How hackathons help companies connect people with their passions

Take advantage of the passion that your employees bring to their work each day and the results will show in a stronger culture and more creative thinking that will ultimately benefit your customers, says James Krouse, director of marketing and communication at Nesco Resource. Nesco is the producer of the Cleveland Medical Hackathon.

“People are more passionate about what they do today than ever,” Krouse says. “If we can engage with them beyond their skills in ways that speaks to their passions, we begin to tackle large challenges that plague departments, companies, and even whole industry sectors.”

Hackathons were once only seen in the tech world, but they have quickly spread to other sectors where complex challenges and solutions are tackled in a relatively short, but intense period of time. Organizations use the concept to take hours and even days to eliminate all distractions and focus on identifying and solving challenges.

“Devoting a significant period of time to one activity can be difficult, but often, people can get a lot more done in eight hours than in eight one-hour meetings,” Krouse says.

Smart Business spoke with Krouse about how hackathons can strengthen your culture and boost productivity.

What is the goal of a hackathon?

The whole idea of a hack is to take something apart and put it back together to make it do what you want it to do. It’s an opportunity to engage people who are excited about what they do and are willing to devote eight, 24 or 48 hours to work on solving a problem.

The solution is typically not ready for market, but the process builds momentum to move the team closer to reaching that ultimate goal. You certainly have talent and expertise that can be applied to making changes and figuring things out. Why not leverage that talent to the advantage of your business and your customers?

How can hackathons be used as a recruiting tool?

Companies are continually looking for new and different ways to bring talent into their organizations. By hosting, sponsoring, and participating in a hackathon, you’re doing several things to engage with talented individuals.

First, you’re sending a message that you’re willing to take a different approach to how work gets done. That has appeal to people across generations, particularly millennials. You’re also presenting your company as a dynamic organization that is going to set forth challenges and then aggressively and collaboratively go about solving them. Finally, you have the opportunity to identify and engage with individuals who are interested in solving the same challenge you are. Again, it’s looking beyond skillsets to passions that drive people.

Do you have advice on hosting a hackathon for the first time?

If you are going to host an event that is open to people outside your company, you need to be open to not completely controlling the agenda. For example, making participants sign a contract that says anything produced at the event belongs to that company could shut out a lot of valuable creativity that makes these events worthwhile. Sometimes there is concern with using the word “hackathon.” If that’s a stumbling block for your organization, don’t be afraid to use another term to describe your event that’s creative and sends the message that this is not business as usual.

What’s the key to maximizing your return on the event?

Be sure to document and publish all the work that took place at the event either in print or online. That goes a long way toward building engagement. And if somebody creates a project that has growth potential, maintain engagement with the team to keep pushing it forward. Anything that recognizes the work that is being done and demonstrates a genuine effort to build on that momentum is extremely valuable. If you’re using the event as a recruiting tool, you need the infrastructure to put participants interested in joining your team who have skills that you’re looking for on the path to be hired. Hackathon participants are passionate about what they do and can be an important resource for recruiting talent in the near and long term.

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