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2003 i Optimas Awards-i Winners

March 6, 2003
Related Topics: Featured Article, Optimas
Workforce management can be a breeze when times are good. You can fatten up the training budget. If a salary offer isn’t high enough to land a stellar recruit, there’s a chance that you can get her more. And if keeping the troops happy and productive means adding on some perks, you can do it--even if the ROI is a little sketchy.

But in a bleak economy, all that changes. Perry Mason himself would have a hard time arguing some of the cases that executives have to make today, even for critical initiatives. Training has to show its value--right now. Recruiting requires special skills, not just the ability to write a big fat check. And maintaining a productive workforce has never been a greater challenge. Employees are dispirited, disengaged, and not disposed to give their all for boss and business.

That’s why this year’s Optimas Awards are particularly meaningful. The organizations that Workforce Management selected have found creative ways to achieve such goals as lower turnover, a healthier workforce, greater profits, expanded markets, and even the ultimate test: the company’s very survival.

This month we launch a series of profiles of honorees, beginning with Internet search-engine Google, the winner for General Excellence. For the rest of the year, we will spotlight an honoree every month. Workforce Management is proud to introduce this year’s Optimas Award winners. Each demonstrates an approach to workforce management that is nothing short of inspirational.



The Optimas Awards General Excellence winner is a rarity: a profitable Internet business. The young founders' people practices are aimed at attracting and keeping an unbeatable team.

National Association of Insurance Commissioners

When it couldn't compete by offering bigger salaries, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners came up with a set of low-cost initiatives designed to retain its employees. The centerpiece: parents can bring babies under six months to work. Turnover plummeted.

National City Corporation

Faced with high turnover among new hires--a problem this major bank called "quick quits," National City Corporation formed National City Institute to support and train its new employees. The result: savings of $1.35 million for new hires who don't leave, and better training that has brought in sales increases of $3.7 million in less than three years.

Novo Nordisk

Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk keeps employees focused on the same critical people-strategy goals, whether they work in Copenhagen or Tokyo.


SRA International

SRA International's Nurse Advocacy Program, winner of the Optimas Award for innovation, has dramatically reduced its insurance premiums and lost work time from illness and injury. Along the way, the company found another benefit--a happier, more loyal, more productive workforce.

Designer Blinds

The workforce management leadership at Designer Blinds in Omaha had a narrow window of opportunity to rescue the company from failure. Their efforts won them the Optimas Award for managing change.

Ace Hardware Corporation

Ace Hardware Corporation faces a challenge that its competitors don’t. While Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart can require their stores to carry certain merchandise or follow a sales program set by corporate headquarters, Ace doesn’t always have that option. Based in Oak Brook, Illinois, it is one of the nation’s largest cooperatives, and its retailers make their own operational and financial decisions for their 5,100 stores. Ace’s field managers, who act as consultants to the retailers, can recommend changes, but compliance isn’t always mandatory. For Ace, dictates wouldn’t work. But collaboration would.

Working with Lake Forest Corporate Education, a strategic business unit of Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, Ace began in 1999 to train its field managers in the collaborative negotiating skills they would need to persuade retailers of the benefits of initiatives and programs. The retailers listened, and the partnership between them and Ace Hardware’s field managers is a demonstrable success. Ace has realized $8 million in cost savings, revenue earned, or increased productivity, all for direct and allocated costs of $312,545. That’s a $20 return for every dollar invested. And that’s how a successful partnership works.


Caffeine addicts aren't the only fans of Starbucks, a corporate legend that serves up warm fuzzies with its cold frappuccinos. The company's rich benefit blend keeps turnober low and employee satisfaction high. And that's why it's the Optimas Award winner for Quality of Life.

SunTrust Banks, Inc.

SunTrust combined 28 recruiting and screening systems into one with a minimum of chaos and a maximum of teamwork. It saved money, got better candidates and won SunTrust the Optimas Award for service.

Electronic Arts

In an industry with no precedent and few opportunities for formal training, a video-game developer trains its own leaders, and wins the Optimas Award for Vision.

Workforce, March 2003, pp. 45-47 -- Subscribe Now!

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