Masters research projects: what to expect and how to prepare

Embarking on a Masters degree is an academic journey that often ends with a research project. This in-depth exploration into a specific topic or area of interest is a rite of passage for many postgraduate students, and can be both a challenging and rewarding endeavour. 

Unlike Masters coursework, which imparts foundational knowledge and develops or expands skill sets, an academic research project or dissertation is an opportunity for students to delve deeply into a specific area within their field of study. It involves original research and the application of theoretical concepts to address specific research questions. But good research isn’t just about finding answers – it’s about asking the right questions and pushing the boundaries of knowledge.

What is the purpose of a Masters research project?

The purpose of a Masters research project is multifaceted. It showcases understanding of the subject matter and also demonstrates an ability to conduct independent research. This process hones critical thinking skills, cultivates a deep understanding of research methodologies and contributes valuable insights to the academic community. 

Understanding the difference between a research project and a thesis

In the United Kingdom, a research project or dissertation is typically undertaken at the end of a Masters degree, while a thesis is typically undertaken during PhD studies. But both offer an opportunity to conduct extensive, in-depth exploration of a research question.

A step-by-step guide to developing a research project

Beginning a research project can be daunting. The task ahead requires extensive planning and exhaustive research before the writing even begins. Breaking the project down into smaller pieces can help to make it more manageable. 

Step 1: Choose a research topic

Identify an area of interest within your field of study for the research proposal. This might be a current issue in the field or perhaps a more theoretical problem. 


At this stage, it helps to explore existing literature to understand gaps in knowledge and research, and to identify potential research ideas. Then, narrow down the focus based on personal interest as well as feasibility. 

Step 2: Formulate a research question 

Develop a clear and concise research question that encapsulates the essence of the project and the research aims.

Ensure the question is researchable, relevant, and will contribute to the existing body of knowledge in the field. 

Step 3: Conduct a literature review

Explore relevant journal articles, books and other scholarly sources, and analyse existing literature to identify key theories, methodologies and any gaps in knowledge.

Step 4: Develop a research plan

Outline the scope, objectives and timeline for the research project. This step also includes specifying the research design, methodology and data collection techniques such as focus groups or questionnaires.

Step 5: Data collection

Implement the research plan by collecting data and conducting research using appropriate methods. Ensure ethical considerations are adhered to throughout the data collection process.

Step 6: Data analysis

Use qualitative research and/or quantitative research methods based on the project’s specifications, and then interpret the findings to address the research hypotheses or questions.

Step 7: Write the research paper

Structure the paper with clear sections such as an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion and conclusion. Remember to ensure proper citation of sources and adherence to academic writing conventions and styles.

Advice on preparing and researching for a Masters research project

There are a number of ways to ease the pressure during the pre-writing stages of a research project:

  • Start early. Begin as early as possible to allow ample time for each stage. Early planning minimises stress and allows for thoughtful consideration of research ideas.
  • Seek guidance. Consult with any dedicated academic advisors regularly. Seek feedback on the research question, the methodology and overall progress.
  • Use resources wisely. Leverage the university’s libraries, databases and online resources for comprehensive literature reviews, and attend workshops and seminars to enhance research skills.
  • Stay organised. Implement effective project management techniques. Keep meticulous records of the research process including data collection and analysis.

Tips for writing a Masters research project

After all the preparation, planning and research are underway, it’s time to start thinking about writing. This process can be time-consuming but can be made more straightforward by:

  • Crafting a compelling introduction. Clearly outline the significance of the research through introducing the research question and justifying its relevance.
  • Ensuring a thorough literature review. Synthesise existing literature to provide a solid foundation for the research. Highlight gaps and justify the need for the study.
  • Establishing and maintaining methodological rigour. Clearly articulate research design and methodology. Justify the choice of methods and demonstrate their appropriateness.
  • Creating a clear results section. Present findings with clarity and precision. Use tables, charts and graphs to enhance data visualisation.
  • Building a coherent discussion section. Interpret results in the context of existing literature in order to discuss the implications of the findings and propose avenues for further research.
  • Planning for a solid conclusion. Summarise the key contributions of the research and emphasise the significance of the findings in the broader field of study on the topic.

Conduct a Masters research project in finance, leadership, and management

Develop leadership skills and professional adaptability with the University of York’s 100% online MSc Finance, Leadership and Management programme. This flexible Masters programme will give you valuable insight into your own professional development while building your problem-solving and communication skills.

Your studies will prepare you to respond rapidly and effectively to changing business and financial environments, and upon graduation you will receive affiliate CMI membership and be awarded a Level 7 certificate in Strategic Management and Leadership Practice.

As part of your postgraduate programme, you’ll also conduct a longer sustained research project that you can use to demonstrate your critical analytical skills, your ability to gather and synthesise data and literature from a range of sources, and your subject-specific knowledge. You’ll work under the guidance of a personal supervisor with expertise in the subject you’re studying, and they’ll help you develop research questions and identify methods and theories to investigate and analyse your topic.

How does social structure affect international business?

The number of companies operating internationally is increasing, with many UK businesses setting their sights on global trade despite an uncertain economic outlook. Airwallex – a financial technology platform that supports businesses with their expansion efforts – reports that 70% of UK small-medium enterprises (SMEs) plan to scale internationally in 2023.

Globalisation has given rise to international trade and global business partnerships, connecting companies and consumers across geographical, political, social, economic and cultural boundaries. Those operating in our global marketplace – with its vast web of multinational stakeholders, including employees, supply chain contacts and policymakers, customers, business partners and investors – must understand that society and culture has an impact on every aspect of overseas business.

How does social structure affect business?

How organisations construct, coordinate and engage with their workforces, business activities and wider marketplaces is closely linked to social structure. The impacts can be far-reaching, from how they interact with their environments to the values that drive and shape their work.

The social structures and contexts businesses operate within can have significant impact – whether positive, negative or neutral – on a host of aspects.

  • Cohesion – how do businesses maintain identity and structure while balancing internal and external pressures?
  • Adaptation – how do businesses innovate and integrate in response to changing environments?
  • Hierarchy and power relations – how do businesses handle questions of autonomy, power management, resource allocation, negotiation and organisational models?
  • Conflict – how do businesses seek to address organisational blockages, poor productivity, insecurity, high stress levels, labour disputes or absenteeism?

Decision-making across each of these axes has subsequent impacts on any number of factors, such as social and identity links between employers and employees, communication and communication tools, and the flow of information.

Business leaders and managers must examine and reflect on these – and other – critical issues. Awareness of social structures and how they relate to organisational management is one aspect, but any awareness should be followed up by considered, responsible solutions, where required.

And that’s before the global business dimension is added to the mix.

Why do social factors and structures matter in international business?

The individual social structures and contexts of different demographics, communities, countries and nations all feed into the complex, interconnected space of global business and operations. They play a key role in shaping both macro and micro business practices: how the organisation is managed, what goods and services are produced, how they will be sold, what managerial and operational practices are established and, ultimately, how successful an international venture will be.

Businesses with international and multinational interdependencies must consider the predominant attitudes, values and beliefs of the countries in which they operate if they are to succeed in their business goals and avoid issues and tensions.

Sociocultural factors to be mindful of include:

  • culture
  • language
  • religion
  • education level
  • customer preferences
  • societal attitudes

Sociocultural differences and values impact every aspect of business practice. How do employees like to be managed? Is entrepreneurship encouraged? Are business ethics and social responsibility prioritised? What competencies are valued and rewarded? How is organisational social change received?

If they are to remove barriers to success, operational ease, as well as workplace cohesion and profit, leaders must remain cognisant of these factors. Balancing different social structures and values will support organisations to:

  • create stability, order and a framework in which all stakeholders can interact, cooperate and co-exist
  • understand the complex relationships between different social cultures and structures and their roles
  • predict the behaviours and responses of others
  • share information and resources for collective benefit
  • provide laws, regulations and social norms which support desired behaviours and attitudes
  • establish a sense of identity, belonging, unity and purpose.

