Saturday, August 25, 2012

Opportunities in the form of challenges

Within the first week or so of my time at GM, specifically at the JumpStart anniversary event, we had an opportunity to do even more for the company.  In partnership with MTV Scratch, GM sponsored an innovation challenge.  This challenge, which had six categories that teams could tackle, was a seven week endeavor that, for me, ended in the semi-finals two and a half weeks ago.  The reason for the delay on the post if that I wanted to see if GM or MTV had issues with it.  It seems as if it's good to go.

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To rewind a little though, I was lucky enough to be selected for a team to begin with.  Happily, there was lots of interest in the competition and, so, actually many more interns and new hires were interested in the challenge than were able to be on the three teams per category GM wanted.  I made it onto one of the three PR challenge teams (PR being Public Relations).  I ended up working with three guys and one other girl who sat at three different GM sites.  Our challenge was to choose influencers and come up with a strategy for how they could promote Chevy's small cars to millennials (basically teenagers though age 30).

At first the team wasn't gelling together.  Sometimes emails were replied to, sometimes people could make it to the workshops MTV held for us, but I actually was able to use tools that I learned about at Sloan to help make some early decisions.  I used Darwinator for us to come up with a team name (we used at school in our product design and development class to decide on which product design concepts would go forward), we used a couple of times (used this lots for scheduling group assignment meetings for Sloan classes during term) and overall I tried to be open to team ideas and willing to let other people take the reins.  I was the designated leader because I had come up with an early good idea and spoken with the organizers the most, but I really worked at being a guide rather than a ruler.  I knew that, beyond the internship, this would be a really good way to work on the 'Leaders' part of LGO.

Even though I was the team leader, the final influencer group we chose to promote Chevy small cars was not a group I had proposed; I used that as a way to have the team be more invested in our choice.  I was invested in the team no matter what, but if I could have another ally to champion the topic they had thought of, then I figured it would be even better.

We didn't all meet in person until more than half way into the seven weeks of the challenge (I had met some of my team members in person, but not all of them before that).  However, once we had that all hands in-person meeting, it became easier to schedule phone calls, share ideas and work on our presentation.  The team really did come together at the end which made me really happy.

Almost three weeks ago was the semi-final round of the challenge where we competed with only the other PR teams.  The winner of this round would go on to compete against the winners of the other categories, pitching for GM execs from each category as well as the president of North America to see who would get the grand prize.  During the semi-finals, I appreciated finally getting to see the other PR team ideas since, until then, we had worked pretty much in isolation.  However, when the results were announced, our idea was not the one chosen to go to the finals.

While it was disappointing in the moment, it was a little bit of a relief to not have to work on this extra side project any more.  I must say though that I enjoyed this as an additional way to meet people who were my age, to work with MTV Scratch (nice people!) and to get some more practice in a skill outside of engineering by, this time, applying marketing and communications classes to the real world.  I even learned a little bit about making videos with Windows Movie Maker.  I'm very glad that I participated in the Innovation Challenge and would be happy to do it again if I had the opportunity.

An additional note on working (and connecting with people):

Before many of us went off on our internships, we received words of wisdom from the off-cycles which were to be aware of and make use of "espresso breaks" and the water cooler as a way of meeting people and getting to know what's really going on.  Since people at my office seem less enamored of coffee, one thing I have found that does wonders at forming deeper bonds with them is going on a road trip (or plane trip), in my case, riding with others when we go to plants.  I've been very happy to have ridden with the people I have so far and feel like we both have come to a much better understanding of each other from having shared that experience.

Near the beginning of my internship I tried sending out a lunch invite so I could meet people more casually and not eat alone.  Turns out, from that cold email I had one lunch "meeting" with three people in my group and not much else happened.  Perhaps I asked too many people at once, perhaps there are that many people for whom having lunch with someone they don't know very well is rather uncomfortable and perhaps it was too early on in the internship for people to jump at the offer.  Either way, while you can miss a lunch, it's pretty hard to miss a car ride.  You've got to talk for at least some of the time.  That's been my equivalent of an extended "espresso/water cooler break" and I've been pleased with the results.

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