Learning technique helps executives see the bigger picture

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2007, 12:00am

Edwin Luk recently sat with his business development team to discuss ways of boosting sales of 103-inch plasma televisions in Hong Kong.

As assistant general manager of Shun Hing Electronic Trading's group marketing department, Mr Luk had plenty of ideas, but he also had every intention of keeping these up his sleeve.

He wanted the team to do some thinking, so he began by asking about the size of the potential market. Different answers came back, most of them making optimistic mention of the total number of households in Hong Kong and rising standards of living.

Mr Luk asked a second question: 'Where do our customers put these TVs?' That caused a bit of head scratching. The team wanted the answer to be 'in the living room', but knew that was wrong. They were aware that the best viewing distance for such screens was about 12 feet and that most individual buyers had installed them in separate entertainment rooms.

Pressing the point, Mr Luk then asked for clarification of the average size of houses or apartments with this type of room. The team's initial estimate was about 4,000 sqft, so he asked one of them to make a quick call to check the facts. What they learned was that, in 2005, there were about 2,000 residences of more than 3,000 sqft in Hong Kong, and the vacancy rate in this category was about 10 per cent.

In just a few minutes the team had a proper understanding of their target market and a valuable lesson in business planning.

'I went on to explain that you have to look at the critical factors, like the actual delivery addresses and the lifestyle of the customers,' Mr Luk said. 'Otherwise you are just shooting in the dark.'

The technique was one he learned while taking the Richard Ivey EMBA. And, since completing the course in 2004, Mr Luk often finds the case study methods used by his former professors are directly transferable to a business setting.

'If you don't use coaching or teaching methods, staff will come back and ask you every time,' he said. 'By doing this, you give them a direction and teach them how to think. Then, they will come to you with suggestions.'

He added that the technique of getting individuals to really analyse the situation had helped to empower employees and made them more motivated.

'There is higher morale in the team and they deliver better results,' he said.