This last point is particularly important, as Mark Granovetter – an American sociologist and professor, dubbed the ‘father of social network analysis’ – demonstrates in his Strength of Weak Ties theory. The theory posits that ‘weak ties’, such as those that exist between acquaintances (‘strong ties’, alternatively, are those between close friends) can help to form a bridge between clusters of people – such as disparate groups in the workplace. Novel information, therefore, can then be shared across these clusters, resulting in greater widespread awareness and inclusivity than would occur via people with strong ties.

How can cultural differences be managed by international businesses?

Stereotypes, misunderstanding and ignorance related to different cultures and traditions can lead to disruption, offence, and the inability of some teams to work effectively or handle cross-cultural business dealings.

Effective management of cultural differences is not only the remit of human resource management: it extends to every corner of an organisation and must be embedded in everyday business practice.

Managing cultural differences includes embracing diversity and accommodating differences, promoting open communication, discussing and modelling shared company culture and behavioural norms, rallying teams around shared visions and common causes, and providing training, awareness and leadership of cultural diversity.

What are the current and emerging social issues for international businesses in 2023?

For many business leaders, an unstable social, economic, political and environment backdrop will present as many threats as it does opportunities – and, in turn, may impact existing social structures and frameworks.

Global business insights and thought leadership experts INSEAD Knowledge outline some of the events, contexts and trends for businesses to remain aware of:

  • climate change
  • income and wealth inequality
  • social instability
  • inflation and recession risks
  • geopolitical crises

Adapt to international contexts, challenges and opportunities with ease

Gain a fundamental, in-depth understanding of finance, economics, and the management of complex organisations with the University of York’s online MSc Finance, Leadership and Management programme.

Excel as a financial leader with the skills, knowledge and drive to respond quickly and effectively to changeable financial and business environments. You’ll become adept at developing solutions, seizing opportunities, thinking strategically and leading international businesses to achieve their aims. As well as specialist expertise regarding financial markets and the tools and theories of finance, your flexible studies will cover investment management, asset pricing, financial strategy, operations management and more.

Understanding the global business environment

The global business environment is a complex one. When businesses operate across national borders to buy, sell, produce or manufacture goods and services in different countries, they are obligated to consider a number of important variables. This includes different:

  • tax systems and tariffs
  • legal requirements
  • regulatory and compliance frameworks
  • social and cultural norms
  • political climates
  • technologies
  • economic and market factors
  • shipping and transport processes

In addition to these considerations, international business management requires organisations to have a solid understanding of the current conversations, trends, issues and challenges that can impact businesses operating in the global market.  

Current topics and challenges in global business


Inflation – the term used to describe rising prices – is one of the biggest issues facing businesses today. As of March 2023, the UK inflation rate had reached 10.4%, a significant rise on the target rate of 2%.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), consumer price inflation in the UK has reached highs not seen in around 40 years.

“Higher tradable goods prices reflect the global recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including the effects of imbalances in product and labour markets,” the ONS states. “Food and energy prices have also increased markedly this year, particularly gas prices, largely in response to the conflict in Ukraine.”

The challenge isn’t confined to the UK, though, with the global inflation rate hitting 8.8% in 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

For businesses, high inflation rates can have a number of consequences. For example, they can increase the cost of business operations and reduce purchasing power. However, it’s worth noting that the IMF predicts global inflation will fall to 6.6% during 2023, and then to 4.3% in 2024. 

Global supply chain issues

Many businesses are currently grappling with global supply chain issues, with the supply and shipments of goods unable to keep up with demand, causing global shortages. The supply chain crisis is another challenge exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, but other culprits include changes in international trade – Brexit as one example – in addition to shifts in demand and labour shortages.

International business research by J.P. Morgan found that in addition to these problems, there are a number of challenges and risk factors stemming from the Russia-Ukraine conflict and recent COVID-19 lockdowns in China.

  • Air-freight transportation limitations particularly impacts on use of the Asia-Europe lane where planes would typically travel through Russian airspace.
  • Rail freight disruptions issues connected to the overland rail link from China to Europe which passes through Russia.
  • Northern European port congestion – another spillover impact from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Ships have had to be rerouted causing congestion and leading to delays in cargo flows
  • Manufacturing delays – reduced manufacturing, a truck driver shortage, and other consequences as a result of the recent lifting of COVID-19 lockdowns in China. 

According to KPMG, however, businesses have a number of options to help navigate their way through supply chain issues. These include adopting a flexible business strategy that can adapt by using technology to reduce operating costs and diversify the way customer needs are met, and through implementing responsive fleet management and supply chain networks.

Human resource management

Human resources in an international context is known as global human resources management, and it is a necessity for multinational corporations (MNCs) or any other businesses employing workforces across multiple countries.

Through global human resource management systems, organisations can manage and support their staff by adapting their policies as necessary for different laws and legislation. 

International marketing

As businesses expand into the global environment or other emerging markets, they will need to consider their international marketing strategy.

International marketing enables businesses to effectively promote their goods and services to audiences outside their domestic market. They can adapt to different cultures and languages when building brand awareness in a new territory, and consider outsourcing for cultural expertise in specific regions where needed.

Corporate social responsibility

It has become common practice for a business strategy to include an element of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Corporate social responsibility offers businesses models of how to operate and conduct entrepreneurship in a socially responsible way.

According to Harvard Business School, there are four types of CSR.

  1. Environmental responsibility, which aims to reduce environmentally harmful practices, regulate energy consumption and offset negative environmental impacts.
  2. Ethical responsibility, which focuses on fair practice and business ethics.
  3. Philanthropic responsibility, which aims to make the world and society a better place.
  4. Economic responsibility, which aims to commit to environmental, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities while also maximising profits.


An increasing number of enterprises around the world are introducing sustainability into their business processes and policies to the benefit of both the environment and the business itself. For example, IBM suggests that 80% of consumers say sustainability is important to them and are willing to pay a premium for goods from brands that are environmentally responsible.

There are various metrics businesses can use to assess their sustainability. The World Bank suggests 10 sustainability principles:

  1. Be climate resilient.
  2. Be energy smart.
  3. Be water efficient.
  4. Ensure resource efficiency.
  5. Reduce waste.
  6. Promote sustainable land management.
  7. Eliminate corruption.
  8. Enhance diversity and inclusion.
  9. Ensure staff wellbeing.
  10. Engage and preserve the community.

Mergers and acquisitions

Global mergers and acquisitions are expected to remain strong in 2023. Despite economic uncertainty created by challenges such as the conflict in Ukraine and ongoing supply chain bottlenecks, accounting firms such as PwC suggest there are opportunities for businesses to create new partnerships and take advantage of attractive valuations, lessened competition and new assets coming to market.

Why is it important to understand the global business environment?

Businesses that have a solid understanding of the global economy and international business environment are better positioned to manage challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. A prepared business can: 

  • gain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace
  • secure new avenues for foreign direct investment
  • use evidence to support strong business decision-making
  • implement appropriate risk management measures.

Take an in-depth look at the contemporary topics in global business

Advance your career with the University of York’s flexible Master of Business Administration (MBA). This distance learning degree is taught part-time and 100% online, which means you can learn around your current professional commitments and apply your studies to your existing career. It includes a key module in contemporary topics in global business, focusing on new, relevant, and up-to-date macro and micro business topics. You will also explore how people and processes interact to shape the global business environment while considering the political and economic factors that affect organisations.

Strategic management theories: supporting leaders to achieve their business objectives

Modern, turbulent business environments demand business leaders to develop approaches that can respond to change, adversity and unpredictability. Leaders who fail in this endeavour are likely to find their businesses outcompeted, outmanoeuvred, and obsolete.

