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2016 Executive Forum Hackathon Winners

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Back to the future?

The 2016 Staffing Industry Executive Forum has come and gone, and as usual it was terrific! Awesome content, exceptional networking, and this year, a fantastic venue (not to mention four days escape from snow and cold!).

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Well, maybe just back to b-school!

This year’s Executive Forum featured a new session – a team case study competition. Now, I have not worked on a case study since I got out of graduate school (Wharton ’91), and I walked into this event with a little trepidation. After all, I’m a vendor to the staffing industry, not an owner. And I was walking into a room filled with high powered staffing execs. I started to have that feeling again—that I was the one mistake the admissions office accidentally made!

As any good MBA knows, the key to success is to pick the right strategy. And when I walked into the room, I noticed people gathering in tables all over the place. I was told to choose any table I wanted. So I looked around, and then made a beeline to the one table right at front of the room. I figured that anyone who would choose the table up front had to be taking this event seriously.

And I made the right choice!

Welcome to Team Ninja Turtle

I have to say that I really lucked out. If there could have been a more perfect mix of people to work on a case study, I can’t think of who it would include. We had CEOs of light industrial and creative staffing firms, the CIO of a very large national staffing organization, a strategy and management consultant to the staffing industry (who also happened to be wickedly good organizer!), and even a buyer of staffing services who was a speaker the next day.

Our case study was about a company called “Lackluster Staffing, a struggling 100-office commercial staffing firm. Poor Lackluster was losing market share, facing declining margins, and appeared to have huge morale issues as it was shedding key staff. According to the case study, we were hired as the new CEO in an effort to right this ship and turn Lackluster into a Blockbuster (that last part was one of the rallying cries our team developed).

During the case study, we had one hour to evaluate the situation, develop recommendations, and then write up our plan, which would be judges on originality, practicality, level of detail and likelihood of success. The good news, as you can see by the graphic at the top of this post, is that our team developed some outstanding ideas, and thanks to our expert facilitator and wicked fast typist, we turned in the winning response.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, well, all the teams were assigned a animal name. Officially, we were the turtles, but our team thought better of that…and Ninja Turtles just seemed like a perfect fit for us (although the team’s knowledge of the movie was a little disconcerting!)

But this post isn’t about the case study

For me, the best lesson of the 2016 Staffing Industry Hackathon had nothing to do with the case study itself. It was a lesson about the value of teamwork. And the importance of getting away from the day-to-day, so you can once again see the whole forest when you’re stuck in the trees.

Here are the real lessons I learned:

    • A great team crushes the results of even the best player.
      No secret here, but it was great to see this principle in action. Our end result was truly a team effort with significant contributions from every single member, and more importantly, lots of examples of one team member building on the idea of another to enhance the quality of the ideas presented.


    • Diverse skills and views make a team stronger.
      Having multiple CEOs (with different industry expertise), an IT expert, a strategy consultant, someone with the client’s perspective, and yes, even a marketing guy, lead to really varied opinions and viewpoints. Without the diversity of this team, we never would have developed the quality or depth of the recommendations we delivered. And this was all done in one-hour!


    • When you have a lot of smart, opinionated people, a facilitator is essential.
      At times, I was worried our discussion was going to go off track, become dominated by one person, or get stymied by lack of consensus; however, a different times, different people took on the role of facilitator – restating the questions being discussed, summarizing solutions being offered, and pushing the team to stay focused, drill deeper to improve the depth of the recommendations, and ensure all voices were heard. While we never assigned this role to any one person, it naturally evolved and proved to be essential to the success of the team.


  • Case studies are great learning tools.
    I may not have appreciated this as much when I was in graduate school, but case studies are an ideal way to learn. Why? Because it’s not about your company. Or your people. You don’t have the same emotional barriers as you do when you’re discussing issues within your firm. So, if you’re looking for a way to develop creative solutions to problems, help your own team members grow their knowledge, and improve the quality of the decisions you make, try your own Hackathon. Take a tough problem you are trying to solve, frame it as a fictitious case study, create a team and then get to work. If you do this, you’re company will be a winner!

Congratulations to Team Ninja Turtle

My thanks to our awesome team:

Amar Panchal, Founder, Akrya
Allison Hemming, President, The Hired Guns
John Rosenbaum CIO, EmployBridge
John Heigl, Consultant Flexible Staffing, Eli Lilly and Company
Lee Ann Pagnard, President, Crescendo Consulting
Mike Brannock, CEO, Workforce Unlimited
Mark Wells, VP Sales, Arevo Group


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