Case Comp – A Rite of Passage

Last weekend, first year Master of Human Resource Management (MHRM) students underwent a kind of “rite of passage”: the annual MHRM Internal Case Competition.

pepsico

The competition was sponsored by PepsiCo this year, and real executives from PepsiCo as well as other companies that recruit heavily on campus—Marathon, The Wendy’s Company, Ford, Rolls Royce to name a few—were on the judging panels. At 8 AM Friday, we were briefed on the case (a real problem that PepsiCo HR professionals were currently facing), and after a 20-minute Q&A, we broke off into respective 4-person teams to begin our work. We had until the following morning at 8 AM to conceive a solution and figure out a way to sell it to the judges in 20 minutes. If you ever participated in some sort of “lock-in” at your church or school, then that’s a good starting point for understanding. We spent 15 hours in Gerlach Hall that day—or as I like to call it now—my second home.

My team’s day consisted of some serious brainstorming, followed by changing our minds several times, and finally settling on a simple and practical solution to the problem. Was it too simple? Had we thought through all the details? What if they throw us a curveball? These were the questions rattling in my brain all day. But we were in a time crunch (yes, that’s on purpose), so we had to roll with it.

Fast forward past lunch, dinner, laughing, crying, sleeping (there was not actually any crying) to the next morning. We arrived back at Gerlach Hall the following Saturday morning at 7 AM and received our presentation room and time slot. At that point, we scurried back to our room to hammer out the last few details and practice, over and over…and over…and over………………………and over.

We had a tough room—the judges are trained to interrupt you and throw you off to challenge your ideas and assumptions. Now seems like an appropriate time to introduce the idea of Type II Fun:

“Something that is fun only after you have stopped doing it”

– Type II Fun

At the end of a nerve-wracking and intense Q&A session, we left our room to debrief how we thought it went. What was most difficult for me was not having anyone to compare ourselves to. We were not permitted to collaborate with other teams, nor see their presentations. So, it was difficult to know how competitive our idea was. Situations like this definitely challenge my discomfort with ambiguity.

At the end of deliberations and a delicious lunch provided by the Fisher College of Business, the results were in. I am proud to say that my team won our room, which is especially exciting considering we were strangers just a few days before. It is so satisfying to be able to come together and leverage our strengths as a team so quickly and effectively. And I feel lucky to have made some new friends along the way!

img_0511
That’s us! Myself, Irinka, Krista, and Katie.

What is Change?

What is Change?

This is the question Professor Jeff Ford posed to us during our first class. Most of us took a stab at answering and the usual responses surfaced–a process of making something different than it was before, an equation of addition or subtraction, a state of transformation. No single answer seemed to entirely encompass the definition of “change.” And like most philosophical questions, the concept seemed to slip through our fingers like fine sand as we tried to wrap our arms all the way around it. I knew immediately that I was going to love this class.

During the second 7-week session of the first semester, all 1st year MHRM students take Organizational Development & Change with Professor Jeff Ford. The course is structured around a series of short cases that we explore each week. We are given a simple question that we work together to answer. The first week, we defined change. This past week, we talked about how to identify–exactly– what we want to accomplish and how, specifically, we would know if we accomplished it.

images

Professor Ford’s teaching style is exactly what I envisioned of a graduate-level class. He challenges us to tease out the essence of what we are saying. In undergrad, I felt it was much easier to get away with saying a bunch of pretty words and hoping my main points and ideas would materialize for my audience. But, when forced to focus on word choice and detail the way Ford urges, I find that stripping away all the excess is the best way to solve any complicated problem. He doesn’t lead you into the answer or finish your sentences; he waits for you to distill your message down to the very essence. I think it is so important to practice thinking like this in a world littered with so much information to sift through.

Another unique feature of Ford’s class is that his wife, Dr. Laurie Ford (an experienced consultant), sits in on class and contributes her insights. This is fantastic–Laurie shares real-life examples of how she has initiated change from diagnosis to implementation in organizations she has worked with. With a concept as cloudy as change, I’ve found it is tremendously helpful to have access to multiple perspectives to help us apply what we are learning to real cases that we analyze from start to finish. I also think Laurie’s involvement is such a palpable example of how Professors at Fisher (and their spouses in this case!) truly invest their heart and soul in their students.

Last week, we studied an example of a utility company struggling to complete installations accurately according to the specs provided by the engineers, leading to delays and complaints. We were asked by Professor(s) Ford to get into small groups and provide recommendations for what we would “change,” how we would change it, and how we would know if we succeeded.

Many of us fell victim to the “action imperative”–doing too much too soon and all at once. We suggested lofty ideas like streamlining the communication systems, instituting various task forces (what are those anyway?), implementing and training and project managers, relationship-building among the installers and the engineers…all of which could have worked, but they very quickly became too abstract and unmanageable. Then we started to think about how we would know if our changes worked. Increase in revenues? More timely installations? And how would we implement the changes? Company-wide training initiatives, team-building, eLearning…at a point it began to feel like we were vomiting every HR-related word or phrase we had ever heard in a desperate attempt to hit the right answer. It turns out, we were overcomplicating things.

unknown

This case study was actually a client that Laurie had worked with. She encouraged us to think about the “lines” that represent the connections between the different players. The issue clearly became the communication that was (or wasn’t) happening between the installers and the engineers. They weren’t speaking the same language, and directives were being lost in translation and leading to mistakes and delays in the work orders. Upon further discussion, we discovered that the work order template hadn’t been updated for over a decade. The simple solution was to update the template. Brilliant.