Top management executives are cognisant of this and are keen to design and develop methods of avoiding this fate. Dynamic capabilities – an organisation’s ability to adapt to the environment in which it finds itself – together with strategic, plan-focused leadership may hold the answer.

What is strategic management?

Successful leaders ensure that company resources are used in the best possible ways to achieve both short-term and long-term business objectives. Strategic management is a universal business strategy which drives the organisation toward these objectives.

Strategic management is the highly organised, continuous process of planning, monitoring, and adapting progress towards a company’s objectives and ambitions. It enables businesses of all types and sizes to evaluate their overall progress and performance and make adjustments to their operations and activities to better align themselves with their goal-orientated roadmaps.

Responsive, continuous strategic management allows businesses to remain resilient in ever-evolving environments and situations. Changes in both internal and external business environments – from staffing issues, to new industry regulations, to shifting customer demands – can happen at any time. A business which can alter its course of action by flexibly leveraging resources, assets and other core competencies in response to change and adversity is well-placed to remain on track and enjoy superior performance, while simultaneously managing its transaction costs.

There are a number of other key benefits to strategic management and strategic decision-making:

  • Stakeholders are aligned with business objectives, facilitating operations and establishing a shared, cohesive corporate culture
  • Businesses are more likely to achieve their desired ambitions, goals, and key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Performance can be measured, monitored, and managed in line with planned targets
  • Systems, processes, and business units and activities are better aligned with the wider vision
  • Cost savings are made due to better allocation of resources and return on investment (ROI)
  • Businesses are able to develop in a structured manner and grow in resilience, sustainability, and flexibility
  • Key activities and projects such as the launch of new products or services can be prioritised according to the overarching plan.

A direct result of these strategic planning benefits is an increase in competitive advantages. 

What are the main strategic management theories?

There are various schools of thought in the field of strategic management:

  • Profit‐maximising and competition‐based theory – the main business objective is to maximise long-term profit and develop a sustainable competitive advantage over other businesses. This industrial-organisation (I/O) perspective deems external market positioning as the most important factor incompetitiveness.
  • Resource‐based theory – a company’s competitive advantage is found in its internal firm resources, competencies, and capabilities rather than its positioning in the external environment.
  • Survival‐based theory – the concept that an organisation must continuously adapt to its competitive environment if it is to survive.
  • Human resource-based theory – the notion that human factors of an organisation are the most critical elements in the strategic process.
  • Agency theory – the importance of the underlying relationships between company owners and company managers, in this context referred to as shareholders and agents.
  • Contingency theory – businesses should design an appropriate management strategy for the situations and conditions they is no isolated, best approach to organisational management.

Gary Hamel and C. K. Pralahad’s strategic intent theory is based on the concept that ‘Western companies focus on trimming ambitions to match resources.’This strategy only searches for advantages that can be sustained. In contrast, Japanese corporations ‘leverage resources by accelerating the pace of organisational learning,’ a methodology that enables them to conceptualise and achieve bigger goals. Motivating workforces with  global vision reinforced by strong leadership may prove a more useful strategy that doesn’t set its own limitations and constraints.

The key tenets of strategic intent are:

  •   capturing the essence of winning
  •   stability over time
  •   setting targets that inspire personal effort and commitment.

Ultimately, the competitive strategy and theory chosen by any leadership team will differ based on its assessment of what the business requires to reach its goals. Whatever the chosen approach, most businesses will do well to factor in Michael Porter’s three strategies to maximise competitive advantage: cost leadership, differentiation, and market segmentation. Additionally, Porter highlights the importance of evaluating the substitutes of any organisation’s products or services.

What is the strategic management process?

Strategy formulation should underpin and inform an organisation’s business model. It generally includes four key steps which apply to both new businesses and established organisations:analysis, formation, execution, and evaluation and control.

  1. Analysis. First, identify and clarify business intentions in line with the organisational mission statement. Use a SWOT analysis to investigate the correlation between the intentions and current performance, gather data and information from stakeholders, and conduct risk management evaluations. This information, together with a clear idea of company objectives, will inform the strategic approach.
  2. Formation. Design a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) action plan based on achieving the objectives to serve as a framework for activities, resource allocation, contingencies, and other considerations.
  3. Execution. Once all stakeholders are up-to-date with the plan and resources are where they need to be, the plan can get underway. For example, business processes in need of restructuring are reorganised in line with the plan and ready to go.
  4. Evaluation and control. Assess progress so far, benchmarking any progress made against the original objectives and goals. Depending on the outcome, corrective action and alternative plans may be required.  

Remember: each action should be purposeful and intended to bring business activities  into alignment with overarching strategic objectives. In-depth research and articles detailing the process – as well as wider expertise in the field of management strategy – can be found in the Strategic Management Journal, the Journal of Management, and other leading international journals.

The balanced scorecard

Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton’s balanced scorecard (BSC) provides a quick, detailed insight into overall company performance, enabling leaders to gain an objective view of the firm.

Examining performance through the scorecard’s four key measures – financial analysis, customer analysis, internal analysis, and learning and growth perspectives – offers holistic feedback that allows business owners to make strategic changes in a timely manner. Additionally, it exposes key areas that require urgent intervention and informs how action plans may be revisited and redeveloped in light of organisational performance and health.

Gain the skills to design and execute a winning corporate strategy

Shape your leadership and strategic management skills on a flexible course that fits your lifestyle with the University of York’s online MBA programme.

Learn how to excel in challenging global business environments where making the right strategic choices is critically important. You’ll develop as a 21st-century leader with in-depth expertise across the leadership and management spectrum, together with the key communication, strategy, and consultancy skills needed to excel. Your broad-based understanding will cover a number of core business disciplines, including operations management, cross-cultural management, entrepreneurship, global business issues, finance and financial risk, corporate governance, strategy, marketing, and more.

Business across borders: The importance of international business law

International business is an essential part of a growing global economy. The integration of national economies into a global economic system – otherwise known as globalisation – has been one of the most important developments over the last century, prompting an extraordinary swell in international trade, commerce and production. 

This connectedness of markets and peoples has produced global value chains that account for a sizable share of trade growth, global gross domestic product and employment in both developed and developing countries. 

As such, international business has become a vital condition for economic and social development – especially for low-income countries. However, the ways in which this business is conducted can have a significant impact on the fortunes and futures of a nation.

Why do we need international business laws?

International business law comprises the various legal aspects of conducting business across borders, including business transactions, entity formation and funding, intellectual property protection, regulatory compliance, dispute resolution and international trade policy. They are put in place to regulate the business operations of a company and their supply chain across different nations. 

Upholding international laws is meant to protect against exploitation of a thriving economy or the oppression of a more vulnerable nation. Consequently, the impact of law-making must be carefully considered; the recent political crisis sparked by the Prime Minister’s proposed changes to the negotiated Northern Ireland Protocol is a prime example of this.

Trade or commerce is often at the centrepoint of these considerations, as the economic impact of a certain policy or transaction can be widespread. Multiple jurisdictions must be consulted. Trade agreements provide rules that assimilate and support fair and lawful trade between respective countries, and – ultimately – make business transactions easier.

International commercial law consists of a body of legal rules, conventions, treaties, domestic legislation and commercial customs that governs international business transactions. These laws facilitate mutually beneficial cooperation between respective countries, spanning economics, licensing, tariffs and taxes, and many other elements of business.

Why is international trade so important?

On a business scale, international trade is essential for increasing revenue, broadening a customer base and ensuring a longer product lifespan. Companies can also benefit from currency exchange fluctuations and gain access to a wider pool of potential employees. The majority of Fortune 500 corporations operate locations overseas, while all boast an international client list. 

