It's true that we may feel a little proprietary about our Optimas Award winners. They're just so good. They are the reminders of the importance of HR, the need for HR. They are examples of the heights HR can scale when released from the binds of administrivia and allowed to be forward-thinking, challenging and creative.
Back in the early Optimas years, we heralded such exciting ideas as cutting-edge child-care programs, cost-snipping health-care initiatives and work-task skills training. Big deal, you say? All good HR departments do that now. Exactly—now. But back six or seven years ago, these HR professionals were blazing new trails, forging the image of HR we're so fond of today: A business-minded, outside-the-box-thinking partner-in-success for the new millennium.
Our past winners have been an impressive group: Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., Hallmark, Saturn Corp., UPS, Levi Strauss & Co., McDonald's Corp. and Federal Express to name a few. (Go to Workforce Online at for a full list.) All are companies recognized nationwide for their top-drawer people.
This year's winners are no exception. Some are big-name organizations, such as Texas Instruments (General Excellence), Royal Dutch/Shell Group (Global Outlook), and Polaroid (Vision). Others, such as Trident Precision Manufacturing Inc. (Financial Impact) and Remedy Corp. (Competitive Advantage) are smaller and less well-known, but just as innovative and worthy of attention.
Several on our list this year are from the public sector. Some of these, such as the City of Phoenix (Quality of Life) and the Office of Personnel Management—the HR arm of the U.S. Federal Government—(Managing Change), are notable for adapting processes proven successful in Corporate America but not ordinarily applied in their industries. Others, such as the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Partnership), have developed initiatives from which Corporate America can draw.
All of this year's winners demonstrate HR's move away from a paper-pushing support function to a more holistic function. (Many of this year's winners, in fact, don't even have HR titles.) They show that no longer is HR the department known for a few specialties. Now HR is the partner companies need to address their No. 1 asset: people.
Indeed, Texas Instruments (TI), the only organization to have won two Optimas Awards, even advocates (and leads the way) for HR to move further on the spectrum to be more than a partner-to be an organizational leader.
Read about TI's and the other winning organizations' HR functions on the following pages. They are, as optimas means in Latin, "among the best." You'll see that these HR departments and the professionals who lead them are solving problems and making gains for their organizations. They can offer you inspiration and ideas for your own organization.
The Optimas Award winners are worthy of networking with, and Workforce provides you ample opportunity to do so. On our site you'll find links to this year's winning organizations' Web sites—many of which provide an opportunity to e-mail HR directly. You'll also find a Q&A area where you can ask questions of Chuck Nielson, vice president of HR at Texas Instruments. We'll post his responses on the site on Feb. 19.
Of course, nothing is quite as valuable as networking face-to-face, so Workforce invites you to meet the Optimas winners at our awards reception in Los Angeles on March 6—where the winners will receive their Optimas Awards, custom designed by Tiffany & Co., a founding sponsor of the awards program. You'll find details and a registration form on Workforce Online. Or, if you'd prefer, just give Kelly Dunn a call at 714/751-1883 ext. 246 for additional information.
Hopefully, you can join Workforce, Tiffany & Co., and our 1998 Optimas sponsors Kelly Services and Spectrum Human Resource Systems Corp., in congratulating the 1998 winners.
Workforce, February 1998, Vol. 77, No. 2, pp. 26-28.