My takeaway from this class so far is to keep it simple. Change can be an intimidating concept for many organizations that need it, and so it is best to change as little as possible that still allows you to accomplish the goal. Tread lightly, and don’t rock the boat if you don’t have to. I’m sure these will be important lessons to remember after grad school when we will be brand new HR professionals trying to make our mark on the world. It will be a tough balance to strike, but I already feel more prepared to tackle it.

unknown-1

The World is Our Pokestop

Last Friday night was one for the books. It all started in the Ohio Union. There I was, perched unassumingly on a bar stool witnessing a gaggle of college-aged hipsters load out band gear from the stage inside Woody’s Tavern. And then, from a distance across the white terrazzo tile, I saw them barreling toward me—Ash, Charizard, Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Eevee, and everyone’s favorite, Squirtle. I thought that maybe I’d entered an alternate reality in which Pokemon Go was real life and my real life had become simply an app on an iPhone.

It turns out that this motley crew was simply six of my friends from the MHRM program, competing in the annual Fisher Scavenger Hunt & Bar Crawl. Phew! I decided to join them on their mission toward victory, mostly because they looked really silly and I knew it would be entertaining to watch them skulk down High Street in costume.

14680534_1159511730809382_5518705124341161936_n
On the rooftop at Big Bar, across the street from the Ohio Union. Aren’t they cute?

We embarked on an evening of endless successes. From Eevee petting the belly of a rabid dog (okay, it was a harmless Bernese Mountain Dog)… to Squirtle’s awkward break-dance breakdown at a remarkably empty Bullwinkle’s… to Pikachu high-fiving a policeman when he least expected it, the evening turned out to be the high point of the semester so far. We can’t forget the highlight of the night when a Cane’s employee unashamedly threw a pokeball full of free box combo certificates at the group– which happened to look a lot like a Styrofoam to-go box secured with red electrical tape. #gottacatchemall

Pikachu having a peaceful interaction with law enforcement.
Pikachu having a peaceful interaction with law enforcement.

As the evening drew to a close, the team was determined to close in on the lead. With just minutes remaining on the clock, the group wandered into World of Beer to complete a few final high-stakes objectives. The team stumbled upon the man behind the curtain—2nd year MBA Tada, sifting through mounds of incoming data from hundreds of accomplished objectives. He was obviously glad to have taken data analytics the year prior.

After several grueling minutes of Tada and his team of analysts poring over their Excel spreadsheets with beads of sweat accumulating on their foreheads, the results were in. It was alleged to be a close race, but as we all could have anticipated from the beginning of this post, the Pokemon were the obvious frontrunners from the very beginning. Congratulations to the MHRMs on their well-deserved win and the trophy to prove it!

That time when you stick out like a sore thumb because you aren't dressed as a Pokemon.
That time when you stick out like a sore thumb because you aren’t dressed as a Pokemon.

Reaching Outside the Comfort Zone

First, let me share some background on myself to give you some context for this post: I am originally from Upper Arlington, Ohio—less than 5 minutes from OSU campus. I attended The Ohio State University alongside 50% of my high school graduating class. During undergrad, while most of my high school friends could pinpoint exactly where they wanted to be 5, even 10 years from then, I always felt unclear about what I wanted out of life and unsure of how to figure it out.

In my junior year of undergrad, while many of my friends were securing study abroad opportunities, I knew I wanted to do something different, something that would challenge me and hopefully reveal to what I didn’t already know about myself—strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities. I wanted to know it all! I found National Outdoor Leadership School through a friend of a friend, and I embarked on what was to become one of the most rewarding and bizarre experiences of my life…

I slept in a sleeping bag for 85 consecutive nights next to 16 strangers who would soon become my closest friends. We backpacked through remote sections of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico and the Galiuro Mountains in Arizona, carrying everything on our backs that we needed to survive for 3 weeks at a time. We climbed the incredible granite domes of Joshua Tree National Park– powered by bacon, coffee, and laughter. We navigated class-3 rapids in whitewater canoes on the Rio Grande, paddled past Mexican military clad with automatic weapons, and didn’t see another human being for 18 days. The vastness of the wilderness was exhilarating, humbling, inspiring, and terrifying all at the same time, and I came to learn more about myself than I ever expected.

When I graduated from undergrad, I knew I wanted to marry my education in psychology with my passion for the outdoors to facilitate meaningful experiences for others who might benefit. I took a job as a Field Instructor for Evoke Therapy Programs helping struggling adolescents and young adults work through depression, drug addiction, trauma, and motivational/behavioral problems. In this job, I worked a non-traditional schedule of 8 days in the field, followed by 6 days off. I saw recovering drug addicts celebrate 30 days of sobriety in the field over no-bake pies. I saw teenage boys with autism begin to challenge rigid patterns of thinking and to develop their first real friendships. And I saw adolescent girls with a history of self-harm come to believe that they mattered in the world. I count myself lucky to have been a part of the transformation process for the clients I worked with, whose stories continue to inspire me and put my own struggles into perspective.

