Who's Ready to Compete?
At the end of February, my case competition team and I competed against other HR programs at The Ohio State University’s - HR Case Competition. Spoiler Alert, our team did not win--for this reason, I have waited to write this post, until I could distance myself from the sting of disappointment and more objectively reflect on the experience.
The case competition was a business development event in which we as graduate students were able to extend our business acumen, HR skills, and innovative thinking to solve a current problem for a business. The competition at The Ohio State was sponsored by PepsiCo, Marathon, and Eaton. Our team was also generously sponsored by Phillips 66.
Our team opted to leave a day before the event to spend some time sightseeing around Columbus. As this was my first trip to Ohio, I was excited to see what the state had to offer--plus Columbus was selected by The New York Times as one of the 52 places to visit in 2019.
One member of our team took on the role of “travel coordinator” and did a thorough job of curating a list of possible restaurants to enjoy and places to visit.
We enjoyed eating at:
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro
Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant
Tour of Ohio State
Wexner Center for the Arts - Exhibits by John Waters: Indecent Exposure and Peter Hujar: Speed of Life. Both exhibits had material that was intentionally designed to make the viewer uncomfortable and to push the boundary. Very little of the exhibit conformed to “classical” standards of art--but I still found it interesting, and it made me question several ideas. Isn't that what modern art is supposed to do?
Come Thursday evening, our focus shifted to the task at hand. There was an opening dinner (hosted by Marathon) where we were able to get to know some of the other grad students. It was interesting to hear about their coursework and where they were going to be interning this summer.
Friday morning the hard work began. At our breakfast meeting, we were given the parameters of the case. In a nutshell, we were tasked with creating a career coaching system that would work for all the employees at Eaton (approximately 99,000 people). This semester we have been taking an Organizational Change course, and when I heard the problem, I immediately thought about how difficult it is for companies to successfully implement large scale change programs. Given that fact, coming up with an innovative idea that might have some measure of success seemed like an impossible task.
Our team, spent some time alone working on the problem and brainstorming before we decided to discuss the case. Once we began to discuss our ideas, we were able to see commonalities and start to shape the direction of our work. Having almost 24 hours before our presentation seemed both luxurious (in all our practice events we only gave ourselves about 6 hours to do the job), but also overwhelming.
Two things that stood out to me as we worked. First, with the extra time, we had more opportunities to second-guess our decision making and more opportunities to get annoyed by each other. Second, not having long breaks in our planning made it more difficult to be objective with our plan and ideas. In our practice case competitions, we had completed the work over several days which gave us greater opportunity for reflection.
I don’t want to get into the thick of our recommendations, but by the time our group was scheduled to present we felt like our solutions were innovative and practical. We also felt confident and relatively calm.
I was the first presenter, and I noticed that almost instantly my mouth was bone dry and I was a little anxious--but the longer we presented, the more comfortable I felt. The judges intentionally interrupted our presentation to ask questions, and although we were prepared for most of their questions, I was disappointed we hadn’t thought to spend more time practicing the question part of the presentation. The judges posed some (rather obvious) questions that we had never discussed and therefore we struggled a bit to answer them. We had 20 minutes for both our presentation and Q&A, but given the judges questioning we did not get the chance to fully explain all our ideas. When we left the judging room, even though it had been difficult, we felt like we had performed well. I was very impressed with my team, I thought this presentation was the strongest we had ever given.
Our coach was very positive about our pitch and told us that he thought we’d done an excellent job. One of the other coaches said to me “Damn girl, you’re a good presenter!” which made me feel great. Each of the team’s coaches saw all the presentations (we were not allowed to see any of them).
At the awards luncheon, we sat with the team from South Carolina (SEC had to stick together). We were genuinely thrilled for them when they were declared the winners. I thought they had an ingenious solution to the problem that we hadn’t even considered.
This event demonstrated to me the importance of setting goals and expectations before starting a project--because it can be too easy to be disappointed by one setback. Once I had time to reflect on all the positives that came from the weekend, I was able to feel peace about the outcome. Besides winning, we achieved all of our goals.
Our team goals were:
Develop a stronger HR mindset especially in regards to strategy and planning
Improve our presentation skills
Deepen our personal relationships
On top of that, we also developed relationships with other HR students.
I personally was reminded of the need to be more humble. In the grand scheme of things, who won this competition is far less critical than being willing to challenge myself and learning to push boundaries. With two additional case competitions this semester, I have even more chances for growth.