The impact of the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of globalisation. Following the pandemic, businesses (both big and small) are increasingly relying on international trade to improve commercial viability, with 34% citing a desire to expand internationally and 51% of business leaders influenced to change their view on the value of exports.

Going global: Things to consider

For any company contemplating global expansion, the following are legal questions it will need to consider.

  • Labour and employment law: If a business hires or subcontracts overseas, it is subject to the respective country’s labour and employment laws. Consulting legal counsel is essential in helping companies with compliance and risk mitigation.
  • International trade compliance: Whenever a business transaction crosses borders, it invokes the national security and economic interests of the respective countries. This area of business law spans the navigation of imports, exports and sanctions. It’s also of great importance to have an understanding of corrupt nations and which countries are off limits (such as the trade sanctions taken against Russia during the Ukrainian crisis).
  • Corporate structure: If a business is setting up a branch or subsidiary overseas, where and how it chooses to establish a new business carries costs, capital requirements and tax consequences.
  • Taxes: Before going global, a corporation will want to carefully examine whether the foreign country has a tax treaty with their domestic nation, and the particular tax consequences of conducting business there.
  • Intellectual property: Spanning patents, copyrights, trademarks or trade secrets, intellectual property is a valuable asset. Securing and enforcing these rights can be costly. However, contractual arrangements including licences and employment agreements can be established before venturing overseas to mitigate risks and lower the expense.
  • Finances: The movement of money carries risk and complexity. An organisation must adhere to any applicable foreign currency exchange controls. The employment of a legal advisor can assist in keeping payments secure.
  • Termination of a business: Before setting up shop overseas, it’s best to consider an exit strategy if all goes wrong. It can be a complicated and expensive process to close an international venture. Government approval may be needed and there can be significant tax consequences as well as employee rights compliance.

The role of international business lawyers

International business lawyers advise, advocate for, or represent a client’s business interests regarding global transactions. They typically have a specialised education. 

These legal advisors can offer cross-border counsel on compliance with international trade rules. For example, they can assist corporations in obtaining the correct exporting licensing and advise on customs classifications. They will also conduct internal investigations and represent organisations through international disputes or when action is taken against any violations. 

To be a successful international business lawyer, you must have a strong grasp of economics and well-developed negotiation skills. The demand for international business lawyers and advisors is certain to spike as UK companies navigate the consequences of Brexit and aim to boost commercial viability following the coronavirus pandemic.

Why should I study international business?

Business success requires a global perspective. As companies continue to increase conduct on a global scale, anyone looking to enter an area of business management should have a good understanding of global governance, international agreements, foreign policy, various international business practices and the strategic decision-making of multinational enterprises. 

Become an international business leader

Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur looking to launch their own business, an aspiring global brand ambassador or fancy yourself a future Fortune 500 business leader, you can brush up on key learnings as part of University of York’s 100% online MSc in International Business Leadership and Management.

This postgraduate programme places particular emphasis on the challenges associated with business management and global trade, marketing and sales, and provides an excellent overview of relevant management disciplines. 

Obtain skills vital for professional adaptability and employability across industries, functions and roles, preparing you for a potential career within a world-leading economy.

What are business ethics, and why do they matter?

It’s no exaggeration that the Covid-19 pandemic transformed the business world. With millions of workers furloughed and redundancies rife, companies – both big and small – faced extraordinary challenges.

For those who remained in business, mass adaptations had to be made – from remote working to social distancing. Fostering a collaborative, communicative and sensitive company culture became essential.

In our post-pandemic reality, corporate responsibility continues to be tested. Our societal lens has shifted, with staff welfare a centre point of discussion, labour demand being questioned and misconduct reports on the rise. The very nature of the coronavirus has forced companies to consider wider health and safety implications, while other businesses have had to adapt, modify and change to meet ever-evolving consumer needs too.

Meanwhile, wider societal fears are on the increase. Amongst other telling statistics, the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer reports a 6% global increase in public fear of experiencing prejudice or racism, a 3% increase in concern over climate change, and a notable anxiety regarding job security. And, with government distrust at a disarming high point, in the wake of the pandemic, the public have turned to NGOs and businesses to solve these escalating ethical concerns.

This is nothing new. In the 1960s, rising consumer-awareness and discourse on increased corporate responsibility underpinned the decade – and markedly, the concept of business ethics was first conceived. In times of global crisis, it’s been proven that they matter more than ever.

What are business ethics?

Business ethics refer to an essential system of policies and practices that uphold a corporation’s legal and moral responsibilities. At their core, they determine what is ‘right and wrong’ for a company and its employees and inform a wider code of conduct.

These ethical standards are reflective of various contributing factors to a safe and functioning workforce. Many are embedded in law, others are influenced by social and ethical dilemmas, while additional business practices may be adopted as part of a more ‘individualised’ company culture.

While organisations vary in nature, business ethics should typically address the following principles:

Personal responsibility
Workers strive to be reliable employees and complete the duties assigned to them to their best ability.

Corporate responsibility
Businesses uphold contractual and legal obligations to employees, stakeholders and clients – such as determining safe working conditions, meeting minimum wage requirements and upholding manufacturing standards.

Loyalty and respect
Addresses the ways in which a company, their stakeholders, employees and clients should interact with integrity to maintain positive business relations. 

Businesses should cultivate trust, with employees trusting that terms of their employment will be kept, while clients can trust the business with their money and confidential information, for example.

A company commits to holding all employees to the same standard, regardless of rank, and employs an equal treatment of customers.  

Community and environmental responsibility
Businesses will consider their impact on wider society and adhere to environmental regulations.

Examples of ethical standards in action

General expressions of ethical behaviour within the workplace include maintaining data protection, prioritising workplace diversity, putting customer needs first, and operating fairly and transparently as a business. Other ethical practices are more sector-specific, such as food and cosmetic producers adhering to lawful product labelling; and, financiers protecting against bribery and insider trading.

Alternatively, cultivating a hostile workplace, ignoring conflicts of interest, favouritism or discrimination of employees and misusing company time would be examples of unethical behaviours.

Business ethics: the bigger picture

Business ethics also bleed into a wider framework of corporate social responsibility, which refers to the way in which a company works to achieve or support larger societal goals. Not governed by law, corporate social responsibility is largely a self-regulated practice, where a business independently and voluntarily decides how it can contribute positive action of a philanthropic, activist or charitable nature.

This could include a commitment to the reduction of a company’s carbon footprint, improving their labour policies, making charitable donations, strengthening diversity, equality and inclusion, and making socially conscious investments.

Some key real-world examples include Coca Cola’s commitment to sustainability and Ford Motor Company’s investment in electric vehicles. Starbucks, meanwhile, in a move to tackle racial and social equity, aims to represent black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) at 30% in corporate roles and 40% in retail and manufacturing by 2025. 

Why are business ethics important?

Business ethics are important for a number of reasons. They ensure that a company operates lawfully, safeguarding both employees and the general public. They keep trade honest and fair, uphold manufacturing standards, and prevent false or bogus product claims. Plus, a strong ethical corporate culture fosters, amongst other things, improved performance and prevents employee burnout.

It works both ways, too. Any successful relationship is built on trust, and adhering to an evolved code of ethics can really benefit a business in terms of brand awareness and customer loyalty.

As Edelman states in its 2022 report: “Lasting trust is the strongest insurance against competitive disruption, the antidote to consumer indifference, and the best path to continued growth. Without trust, credibility is lost and reputation can be threatened.”

With regard to social responsibility, a values statement that addresses, challenges and attempts to solve both social and environmental issues paves the way to a business having real-world impact. With both millennials and Gen Z taking an amplified interest in brand activism and positive action, socially conscious companies are more likely to capitalise on reach, engagement and public investment.

Do business ethics make economic sense?