Me and my best friend Taylor when we worked in the field. This was the equivalent "business casual" in the industry.
Me and my best friend Taylor when we worked in the field. This was the equivalent of “business casual” in the industry.

It’s clear that the program I attended and the wilderness therapy program I worked for are very different. The takeaway that I hope becomes obvious here is that there is a certain inherent healing effect of being outside. I also think there is a deeper level of learning that comes from challenging experiences with real consequences—learning what is in and out of your control and how to adapt to adversity. I believe my experiences in the outdoors have shaped me into someone who can find hope and happiness in just about any situation, and I’m grateful for that.

If there is any piece of advice I would give someone who is uncertain about their path in life (and trust me, you’re not alone), I encourage immersing yourself in an experience that you’re afraid of. I’m talking the thing that you always wished you could do but could never actually imagine yourself doing. There is deep self-discovery and self-awareness that comes from pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone.

backpacking, Ohio State, High Sierras
The OSU Outdoor Adventure Center traveled to the High Sierras last summer. Seriously awe-inspring stuff.

The great part about OSU is that we have access to so many different experiences– so many that I hear people talk about how they struggle to fit in everything they want to do. Well, here is one more for you: the OSU Outdoor Adventure Center. Of course there is the famed indoor rock climbing wall, but what a lot of people don’t know is that as students we also have access to adventure trips. From rock climbing, to sea kayaking, to dog sledding—there is really something for all seasons and to suit all tastes. The best part is that there is no experience required for most and all are welcome.

rock climbing, OSU
Indoor rock climbing wall at OSU during the Valentine’s day climbing competition. Participants were held together by a paper chain and had to complete the climb together. They also do other silly stuff, like zombie themed climbing hours for the premier of the Walking Dead.

I can’t emphasize enough the benefit of pushing yourself to challenge fears, insecurities, an preconceived notions of your own limitations. From my own trips, I’ve learned to work with diverse teams, lead others in high pressure situations, and accomplish stretch goals with limited resources. These are all skills that translate remarkably well to “real life,” and that I plan to leverage in work and life in the future. Get out there!

A Juggling Act

images

“Work-Life balance” is a phrase I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. My first two weeks of grad school consisted of 12 hours of class, 40 hours of work, 2 career workshops, 3 informational meetings, 1 career fair and several long hours of reading (exact number unknown). I ate a lot of fast food, slept far less than the recommended daily average, and managed to wash exactly zero dishes. Let me tell you, grad school at the Fisher College of Business is no joke.

I’ve always considered juggling one of my strengths (no, not literal juggling). But by the end of the first week, I already felt myself floundering– barely treading water to stay afloat in the sea of opportunity. I found myself looking around in my classes, wondering how the heck is everyone else doing it?! How do I juggle work, school, and a social life, which are all arguably—and certainly in my opinion— components of a healthy life? Is it okay for one to win out over the others, or even more dramatically, to drop one entirely so the other two can survive? Well, I decided to ask around and collect some data.

The bad news: no one really knows how to do it. The good news: everyone is in it together.

More on the bad news:

Well, it could be more accurate (and less sourpuss) to say that the jury is out on how to best juggle the trifecta of work, school, and a social presence– and everyone has their own strategy. My advice in three simple steps:

images

  1. Schedule: Have one. Plan out what needs to be done and do the things you tell yourself you’re going to do. It feels good to deliver in tangible ways and to follow-through—for yourself. In the words of a wise Morgan Hite, “there is no substitute for sanity.”
  2. Make time for the things that reinvigorate you: This is important. Spend time with people you love, have a beer with a friend, watch stand-up comedy, blast the music in your car and sing at the top of your lungs. These are a few things that help me put chaos back into perspective.
  3. Take Pleasure in the Simple Things: Even when you feel like you don’t have time. Get some fresh air, people watch on campus, enjoy the walk home from class, appreciate the full moon and the sound of summer nights while they last. Try not to rush—appreciate the transition times as much as the activities themselves.

More on the good news:

We’re in this together. I’ve known my cohort for less than three weeks, and I already feel we understand one another better than most. There’s something about being stressed together that connects people on a deeper level. I realize now that I’ve missed this feeling from undergrad.

Maybe it’s because we’re like-minded people who genuinely care about helping people become the best version of themselves (call it HR). Maybe I just lucked out in the gamble of grad school cohorts. But when I think about the last few weeks, one word dominates—grateful. I am grateful to be treading water in this sea of opportunity and wisdom that is the Fisher College of Business. It is one of the best “problems” to have.

Paraphrased from the wise Dr. Larry Inks (Clinical Associate Professor at FCOB), there’s only one thing to do with the towel of experiences that make up life—wring it out and soak ’em up.

imgres