Engaging Employees Using a Hackathon

Engaging Employees Using a Hackathon


Networks of teams.

Engaging employee experience from recruit to retire.

According to Deloitte, these are three of the top 10 most important human capital trends of 2017.

Consistent with these trends, the use of “employee hackathons” to solve organizational problems is on the rise. This is not surprising, as more companies want to create engaging employee experiences.

What is an Employee Hackathon?

An employee hackathon is a fun and fast-paced event that brings diverse groups of employees together to solve organizational problems. Employees typically work in teams. They use agile methodology to create prototypes. Once the “hacks” are complete, teams pitch their solutions to senior leaders. And the winning solutions will be funded and implemented.

Hackathons facilitate collaboration among employees across functional areas and departments. Many companies, including Cisco, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Microsoft have used employee hackathons to find innovative HR solutions and improve their employee experiences.

How to run a Successful Employee Hackathon

If you are considering running an employee hackathon, when is an appropriate time to run it? After you have identified key areas of improvement from an employee survey would be an optimal time. In this circumstance, employee hackathons are used for follow-up action planning to facilitate improvements based on the survey results.

The traditional action planning process tends to be top-down, slow to roll out, and with little employee involvement. Employee hackathons, in contrast, focus on speed and involve employee participation in creating possible solutions.

The following are key points to keep in mind for a successful employee hackathon:

  • Clearly state the key challenges that you want employees to hack
  • Invite diverse groups of employees
  • Make participation voluntary
  • Show leadership support by having senior leaders kick off the hackathon
  • Be transparent, list the criteria for how winner(s) will be selected
  • Commit to investing in the resources needed to implement the winning solution(s)
  • Have plenty of food and drinks for the participants

Employees who have participated in a hackathon love it because it is a highly engaging activity. They work with colleagues from other departments to brainstorm and design working prototypes. Employees feel that they are part of the solution. They have a sense of pride that they are contributing to the success of the company.

The rise of the digital age, changing expectations of the workforce, and the rise of the gig economy require HR teams to continually adapt to changes. Hackathons can be valuable in generating solutions that improve employee experiences.

Have you participated in an employee hackathon? How was your experience? Tweet me @novacrea or comment here.

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Pi Wen Looi, PhD. Pi Wen is the Founder and President of Novacrea, LLC, a northern California talent management consulting firm. Named one of the most important voices in employee engagement by TechnologyAdvice, she is an expert in employee engagement and employee research methodology. She helps her clients ask the right questions, connect the dots, find insights from their survey results, and take action. She uses a design-thinking approach to unleash employee creativity and generate innovative solutions. Pi Wen brings 20 years of talent management consulting experience and research expertise to improve employee communications, increase employee engagement, and enable her clients to create breakthrough results. Her clients include Boeringher Ingelhiem, Cisco, DiversityInc, LSG Sky Chef, Mizuho OSI, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Salt Lake County, and west elm, among others. She is a senior advisor for Imperative, a start-up that helps organizations shape their culture and practices to increase the number of purpose-oriented employees. She is a speaker at multiple conferences and the head judge of the first-ever Employee Engagement Hackathon, held in San Francisco. Most recently, she was interviewed by Security Management on the trends of employee engagement. She has published articles in The Human Factor, HR.com’s Recognition and Engagement Essentials, and more. Her research has been cited in several industry books, including Leadership and Talent in Asia: How the best companies delivery extraordinary performance. Pi Wen earned her PhD and master’s degrees in applied quantitative psychology from Ohio University and her B.S. in mathematics from the National University of Singapore. She’s a member of the Association for Talent Management in Sacramento (ATD) and an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Master of Learning and Organizational Design and the School of Professional Studies. When she is not consulting with clients, she enjoys taking photos of people and buildings. Connect with her on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/piwenlooi/

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