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The GP Internship Experience: From the Lens of the Leader

The summer went so fast. It always does. As you may recall from a previous blog, I had the honor of launching a learning experience designer summer internship at GP Strategies. We envisioned a program that offered undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines to participate in client-facing work as well as internal innovation projects. The interns were from all different backgrounds and majors—from media arts to finance to engineering to communications. But, we intentionally had them co-located at our World HQ in Columbia, Maryland. Due to some long commutes, many worked remotely several days per week to offer them more of a work-life balance, whereas others really embraced the culture of working in an office and having a dedicated space.

As I reflect upon the 12 weeks of the summer, I get excited knowing that GP Strategies will be on the interns’ résumés; they can use the experiences they had with us to craft their story on upcoming interviews and opportunities. Based on the feedback we received, the experience was positive, but of course, not perfect. I wish I was onsite more (I live in Minnesota). I wish I had more client work and projects; however, the projects they did work on were strategic, internal initiatives. I wish I had more time for individual discussions. That aside, I feel we offered them an amazing opportunity to build out their portfolio. They worked on cutting-edge technology, including virtual reality and chatbots. They participated in collaborative, design-thinking exercises. They had the autonomy to create and design the experience they wanted. So, all in all – good stuff, but after reflecting on the process I wanted to share six lessons learned that we’ll take into consideration next year:

  1. Make the onboarding experience a “WOW” factor.
    • During the first two days, we had the “big guns” talk to the interns. Think president of the Company, CEO, several executive vice presidents, subject matter experts, etc. While potentially overwhelming, the interns met the people in the organization who are responsible for our overall strategy and direction. They were able to share their GP Strategies stories, including describing how the people and organization shaped their career paths.
  2. Make lots of connections.
    • Since we are a virtual workforce, the interns had me as their manager, but we had plenty of other resources for them. They had onsite supervisors to help them manage their day-to-day tasks. They had a network of buddies they could tap into to socialize and connect with. I set up informational interviews with individuals across our enterprise who had roles of interest to the interns. Engineering major? Meet our vice president who manages an Air Force base. Finance major? Meet our team who is responsible for quarter closeout.
  3. Get a client project ahead of time.
    • This is one place I want to do better. While I had our internal projects lined up (for example, taking classroom content from our BlessingWhite partners and building a digitized learning experience), I just assumed there would be plenty of client (billable) work waiting in the wings. And it wasn’t for many reasons—timeline, schedule, skills, etc. Next year, I intend to work with one of our larger clients to “carve out” a project for the interns to work on exclusively so they can get more exposure to actual work. Too many internal projects made some of the timelines rather fluid and unclear.
  4. Help with time management.
    • The six interns had several projects to work on—some were individual, some were small group, some were large team. About halfway through the internship, one of our project managers helped one of the interns build out a project plan and create the tasks and timelines needed to move the project along. I assumed that was happening, but it really wasn’t. Projects were moving forward, but in a more casual and undefined way. Next, time, we’ll give upfront training and templates to help the interns manage their time and workload so that they don’t feel overburdened or bored.
  5. Use technology to connect, but focus on where the work gets done.
    • In a previous blog, I shared my angst about having too many collaboration platforms to choose from. In the end, I picked our corporate collaboration platform, Yammer, versus something that was more experimental in nature. And, for the most part, it worked. But, it only worked when we kept going back to it. It was hard to keep the conversation alive when it was easier to converse in tools such as email or IM (Skype). And, the interns made a group text message with their phones, so it was easier for them to collaborate directly with the team that way. So, bottom line—collaborate on tools where it’s easy, natural, and integrated into the job. We can’t force a single method for working jointly.
  6. Offer more developmental and social opportunities.
    • One of the highlights of several interns was a one-day session on Presentation Skills led by one of our expert BlessingWhite facilitators. It helped them prepare their final presentation to the GP Strategies leadership team and gave them practical skills that they can translate to school and future work. I envision adding several sessions next year, ideally in person, on topics such as managing time and staying accountable. Also, because of several interns and myself working remotely, we didn’t do a lot of after-hours or other social/community projects. More of that next year.

So there you have it—my first experience crafting and leading an internship program. It was an honor to work with these future professionals and I hope sharing our experience can help those of you who are considering a corporate internship program within your organization.

About the Authors

Britney Cole
Britney is a learning leader with experience in organization development, human performance, and corporate learning and has worked remotely, managing virtual teams for more than a decade. Britney lives in Minnesota with her husband and three small children (ages 5, 7 and 8) where she keeps warm with plenty of blankets and cozy hats. She likes to talk, so you might see her at learning conferences as a speaker. Britney has provided consulting for clients in the financial services, pharmaceutical, steel, chemical, media, technology, retail, manufacturing, and aerospace industries. She forms lasting partnerships with her clients helping them with learning design and architecture, content development, leadership and professional development, performance consulting, technology implementation, and change management. Most recently, she is helping pioneer new experiential learning methods and defining learning 3.0 taxonomy.

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