardo Semler talks about his Brazil-based organisation, Semco, which operates in a different way – they talk about it as an organisation with almost no rules. I use that as a way to exemplify different cultures and different ways of managing a business. When I’m explaining the models in the videos I always draw on different organisations. And in Porter’s Five Forces [an analytical framework for assessing business competitiveness strategies in a particular market], I draw on three different industries. That’s how I’m bringing in different organisations rather than specific case studies, per se.

"Throughout the MOOC, I ask the participants to relate the different theories and concepts to their own organisation."

And what examples do you explore in relation to Porter’s Five Forces?
I provide three samples of completed Porter’s Five Forces: the airline industry, coffee houses, and supermarkets. And I’ve deliberately chosen these three hoping that the participants would have experience of at least one. For every industry, Porter’s Five Forces would be different, and I try to show that. Throughout the MOOC, I ask the participants to relate the different theories and concepts to their own organisation. Arguably, the organisation they work for becomes their own case study – because, for this MOOC to have real value, they need to be able to apply their knowledge to their own context and hopefully develop a deeper understanding of the organisation they work for.

"[Participants] see their peers’ examples, and they share their own examples – so that they build on their knowledge base from their peers, but also provide them with feedback."

What practical skills might participants gain from the MOOC?
One of the key aspects is that I’m trying to build up their skills base, almost like a toolbox of skills that they can use to, for example, analyse the internal and external environment of organisations. Where I’m introducing a theory like the Five Forces, PESTLE analysis or Ansoff Matrix, they are then asked to complete an analysis of their own organisation using this tool. So they’re actually practising these skills in real-world contexts. And then, importantly, they see their peers’ examples, and they share their own examples – so that they build on their knowledge base from their peers, but also provide them with feedback, which I think is another very important practical skill that we all need in business.

Will there be interactive elements within the MOOC?
An example would be, once participants complete the value chain exercise, they would then upload that, and at least three other peers would then provide feedback on their work. So there’s interaction in terms of giving and receiving feedback. But the tasks are done independently, and then that knowledge is shared.

Watch an introductory video about ‘Keeping up with Change: Issues for the Finance Professional’

  • To register for ‘Keeping up with Change: Issues for the Finance Professional’ please visit the Coursera website
  • Find out more about the other University of London MOOCs we offer through Coursera.