As we’ve seen, ethical decision-making breeds trust – and, in business, trust is currency. 

A company that upholds ethical standards that reflect real-world concerns and plays to a rising consumer consciousness is more likely to attract monetary investment, loyal staff (reducing recruitment costs) and consistent clientele. A good reputation is valuable and ultimately results in stronger financial health, from share price to increased sales.

Getting caught for unethical behaviours, on the other hand, could cost a company custom and fines, lead to less competitive hires and drive down its share price. For example, when Reuters reported a Johnson & Johnson company cover-up involving asbestos-contaminated talcum powder, the accusation triggered a 10% drop in the company’s stock price. 

Ultimately, leveraging business ethics wisely can result in increased brand equity overall.

Want to build an ethical business?

Business ethics are one of many modules built into the University of York’s 100% online MSc in International Business Leadership and Management

The course places particular emphasis on the challenges associated with business management and global trade, marketing and sales, and provides an excellent overview of relevant management disciplines. Enrol now to obtain vital skills for professional adaptability and employability across industries, functions and roles.

What are flexible work arrangements?

Flexible work arrangements are working hours, work locations, or working patterns that are altered to suit an employee’s individual circumstances. They are an increasingly popular way for employees to balance their personal and professional lives, and for employers to attract and retain talented people.

Types of flexible working arrangements include:

Remote working

This is one of the most common and well-known forms of flexible working. With the coronavirus pandemic necessitating a work-from-home mandate for the majority of workplaces, businesses and employees had to quickly adapt to this flexible working arrangement. Telecommuting and telework – an employee completing their work from outside their traditional office using tools such as email, phones, and video apps like Zoom or Teams – swiftly became the norm. Now, even as the working world begins to return to offices and other workplaces, many are opting to work remotely, either on a full-time basis, or some of the time, which is known as hybrid working. Many remote workers have found that they save time and money on their commutes, have fewer distractions while working, and have increased their productivity.

Staggered hours

Staggered hours are when an employee has a start time, finish time, or break time that differs from their colleagues’ hours at the organisation. For example, someone may request to work from 12:00 until 20:00 every day, even though the typical working hours at the business are 09:00 until 17:00, to accommodate their personal circumstances.

Compressed hours

If a person works full-time hours over fewer days, this is known as compressed hours. For example, an employee might choose to work what’s called a nine-day fortnight – the employee works a little later than other employees every day in order to have every other Friday off work.

Job sharing

Job sharing is when one role is split between two people. For example, one employee may work Monday and Tuesday, while the second employee has a Wednesday-to-Friday work week, but both do the same job when at work.

Part-time hours

Part-time work is often requested when an employee wants to work reduced hours during the day, or work fewer days a week. For example, a parent or guardian may request a working day of 9am until 3pm every day so that they can be home for their children or dependants before and after school during term-time. This can also reduce the likelihood of a parent needing to take parental leave.

Flexitime hours

Not to be confused with staggered hours, flexitime, or flextime, allows an employee to choose their working start and finish times, but always works the organisation’s “core hours” – for example, between 10am and 2pm every day.

Annualised hours

Annualised hours mean that an employee works a certain number of hours during a year, but their schedule is a bit more flexible. For example, agency workers may work certain core hours, and then complete the rest of their hours when needed for projects or by clients, and so on.

The increasing popularity of flexible work arrangements has prompted the UK government to complete a consultation on ‘Making flexible working the default’. While the results of the consultation are still pending, the government has noted that flexible working can be particularly useful for people who need to balance their personal and working lives. For example, people with carer responsibilities may be better able to access the labour market, or stay in work, with flexible working options. The government has also noted that flexible working arrangements can help employers by attracting more applicants to new roles, as well as by increasing productivity and motivation levels within workplaces.

How does flexible working affect a business?

The impact of flexible working on businesses is overwhelmingly positive for both employers and employees. The UK government’s consultation document for changes to flexible working states that by “removing the invisible restrictions to jobs, flexible working fosters a more diverse workforce – and the evidence shows that this leads to improved financial returns for businesses.”

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the UK’s association for human resources professionals, says that quality flexible arrangements and flexible work schedules can also help businesses to:

  • improve employee work-life balance, job satisfaction, loyalty, and well-being
  • increase staff retention
  • reduce absenteeism
  • become more responsive to change

However, it’s worth noting that research conducted by the CIPD suggests that not all employers offer flexible working practices. In fact, 46% of employees say they do not have flexible working arrangements in their current roles.

The CIPD also notes that while working from home, or remote work, has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, 44% of people did not work from home at all during the past two years. So while remote working is a popular flexible working arrangement, it’s just one of the options available – and 75% of employees say it’s important that people who can’t work from home have choices to work flexibly in other ways.

How to implement flexible work arrangements

All employees are entitled to request flexible working in the UK, as long as they have 26 weeks of service with their employer. Requests can be made once every 12 months and must be submitted in writing.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), which offers advice and support on flexible working arrangements, recommends that employers:

  • offer clear guidance about what information is needed when an employee submits their flexible working request
  • talk to the employee requesting flexible working as soon as possible after receiving the request. This conversation should be in a private place, and determine how the request might benefit the employee and the business
  • allow an employee to be accompanied by a work colleague for any discussions, and make sure the employee knows they have this option
  • let the employee know the decision about their request as soon as possible, in writing
  • allow the employee to appeal the decision if their request is denied

It’s also worth noting that a request for flexible working can only be rejected for one of the following reasons:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural change to the business

Become a business leader

When leading people within a business, it’s clear that flexible working initiatives can be a fantastic motivator – but they’re just one of the ways that talented people managers and leaders can create high-performing work environments.

Gain all of the skills and qualifications you need to become a business leader with the MSc in International Business, Leadership and Management at the University of York. This flexible master’s degree is offered 100% online, so you can fit your studies around your full-time work and personal commitments.

Intellectual capital: driving business growth and innovation

How can a business maximise its growth and development? What can be done to increase competitive advantage? Are businesses making the best possible use of all their assets?

In an increasingly crowded global economy, all businesses must work hard to remain relevant, competitive and profitable. Innovation is key to maximising business growth and, for many businesses, they already possess the means to achieve it. Alongside this, developing customer-focused, personalised experiences – and adding value through the customer journey – is key. An organisation’s intellectual capital has the potential to achieve both aims, and add significant economic benefit – but what is it, and how is it best utilised?

What is intellectual capital?

Intellectual capital (IC) refers to the value of an organisation’s collective knowledge and resources that can provide it with some form of economic benefit. It encompasses employee knowledge, skill sets and professional training, as well as information and data.

In this way, IC identifies intangible assets, separating them into distinct, meaningful categories. Although not accounted for on a balance sheet, these non-monetary assets remain central to decision making and can have a profound impact on a company’s bottom line. More than ever, IC is recognised as one of most critical strategic assets for businesses.

Broadly speaking, there are three main categories:

  • Human capital: the ‘engine’ and ‘brain’ of a company is its workforce. Human capital is an umbrella term, referring to the skills, expertise, education and knowledge of an organisation’s staff – including how effectively such resources are used by those in management and leadership positions. A pool of talented employees, with a wealth of both professional and personal skills, adds significant value to a workplace. Companies who prioritise investing in the training, development and wellbeing of their teams are actively investing in their human capital. It can bring a host of benefits, including increased productivity and profitability.
  • Relational capital: this category refers to any useful relationships an organisation maintains – for example, with suppliers, customers, business partners and other stakeholders – as well as brand, reputation and trademarks. Customer capital is adjacent to this, and refers to current and future revenues from customer relationships.
  • Structural capital: structural capital relates to system functionality. It encompasses the processes, organisation and operations by which human and relational capital are supported. This may include intellectual property and innovation capital, data and databases, culture, hierarchy, non-physical infrastructure and more.

