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Command Words: How to deal with Discuss questions

Watch this to unpack a discussion into corporate culture for Higher Business (and to find out where to work that offers sleeping pods for staff)

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Imagine a workplace that provided free breakfast, lunch and dinner to all staff, mostly organic healthy meals, every day. Plus the occasional sunshine barbecue. Unlimited snacks and drinks right by your desk, free gym access, an on-site doctor, a massage therapist, a hairdresser, video games, table tennis and pool tables, laundry services, sleeping pods to take a nap, even fire poles and slides to go down a level so there’s no need to take the stairs! You can even bring your dog to work with you.

Well, there’s no need to imagine. It’s a reality and it’s called The Googleplex; Google’s US headquarters in California. Thousands of lucky employees get to call this place their office. Must be pretty big right? It’s the size of about seven football pitches! Not to worry, staff can zip around easily using electric powered g-bikes. Why does the company provide all these perks and benefits? It all relates to Google’s corporate culture; a set of beliefs or customs engrained by the founders of the business to create a certain atmosphere.

Corporate culture is important as it is often the face the world sees of a business.

Let’s discuss this further...

Let’s use the topic of corporate culture at Google to consider how best to address exam questions that ask you to ‘discuss’.

These are usually fairly high value; maybe five or six marks so you want to know your approach here.

A discussion, whether it’s an exam question or just over coffee with a friend, usually involves two points of view. When writing your answers here, this is what you should aim for: Essentially, you’re required to present advantages and disadvantages. Let’s say you have a six mark question like this [on screen text 1]:
Discuss the impact of an organisation having a strong corporate culture

Most people would tackle this by offering three advantages and three disadvantages and that’s perfect. However, there is flexibility here.

You can still achieve full marks in your answer even if you can think of five advantages and only one disadvantage. This may seem a little unbalanced but you’re still offering two points of view.

The advantages are perhaps easy.
Some examples might include:

The relaxed working environment will result in staff feeling less pressure at work, making them more productive.

The facilities available to staff may help them achieve a work/life balance and so they’ll be more loyal to Google.

The wide range of benefits on offer will help attract high quality applicants to work there.

The counterpoints or downsides, however, can be harder to think of but they are still required if you are to provide a balanced answer.

You might perhaps highlight that establishing and maintaining this kind of infrastructure in a workplace takes massive initial investment – costs that the company must bear. Or perhaps you could argue that this type of corporate culture might actually put off some very good people who do not share these values or who prefer a more structured and traditional corporate setting.

Coming back to the Google example again; a risk of this very relaxed culture where you can even take an afternoon nap, is that some employees may lose focus and perhaps not produce the level of work they’re capable of.

You could write:

Depending on the workplace layout, some staff may feel isolated or unable to communicate effectively with colleagues.

a lack of structured working arrangements may impact productivity of the organisation

The Discuss command word then, generally requires you to present two sides of a story. You may also see this referred to as costs and benefits which is the same as advantages and disadvantages. One note of caution here though, sometimes the question may ask you for one side of the story only. For a good example of this, check out the 2018 Higher Business past paper; question 1(f). This is a six marker and is based on case study material too so it’s fairly challenging.

Another common mistake to watch out for when tackling Discussion questions, especially on corporate culture, is that some candidates are too descriptive in talking about the methods of establishing this; like having a casual dress code or a cool office layout like Google, rather than talking about the costs and benefits of these things.

So when you’re tackling those discussion questions, make sure to read the exact wording, and balance your answer carefully.

The Googleplex is home to a very unique corporate culture; part high-tech internet firm, part intellectual think tank, part Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory! And you may well be thinking ‘that’s the place for me!’. Free hot dogs and a slide to get downstairs sounds exciting, but there are issues with this, and you need to be ready to discuss them.

Every corporate culture has its pros and cons, and its your job to know them inside and out.