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How Performance Learning Put Me a Step Ahead in my Internship

by Rachel Happen, MBA '13 (11/19/12)
Rachel Happen, MBA '13

Some of the most valuable experiences I have had at Johnson thus far have been through performance learning: working with a real client, presenting to a mock Board of Directors, or quickly mobilizing a team to research and respond to a question. Through these experiences, I earned the satisfaction of solving complex, real-world problems while building my confidence applying the methods I had learned in other classes.

The value of practical application was never clearer than when I was putting the lessons I learned in our Management Cases class to work during my internship. This past summer I worked as a Strategy Intern at SYPartners, a transformation company that provides design-smart consulting at the intersection of business, brand, and culture to leadership teams at Fortune 500 firms.

During Management Cases, I tackled a new case each week on topics that spanned the breadth of possible business decisions: from market entry, to IPO, to organizational change. I dove into pages of market data, qualitative accounts, and financial statements to create clarity from chaos, and structure information in a mutually exclusive yet comprehensively exhaustive way. We also learned, by continuous application, the Minto method of structuring problems: clearly establish an organization’s current situation, identify the complications it faces that demand a response, highlight the key questions that will determine the path forward, and answer those questions with a recommendation for action.

During my internship, I worked as a strategist, collecting research, building frameworks, and prototyping client solutions. I spent a great deal of time working collaboratively with designers, production artists, and other strategists to translate my research and ideas into visually compelling booklets, curated environments, and guided experiences. Building familiarity with these new mediums and adapting the visual presentation of my work was a worthy challenge by itself. On top of that, I still needed to aggregate research, develop insights, and make strategic recommendations to my team. Luckily, I already had months of experience drawing out insights from data and framing ideas with a CEO’s perspective from the Management Cases course.

Having already practiced establishing clarity from disparate data in Management Cases, I was able to deliver clear, concise research and recommendations from day one of my internship. This jump-start allowed me to focus on the advanced skillsets, like graphic design, that were unique to my field and enhanced the impact of my work.

A few weeks into my internship, I realized the less obvious advantages of learning these problem solving techniques by actually applying them in a performance learning environment. Not only was I well-versed in frameworks and techniques that helped me shape my thinking, I also had experience working on tight deadlines with newly formed teams, anticipating and responding to objections, and adapting to shifting time constraints, audiences, and priorities.

So, this summer when a Principal asked me for a 30-second summary of the research I’d been collecting for weeks, delivering the key points in an orderly way felt like second nature. Fortunately for me, I’d already practiced presenting a succinct point of view dozens of times. Performance learning in valuable classes, like Management Cases, has been an invaluable bridge between the theory of my classes and the ambiguity of real-world application.