Each area offers the means for value creation – which is integral to increasing competitiveness. As such, business leaders should prioritise intellectual capital, and its role within operational strategy, in both short-term and long-term planning.

How is intellectual capital measured?

As stated, while IC is counted among a company’s assets, it is not included in its balance sheet. While there are various ways to measure intellectual capital, there isn’t one widely agreed, consistent method for doing so. Together, these aspects mean that quantifying it can be challenging.

Three main methods are generally used to measure IC:

  • The balanced scorecard method examines four key areas of a business to identify whether they are ‘balanced’. They are:
    1. customer perspective – how customers view the business; 
    2. internal perspective – how a company perceives its own strengths; 
    3. innovation and learning perspective – examining growth, development and shortfalls;
    4. financial perspective – whether shareholder commitments are being met. 

A visual tool which communicates organisational structure and strategic metrics, the scorecard provides a detailed overview without overwhelming leaders with information.

  • The Skandia Navigator method uses a series of markers to develop a well-rounded overview of organisational performance. It focuses on five key areas: 
    1. financial focus – referring to overall financial health; 
    2. customer focus – including aspects such as returning customers and satisfaction scores; 
    3. process focus – how efficient and fit-for-purpose businesses processes are; 
    4. renewal and development focus – which looks at long-term business strategy and sustainability;
    5. human focus – sitting at the centre of the others, human focus encompasses employee wellbeing, experience, expertise and skills.
  • Market value-to-book value ratio is calculated by comparing a company’s book value with its market value, and aims to identify both undervalued and overvalued assets. A ratio above one indicates that there may be undervalued assets which are not being utilised; a ratio below one indicates there may be overvalued assets which action could be taken to strengthen.

How can a business increase its intellectual capital?

Intellectual capital acts as a value-driver in our twenty-first-century economy. As such, it’s no surprise that many businesses are pivoting to focus on human, relational and structural assets over others. Given both its relative importance and the returns an organisation can expect, finding ways to increase IC could be key to achieving key business goals.

For Forbes, efforts to increase IC mean adopting either a solution-focused or perspective-focused approach. The first refers to the methods by which specific results can be achieved – the what, when, why and where. The second refers to how IC can utilise industry and marketplace trends, forecasts and insights to seize opportunities. Whichever approach a business opts for, there are a number of ways in which to boost intellectual capital efforts. These include:

  • Improving employee satisfaction to increase retention rates
  • Recruiting individuals with specific knowledge, competencies and skill sets that are currently lacking among the existing workforce
  • Auditing and enhancing systems and processes
  • Gathering research and data to inform decision making
  • Investing in training and development opportunities for employees
  • Improving employer branding to both attract and retain the best talent
  • Creating new products, services and initiatives through innovation

Influential contributors and further reading

Early and current proponents and authors of intellectual capital thinking include:

  • Patrick H Sullivan who wrote ‘A Brief History of the Intellectual Capital Movement’. He presented a concise overview of the beginnings of the discipline in which he traced it back to three origins. These were: Hiroyuki Hami, who studied invisible assets pertaining to Japanese operational management; the work of various economists (Penrose, Rumelt, Wernerfelt et al) which was included in Dr David J. Teece’s 1986 article relating to technical commercialisation; and Karl Erik-Sveiby, who focused on human capital in terms of employee competences and knowledge base. His model of intellectual capital, published in 1997, was a seminal contribution in the field.
  • Dr David J Teece published ‘Managing Intellectual Capital’ in 2002, and further publications by him are available on Google Scholar.
  • Leif Edvinsson’s 2002 book, ‘Corporate Longitude’, concerned itself with the measurement, valuation and economic impact of the knowledge economy.
  • Thomas A Stewart, a pioneer in the field, authored ‘The New Wealth of Organizations’ in 1997. He delved into areas such as unlocking potential hidden assets, spotting and mentoring talented employees, and investigating methods to identify and retain customer and brand loyalty.

The field of intellectual capital continues to expand and evolve globally. Many well-known international figures such as Johan Roos and Nick Bontis continue to explore both its ramifications and applications.

Develop the specialist skills to succeed in fast-paced, global business environments

Become adept at the management of intellectual capital – alongside a wide variety of other business and leadership skills – with the University of York’s 100% online MSc International Business Leadership and Management programme.

You’ll gain in-depth, real-world know-how and tools to navigate the global business marketplace, exploring the challenges and opportunities associated with leadership and business management. Supported by our experts, you’ll further your knowledge in marketing, operations, strategy, project management, finance, people management and more. 

As well as providing a broad overview of management disciplines, this flexible programme will develop vital decision-making, critical-thinking, problem-solving and communication skills.

The importance of innovation management in business

In a constantly changing commercial world, the challenge is to not be left behind. Gaining and sustaining a competitive edge is key to thriving in today’s global marketplace. Innovation management has become an essential component in navigating this increasingly complex and international business environment.

What is innovation management?

Applied to business, innovation is all about generating new ways of solving problems, using different models, theories and frameworks. It is a creative process which uses techniques such as brainstorming and prototyping, and plays a critical role in the design thinking process. 

There are as many ways to innovate as there are problems to solve. The goal is either to introduce new or improved products or services to gain competitive advantage. By developing a sustainable and ongoing innovation process, a company’s brand image and advancement is set on an upward trajectory.

How innovation management happens

Coming up with innovative ideas, products and services is directly down to the pool of talent available in the workforce. Traditionally, companies would generate ideas in-house, but many are now turning to  open innovation. This refers to companies and organisations working with external agencies such as academic and research institutions, suppliers and clients. It fosters a working model very different from the traditional one, but is advantageous to all parties. 

Initiatives are carried out by an organisation, with the aim to identify and create new business openings through:

  • generating ideas
  • exploring future areas of growth
  • modelling products and services
  • experimenting and testing new concepts.

Not everything needs to start from scratch. Many existing products or services may already work well, and simply need to be approached differently – for example, through adaptation and modification.

Successful innovation in business relies on certain criteria, including:

  • Business models. Your company must be flexible enough to rethink the business and find new revenue streams. Companies may resist looking at new ways of managing existing systems and operations. However, actively challenging current and long-held assumptions is important in order to discover potential opportunities. 
  • Employee engagement. The human resources element available to businesses is invaluable. By tapping innovative ideas directly from the workforce, and engaging employees in showcasing skills and knowledge, ideation and innovation can be disseminated to everyone’s benefit.
  • Use of technology. Most of us have accepted the seamless integration of technological innovation in our professional lives. Although not every innovative idea will involve costly technological input and outlay, in today’s global, fast-moving market many will. Much of the world’s commercial thrust is reliant on the acquisition of data and knowledge. Google, for example, invests heavily in managing the innovation process.
  • Marketing. Brand awareness and visibility is a vital part of a company’s profile. There is no point in developing or producing a product or service if people are unaware of it. Marketing is one of the major factors in driving international sales and profitability.

Key aspects of innovation management

Different types of innovation have been identified within the innovation management process:

  • Incremental innovation. As its name suggests, in this strategy an existing product or service is subject to continual improvement and updates. Although such changes may be small or large, they still require defined methodologies and strategies to ensure continuous improvement. Starting out with its prototype in the early twentieth-century, Gillette is a high-profile brand which continually upgrades its razors with new features while retaining its core design. Likewise, in the current mobile phone market, innovation is delivered through frequent small updates to software.
  • Disruptive innovation. This occurs when product development results in a paradigm shift which has a radical impact on a business market. It can take a long time to get to the creation stage – often months and years in planning and execution. A great deal of project management, research, testing and evaluation is required. A classic example of disruptive innovation is demonstrated by Apple. When the iPhone was introduced in June 2007, it was an instant global success. It wasn’t the first mobile phone, but it overtook the existing competition and effectively launched the smartphone revolution.  
  • Architectural innovation. Introduced by Professor Rebecca Henderson and Dean Kim Clark of Harvard Business School in 1990, architectural innovation involves reconfiguring components of in-use products or services. Whether seeking a new target audience, or adding value to the existing market, it makes changes without radically altering either technologies or parts. As with the other innovation strategies, alterations must be questioned, evaluated and tested to determine whether clients and customers would value any changes.
  • Major innovation. This business process is arguably the ultimate in achievement: it seeks to introduce a brand new sector or industry. Inventions such as the printing press, the telephone and the internal combustion engine have literally changed the world. Forbes has listed some of the top innovation companies in recent times. All are focused on attaining the pinnacle in terms of product and service procurement.

