Recently, the MHRM students participated in a case competition where we sought to resolve a current HR challenge that PepsiCo is facing. The reason I want to talk about this experience is not only because it’s a cool activity the program provides, but because of what it means for the entire program’s approach to our development as business professionals.
The case competition consisted of 13 teams who presented in front of a variety of influential HR executives. PepsiCo presented the case early on a Friday morning, then we had 24 hours to come up with recommendations and craft a formal presentation. During the first round, we were split into three big groups so that about four teams presented to four judges per room. Out of each presentation room, a team was selected to move on to the next round. During the final round (as if the stakes weren’t high already), each winning team presented to all other competing teams and to all the judges together. An overall winner was picked at the end!
The greatest part of this experience was the opportunity to present in front of judges who would interrupt and ask all kinds of tough questions. It teaches you to answer on the spot, how to read a room, how to clarify your ideas, how to maintain poise in the midst of nerves and challenging questions, among other great presentation skills. It truly was all about the delivery of your idea! Forget about school presentations where everyone knows exactly what they are going to say and how long it’s going to take. My team didn’t even get through four slides!
In my team’s case, pretty early into our presentation, one of the judges expressed that he didn’t like the idea. What do you do with that?! It’s not like we could go back to the drawing board and adjust. We had to keep going. I loved that this happened to us, though, because it taught me two key lessons.
The first was that I knew and believed in my presentation more than I thought I did. I surprised myself with how confidently I was able to walk the judges through our thought process and to build on what my teammates were explaining to get our point across. I think the minute we saw we were losing the judges’ buy-in, we looked at each other and knew exactly how we would stand our ground.
Yes, we had just worked 24 hours on developing a solution together, but it was the intentional trust-building efforts that taught us how to move forward as teammates not just as a group. By asking each other questions further outside the box every time, the more we deepened how to be highly in tune with each other. I felt very proud that we gave a powerful presentation despite not winning, and that I walked out of the room beaming with admiration for the way my teammates handled themselves and how they helped me handle my response too!
The second key lesson was that you never know what new information you are going to have thrown at you. It may make you feel like all the work you did was for nothing, but in reality it has the potential to elevate your professionalism and expand your comfort-zone like never before.
Right when we left the presentation room, I felt cheated because the judges based their questions on information that we were not given. I complained about it for a while, which I realize was not my best move, but when we went back for a feedback session, I realized it was on purpose! The judges spoke about how well we defended our strategy and tried to connect their observations to our plan despite being caught off guard. Realizing my lack of awareness, I asked them how they have handled situations like this when new information came to light.
I learned a lot from their perspective, but most importantly how I could challenge myself to respond differently. It was a clear uncomfortable growth moment, yet the self-reflection that resulted from it is something I will treasure as I continue to develop my skills.
To say that I recommend this competition is an understatement. I learned so much about myself and I feel really encouraged about the small and intentional ways the Fisher College of Business is helping me achieve my goals!