Upon deciding the topic of “The business and financial performance of David S Smith Plc (DSS) and their comparison with Smurfit Kappa Group Plc (SKG) over the three year period from 2008 to 2010”, I asked my line manager Mr. Aftab Khan if he could be my mentor for this Research & Analysis Project. Mr. Khan is an MBA, MCIPS and FCILT with over twenty two years of highly accomplished professional career. He is Head of Purchasing for Delifrance (UK) Limited and has been my mentor for ACCA for past three years. I have also achieved NVQ Level 4 in Supply Chain Management and MCIPS under his mentorship. Mr. Khan kindly accepted to be my mentor and took me through the guidelines from Oxford Brookes University on how to choose the topic and conduct this Research and Analysis Project. My mentor is quite inspirational and is keen about continuing professional development of his team. He is my role model.
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As per the requirement of the project, three pre-planned meetings were mutually set with my mentor for accomplishment of my objectives.
I learned that the following main steps were fundamental to the success of any meeting that I will need to hold with not only my mentor but also all those people who I need to approach in connection with my project.
- Defining the objectives of meeting
- Selecting participants
- Developing agendas
- Sending the meeting request and booking the meeting rooms
- Following up on confirmation of attendance
- Setting the meeting room resources - projector, note pads, flip charts, coffee etc.
- Opening the Meeting
- Establishing Ground Rules
- Time Management in Meetings
- Coordinating the discussions and bringing them to a close
- Taking notes
- Evaluating the Meeting Process and achievement of objective
- Closing the Meeting
I was able to reflect on what I had learned from my mentor and pursued to conduct each meeting in a structured manner ensuring that the outcome of that meeting was aligned with the main objectives. The three formal meetings with Mr. Khan were held at two different places, two at Mr. Khan's office and the last one in our office video conference room.
In our first meeting, I explained the rationale behind my choice of topic. We both agreed that this research topic will not only help in attaining an academic qualification but it will also significantly contribute in developing some key transferable professional skills. After agreeing the research topic with Mr. Khan in our first meeting, I began to learn the whole process of conducting the research. I was taking notes as I learned how to define the scope and methodology of the project. I learned about my potential sources of information and how to gain access to those primary and secondary sources during the collection of data on DSS and SKG. I was able to draw up a brief outline of the whole project at the end of the meeting. We also diarized our next meeting.
The second meeting proved to be the most educational as I my mentor answered a lot of questions that I had relayed to him prior to the meeting. I also got some constructive criticism.
Finally, in our third and last meeting, I was supposed to hand over my complete report and make a power point presentation.
Overall, the presentation was well received. However, the feedback I received was that I should rather be quick and not dwell too much on details.
How well do you think that you have answered your research questions?
After confirming the research topic with my mentor, I designed following research questions:
- Is David S Smith Plc's (DSS) yearly performance consistent?
- Is DSS's business and financial strategy effective?
- How does DSS's financial performance compare to its largest competitor?
- Is DSS well positioned to respond to market threats and avail potential opportunities that arise along the way?
The aim of these questions was to evaluate business and financial performance of the company in question. For financial evaluation, I used ratio analysis and sales growth analysis whereas for business evaluation, I used SWOT analysis. The sources of information for both were audited annual reports, books, newspapers, magazines, internet surveys and series of interviews with my business contacts at DSS, SKG and peers.
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Attention to details was the most important skill required in all these activities. I tried my best to not to commit errors whilst computing ratios but it is easier said then done. My mentor identified some improvements required in the comparison on like for like basis. I realized that the financial statements of both companies were in different currencies and therefore I converted the financial results of SKG into GBP using average exchange rates for the past three years.
In our second meeting, I was supposed to update my mentor on the evaluation that I had carried out. Theoretically, I felt that I had answered all these questions very proficiently but I experienced problems whilst explaining them. This vulnerability became more prominent when my mentor asked me some unexpected questions. I tried answering them by diverging into details and ultimately did get my point across but I have to admit, the need shouldn't have risen in first place. After the meeting, I edited the contents of my project, summarized key findings for my presentation.
I believe that I have effectively answered the above questions as not only I have assessed DSS on their annual sales growth, their margins and other key ratios but have also identified their strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. I have then compared them with their largest competitor SKG and identified the areas for improvement.
The quality and efficacy of my research and analysis has been well received by my mentor as well as the senior managers at DSS.
How have you demonstrated your interpersonal and communication skills during the project work?
