“Just an intern”: Don’t ever think it! Part 1

Columbus Chamber
The Columbus Chamber provides connections, resources and solutions that help small businesses and Fortune 500 enterprises grow Central Ohio's economy.

With a constantly changing economic environment, talent strategies are changing too. But resist the urge to let your internships program fall dormant. Interns are a great talent development option not only for the here and now but also for the long-term success as an organization. Here's except from a recent post that I did for our ColumbusInternships Blog:

Now, more than ever, interns can serve as a great source of innovation for the employers they are working for. Every organization, big and small, for-profit and non-profit is challenged with how they can do things better. This may come in the form of doing more with less, improving efficiency, driving down expenses, increasing productivity, raising customer satisfaction…it all comes back to the same thing; how do they get better. Well, who better to task with that charge than an intern (or for that matter, all of your interns)?

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that employers start to bring interns in solely under the heading of “find ways for us to be better”. However, it should be included as an area of responsibility in addition to their “regular duties”. Why is this so important? Ever heard the phrase “virgin eyes”? Well, interns have ‘em. They don’t know a sacred cow from a legitimately tried and true process. They don’t know what questions or ways of thinking are taboo or “inappropriate”. They have no assumptions about “the one right way” of doing something. They only have questions. As an employer, embrace this. Embrace the heck out of it! Listen to what they have to say and when warranted and this is most important, ACT on what they have to say.

I’m not suggesting that you should act blindly; build the business case, perform the required due diligence, etc. but do take action! If you don’t, you risk two things. First, you risk the engagement levels and overall performance of your interns. If you ask for their input and get them excited about the opportunity to respond only to ignore what they have to say, well, that’s a sure-fire way to turn them and lead them to become disengaged. Secondly, if you fail to act on their suggestions, who knows what opportunity you might be missing out on to MAKE YOUR BUSINESS BETTER (remember, that was the point!).

Employers, here’s one last thing to keep in mind when it comes to the benefit of thinking of your interns in this capacity. When it comes to getting better, it often requires calling into question and asking hard questions about how it is that you’re doing business today. It’s a really good chance that the people that designed and implemented those processes and thought they were the best ideas available at the time are the very people within your organization today making key decisions about your company’s future (heck, you may even be one of them). Think about how hard it is for you to now dissect these processes and think of new ways of doing things. By no means is it impossible and with a structured / disciplined approach to performance improvement, you could probably get there. But along the way, don’t miss out on a great opportunity to leverage the insights of your interns. You are so close to what you do, that sometimes all it takes is someone new, from the outside to call-out and identify the opportunities to improve.

Dave Cofer is President/CEO of Cofer Consulting Solutions, a firm specializing in attracting, developing and retaining young professionals. E-mail Dave at David.Cofer@CoferConsulting.com.

To learn more about Cofer Consulting Solutions, visit www.coferconsulting.com.

For more internship information or to post an opportunity, visit the Chamber's internship portal at www.columbusinternships.com.