Ways of participating in innovation management

Opportunities in innovation culture are limitless; global trade, marketing and sales continue to grow exponentially. The sector is populated not only with more ‘traditional’ business models – small or large organisations with employees – but also attracts those who are motivated by entrepreneurship and prefer to set up start-ups.

Global commerce both fosters and demands cross-cultural management and organisation. Awareness and servicing of contemporary issues in international business requires professionals with the knowledge and skill set to tackle any and all situations. Areas of interest may include:

  • Providing consultancy services
  • Sourcing new business and sales
  • Forming partnerships with external organisations using open innovation
  • Working with stakeholders, including shareholders, customers, suppliers and employees
  • Dealing with legal matters such as intellectual property and ethical concerns
  • Portfolio management

Choosing the right course for you

Gain the qualifications to help you succeed in the international business sector with the University of York’s online MSc International Business Leadership and Management programme. All practical information regarding the MSc programme – such as modules, topics, entry requirements, tuition fees and English language qualifications – can be found on our course page.

What is a franchise?

Franchises are a good option for people who want to be their own boss and run their own business, but are lacking the knowledge or resources to launch a new product or service on their own. Franchising is also a fairly financially-safe way of being your own boss, as there is a much higher rate of survival than in new businesses and startups.

At its core, a franchise is a partnership between an individual (the franchisee) and an existing organisation (the franchisor).

There are three types of franchise systems:

  • Product: This is when a franchisor gives a franchisee permission to sell a product using their logo, trademark, and brand name.
  • Manufacturing: This is when a franchisor partners with a franchisee to manufacture and sell their products using their logo, trademark, and brand name.
  • Business: This is when a franchisor licences their brand to a franchisee and provides regulations around how the business operates and is managed.

How franchises work

A franchisor grants a franchisee the right to market and/or trade their products and services. When a franchisee purchases a franchise, there is an initial fee to the corporation they’re going into partnership with, and they will usually also pay regular royalties to cover the cost of initial and/or ongoing training, business support and marketing. 

By paying for the organisation to manage these areas of the business, the franchisee can concentrate on the day-to-day running of their business. They also avoid the cost of organising these services in-house.

The franchisee agreement is a contract which governs the partnership between franchisee and franchisor. Within this, the partnership is tied in for a set period of time – generally between five and twenty years. Once the period of time is up, the contract tends to be renewable.

The history of franchises

The franchising model was created in the 1800s, by Isaac Singer – inventor of the widely-used Singer sewing machine. After the US Civil War in the 1860s, he was mass-producing his famous machines, but needed a system in place that would enable repairs and maintenance to cover the whole country. Initially, local merchants across the US were sold licences that permitted them to service the machines. This then grew to enable the merchants to sell the machines, too. The contract used was the earliest form of franchise agreement.

During the Second World War, companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi looked to expand quickly and began franchising. As the 1950s and 1960s saw growth in population, economic output and social change, franchising grew in popularity in the UK, especially amongst food retailers such as the fast-food chains Wimpy, McDonald’s and KFC, and ice cream brands Lyons Maid and Mr Softee.

Today, franchising is a function of many established brands across multiple sectors, with franchise opportunities in food, pet grooming, homecare agencies, beauty salons, recruitment companies and many more.

How popular are franchises?

The British Franchise Association’s 2018 bfa NatWest Franchise Survey found that the franchise industry is growing more than ever before. At the time of survey, there were 48,600 franchise units in the UK, and 935 business format franchise systems – around double of what existed twenty years prior.

It’s been widely reported that Millennials are turning to self-employment at a faster rate than any previous generations, and so it is no surprise the results of the franchise survey show this as an attractive option to this group. 18% of franchisees were found to be under the age of 30 – a significant rise in recent years. 

With 4 in 10 franchise systems operational from a home office, following the work from home orders issued throughout the recent Covid-19 pandemic, is it possible that this way of working could continue to thrive?

Are franchises a good investment?

The cost of owning a franchise can vary wildly, with the initial fee ranging from £1,000 to £500,000. On top of this, you also need to have budgeted for start-up costs, working capital, monthly rent, salaries, inventory, software and utilities.

The franchise industry contributes £17.2 billion per annum to UK GDP, and employs 710,000 people. The 2018 bfa NatWest Franchise Survey also found that franchises are a largely successful business model, with 93% of franchisees claiming profit. 60% have an annual turnover of more than £250,000.

To ensure franchise business success, a franchisee must first do their due diligence by making sure there is room for expansion in the territory they’ll be working in, understanding how much training and ongoing support will be offered, researching the success of other franchisees, and budgeting and planning for fee payments. With this knowledge, a successful business plan can be written, and a successful future awaits them.

Prepare for success in business

If you have been considering starting your own franchise and are looking to increase your business acumen, the University of York’s 100% online MSc International Business Leadership and Management could equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to succeed. 

This online master’s degree will give you a thorough grounding of multiple areas of business, so you will be prepared to take your career to the next level – whether your ambitions lie in opening a franchise or progressing at an existing company.

With us you’ll develop an understanding of business strategy, operations management, finance, leading and managing people, marketing and sales. As you study part-time, you can continue to earn while you learn, applying the knowledge you gain to your existing role. You’ll connect with a global network of peers as you study alongside professionals from all over the world.

What is the difference between leadership and management?

In the past couple of decades, leadership skills have been under the magnifying glass as society and people’s expectations of work have changed. Even in April 2019, less than a year before Covid-19 impacted the world, Deloitte was highlighting the new challenges that leadership faced. Those at the top need to be inspiring leaders who can guide the business, while their management teams are hands-on in facilitating the processes that direct the business towards its organisational goals. The difference between leadership and management is that leaders tend to be big picture thinkers, while managers  implement their leader’s vision in realistic and practical ways that result in measurable success.

Traditionally, leadership teams may have had very little interaction with employees, leaving that to line managers. However, as hierarchies have flattened, senior leaders have had to become more visible and available to teams in the working environment. While our expectations of leaders may be greater, there is still a gap between that expectation and the reality in most organisations. How leaders engage with stakeholders and progress with their leadership development is a hot topic that continues to evolve.

Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report lists perennial leadership skills including the ability to manage operations, supervise teams, make decisions, prioritise investments, and manage the bottom line. It also recognises vital new management skills such as leading through ambiguity, managing increasing complexity, being tech-savvy, managing changing customer and talent demographics, and handling national and cultural differences. Some of these competencies can be taught, but others come only from experience.

The age of the outspoken CEO

As CEOs have felt the need to be more demonstrably involved with the day-to-day lives of team members, they have also felt the pressures of taking a stance on political, environmental, and cultural issues. 

Previously, there was a feeling that getting involved in current affairs could be detrimental to the reputation (and the share price) of companies. However, those companies and brands that have taken strong stances which authentically reflect their core values have increased their reach and traction with key audiences. An example of this was Oreo’s rainbow cookie image which was posted on Facebook to support Pride. At the time, this was one of the most overt demonstrations of support for the LBTGQ+ community from a global corporation. Responses were both positive and negative with a lot of debate erupting on social media. Despite the controversy, parent company Kraft set a precedent, and many other brands followed suit.

