Real-World Application

Student teams bring classroom learning to corporate challenge
Monday, December 15, 2014

Teams of Master of Industrial and Labor Relations (MILR) students form every fall to compete in a case competition sponsored by a corporate member of the Center for Advanced Human Resources Studies (CAHRS).

Integrating learning from three classes -- "HR Strategy," "Organizational Behavior" and "Strategy and Finance," students apply it to a real business scenario.

This month, General Mills asked the 11 teams of five or six students each to study and make recommendations about its HR delivery model and its technology to support HR excellence while optimizing the HR budget.

The case was complicated by General Mills' aggressive acquisition strategy, both within and outside the United States.

Associate Professor Brad Bell, director of Executive Education at ILR, said, "This year's case was very challenging. Not only was the scope of the case broad, but it also required an integrated solution."

"This made it a good fit since the goal of the case is to have students develop solutions that integrate the concepts and tools they have learned across the three classes."

Jacqueline Williams-Roll, senior vice president of General Mills, told the winning team that its effort to include cost figures for its proposal set it apart.

"Cost is not the whole issue, but it is a major ingredient. I was happy to see you utilize the best numbers you had to defend your solution," she said.

Senior ILR Lecturer John Haggerty said, "Calculating the return on investment for HR projects is not always easy. But, in the real world of limited resources, if you can't show a positive investment return the money should probably not go to HR."

Though students expressed discomfort about the ambiguity of the case study, many said it was a learning highlight of their first semester.

Bell said the case forced students to deal with the lack of clarity that often surrounds complex HR projects.

"This is a great learning experience for our students and, hopefully, General Mills will also benefit from the diversity of ideas and approaches as they continue to work through the project."