I realize that interpersonal skillsare the abilities of apersonthat he uses to interact with other people, for example being able to support and encourage others, being able to give and receive constructive criticism as well as being able to negotiate. Moreover, interpersonal skills also mean listening to and valuing others' opinions, and being able to communicate your point clearly to a group. However, interpersonal skills are not the same as spoken communication skills but they overlap each other as communication is crucial to good interpersonal skills.
In my communication with my mentor during the three formal and several informal meetings, I took care to be lucid and intelligible. I prepared my questions in advance and posed them in a clear, precise manner. I arranged my questions in a logical order so as not to cause any confusion and provided sufficient time to my mentor for answering each question. Both of us tried to keep our communication meaningful and effective. I also repeated my questions rephrased them when required in order to make my meaning clear. I did not hesitate to ask the same question again until I had received a satisfactory answer and completely understood the important points.
In the first meeting I was perplexed as to where to start and how to proceed with such a gigantic project work so I sought the guidance of my mentor in all matters and tried to learn from his professional knowledge and wisdom. I kept asking different questions about the various aspects of the project in order to devise my own plan of action on how to proceed with the research. My mentor appreciated my inquisitive approach and clarified all confusing matters.
Being a good listener is crucial for meaningful communication and listening is a two way process. I realized the importance of effective listening in acquiring knowledge and information during meetings with my mentor, key business contacts and colleagues from within the business. I always listened attentively to their ideas, suggestions and comments on my project work.
I paid close attention to what my mentor was saying and always waited for him to finish his point before I responded to it. I also waited a moment before replying after he had finished speaking in case he wanted to add something that might have occurred to him.
I carried on spontaneous communication with my mentor in a mutually interactive atmosphere. This contributed to forging a productive relationship with my mentor and furthered effective communication. During our conversations my mind was actively engaged in receiving, processing, interpreting, organizing and storing relevant and important information.
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Our conversation was a two way communication process in which my mentor and I both participated actively and shared our opinions .I was able to develop effective concentration skills that helped me focus on our communication and successfully counter external distractions such as the noise from our immediate surroundings. This improved the communication process and promoted mutual understanding.
Effective communication was essential to acquire the knowledge and information crucial for the successful completion of the research project. Study of the various aspects of the Shannon-Weaver Model of classic communication such as the sender/receiver and their respective coding/decoding of the messages transmitted through appropriate mediums and most significantly the feedback was instrumental in conducting effective communication for my research. On the whole I believe the whole communication process contributed a lot to my learning on how to communicate more effectively and will bear a positive influence on all my future communications.
How has undertaking the RAP helped you in your accountancy studies and/or current employment role?
On commencing ACCA I was aware of the advantages of this professional qualification for the students of Accountancy. After passing Fundamental papers F7, F8 and F9 I was ready to start working on my project. Research and Analysis Project (RAP) provided me with the opportunity of practical application of the theoretical knowledge gained during ACCA and I applied this knowledge to the best of my abilities.
The RAP helped me enhance my capabilities in various fields such as utilizing IT tools and acquiring effective interpersonal and communication skills. This project is a great opportunity to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application.
RAP facilitated the improvement of my computer skills as it involved completion of a research report on MS word, preparing a Skills and Learning Statement of 1877 words and preparing PowerPoint slides including graphs and charts for my presentation. Having worked in such a professional and technologically advanced environment would help me career-wise as well. Although I already had some experience in working with computers particularly MS word and Excel, I had not previously been required to prepare a full length professional report of presentation and thus RP further enhanced my computer skills
It contributed to my accountancy studies as well as I had chosen the topic “The business and financial performance of an organization over a three year period”. The extensive research regarding the company, the overall industry and the relevant country's economy helped me to acquire useful knowledge about the larger scenario of the macro-economic environment of a country and how the financial standing of a company affects its market value and influences investor's confidence. By acquiring accurate data and calculating different ratios I was able to determine the correct financial position of the company and also to predict the future of the company and potential threats faced by it after studying the various ratios and the reasons for their fluctuations. I conducted SWOT analysis which helped me determine the relative strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the company's business. RP buttressed my confidence in my knowledge and analytical abilities.
RAP required me to conduct three meeting with my mentor. It increased my confidence in carrying out direct communications with high-level professionals where I was able to channel my thoughts and ideas into words and at the same time pay active attention to the words of my seniors. This helped me to develop an effective communication technique which contributed to my deep understanding of all the relevant ideas and concepts. Overall the whole experience of working on this RP has been very positive in honing my communication skills for subsequent future interactions.