Patagonia is an American outdoor clothing company renowned for its environmental and political activism. The company has also led on family-friendly human resources policies, including paternity and maternity leave, as well as providing on-site childcare for parents. 

While many companies rely heavily on their social media teams to plan and strategise their messaging, some CEOs are becoming bolder in voicing their beliefs and goals. This includes Ryan Gellert, CEO of Patagonia, who has stated that there is “a special place in hell” for those corporations that claim to be going ”all in” on climate change and yet do not back this up with their actions.

What is a servant leader?

Servant leadership has been popularised through agile working methods in which scrum masters support teams in organising themselves rather than telling them what to do. 

The servant leader is different to a traditional leader in senior management; they are seen to put their teams first and themselves second. It is a democratic leadership style that has similarities with transformational leadership. Leading by serving is a mentality that can be effectively adopted at all management levels.  

The circle of influence

With so much on the to-do list of today’s inspiring leaders, how do they manage to stay focused? Many issues that are important to CEOs straddle the line between personal development and professional development, and so learning resources such as podcasts or books on topics such as emotional intelligence are all legitimate continued professional development (CPD). Great leaders are usually life-long learners who are interested in constantly upping their game and remaining relevant

The 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is still much read, quoted, and referenced by leaders. It seems that people’s appetite for understanding what makes someone effective and therefore successful has also influenced many articles on the habits of CEOs. Morning routines provided a particularly popular point of discussion on LinkedIn with high achievers and their waking times cited. Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) apparently rises at 3:45am, Anna Wintour (Vogue editor) plays tennis at 5:45am and Howard Schultz (former Starbucks CEO) reportedly gets up at 4:30am.

Whether you wake before 6am or not, Stephen Covey’s Circle of Influence is almost certainly a contributing factor to the high productivity of many successful CEOs. Covey states that proactive people focus on what they can do and who they can influence in any given situation. This focus on their immediate circle of influence actually causes the circle to increase. Those who are reactive focus their energy on things which are beyond their control, which only acts to shrink their circle of influence.

Putting your energy into the things you can change is undoubtedly a route to productivity. It results in a sense of satisfaction in what you can achieve, rather than frustration in what you can’t. This seemingly simple approach can be applied to everything from problem-solving and decision-making to mentoring and staffing.

Learn how to be a leader, not just a manager

The landscape of international business is rapidly changing with new developments and challenges emerging every day. 

Whether you’re already in a management role or have set your sights on moving up through the ranks, the 100% online MSc International Business, Leadership and Management from the University of York is a first-class approach to improving both your knowledge and standing.

Corporate culture: the building blocks of a business

It’s not always easy to put a finger on what makes a workplace feel the way it does. Is it rooted in the work that takes place there? The other employees? The work environment itself?

In fact, it’s all of this – and more. The unique culture of a business is the golden thread that runs through every aspect of its operations.

Increasingly, people are seeking to address their work-life balance – acutely evidenced by what has been dubbed “The Great Resignation” witnessed throughout the pandemic. An organisation’s culture is often at the heart of decisions to leave or join an employer. With many now viewing work as more than a paycheck – in a world where going solo is seen as less of a risk – businesses can’t afford to ignore substandard cultures. To retain talented individuals, they need to create environments in which people can thrive.

What is corporate culture?

Corporate culture describes and governs the ways in which a business operates. It refers to its personality and character: shared values, beliefs and assumptions about how people should act; how decisions should be made; and how work activities should be carried out. Culture denotes the particular ideas and customs that make each organisation unique. For example, its leadership, job roles, company values, workspace, pay, initiatives and perks, rewards and recognition. Cumulatively, it should be the foundation upon which people can work to the best of their ability.

The core elements that make up a company’s culture include:

  • Leadership
  • Vision and values
  • Recognition
  • Operations
  • Learning and development
  • Environment
  • Communication
  • Pay and benefits
  • Wellbeing

From small start-ups to established, global brands, all businesses have a workplace culture – and they vary dramatically. The various types include conventional, clan, progressive, market, adhocracy, authority organisation, and more.

Take the retail brand Zappos, a company where creating an inclusive culture is the top priority. Their core value lies in celebrating every employee’s diversity and individuality – and they’re famous for it. However, this approach is starkly different to that taken by countless other businesses.

Why is corporate culture important?

Experts in the company culture space, Liberty Mind, make a compelling case for why improving corporate culture should be prioritised:

  • 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to company success
  • Companies with strong cultures saw 4x increase in revenue growth
  • 58% of people say that they trust strangers more than their own boss
  • 78% of executives included culture among the top 5 things that add value to their company
  • Job turnover in organisations with positive cultures is 13.9%, whereas in organisations with poor cultures it’s 48.4%
  • Only 54% of employees recommend their company as a good place to work
  • More than 87% of the global workforce is not engaged, yet engaged workplaces are 21% more profitable

However, it seems many organisations are struggling to get it right; 87% of organisations cite culture and employee engagement as one of their top challenges.

Strengths and weaknesses of culture

Clearly, culture matters to employees – and therefore has a direct impact on a business. Workplaces with poor or non-existent cultures are more likely to encounter low morale, brand reputation issues and decreased productivity. As people leave their roles, poor employee retention necessitates costs associated with recruitment, training and – at least in the short-term – an increased workload for already-beleaguered employees. Worse still, workplaces with toxic cultures breed resentment, fear, frustration and poor mental health among their employees. If staff do not simply leave, as many will, they are likely to take more sick days and be less productive.

In contrast, companies with nurturing, strong cultures can expect to reap the rewards. They are likely to feature good teamwork: teams working towards shared goals are more driven and productive, with the ability to resolve issues more quickly. Brand reputation will soar as employees – who have belief in company leaders and their shared values – spread the word, acting as brand ambassadors. These businesses are in a better position to weather change, attract and retain high quality applicants, and to take risks and make decisions. Together, these positive, culture-building aspects are likely to improve a company’s bottom line.

Improving company culture: more than a mission statement

By first assessing the current cultural status, a company is in a stronger position to identify – and design a roadmap to achieve – its desired culture. With input from stakeholders, leaders should examine the current culture, including core values, strengths, and organisational impact. Harvard Business Review designed a tool to understand an organisation’s cultural profile, supporting this investigative work. It guides leaders to examine cultural styles and types of cultures, the prominence of company culture, and demographic aspects of how culture operates.

Next, leaders must understand how strategy and business environment impact the culture. Are there any current or future external conditions or strategic decisions that will influence cultural styles? If so, how can the styles respond? Any robust culture target will need to support, or respond to, future changes.

It’s critical to ground the target in business realities. Leaders should frame any culture targets in response to real-world problems and value-adding solutions – far more practical and effective than selling them as shiny, culture change initiatives.

Leaders must be prepared to drive cultural change through every area of the business. Indeed suggest further actions to support a company-wide cultural improvement:

  • Hire the right people
  • Appoint a cultural ambassador
  • Set specific, achievable goals with clear metrics
  • Encourage open communication
  • Reward success and offer incentives
  • Organise meaningful team-building and social events

Boosting employee engagement through company culture is not about making people happy. Instead, leaders should focus on making them feel connected to the business and motivated to help achieve its goals, even during times of adversity.

Master the international business environment

How strong is your company’s organisational culture? Is a culture change overdue?

Advance your practical knowledge and gain a solid theoretical understanding of the global business environment with the University of York’s online MSc International Business Leadership and Management programme. As well as the challenges associated with global trade, your studies will encompass marketing, sales, and a detailed overview of relevant management disciplines, including human resource management. Develop the skills to succeed in the fast-paced world of business and learn in a flexible way that suits you, supported by experts.