2005 <i>Optimas Awards</i> Winners

January 7, 2005
Wells Fargo Bank,
San Francisco

Many firms herald their talent as their differentiation, but Wells Fargo & Co. has a record to support its rhetoric. When it posted a profit of $7 billion for fiscal 2004, an increase of 13 percent compared with 2003, CEO Dick Kovacevich rewarded employees with a special contribution in Wells Fargo common stock to their 401(k) plans. And despite a massive merger, the company minimized layoffs by retraining staff.

At the Goldman Sachs Bank CEO Conference in December, Kovacevich said, "Everything we do at Wells Fargo starts with our people. Why? Because when people are properly incented, rewarded, encouraged and importantly recognized, they provide better service, generate more sales and produce even better business results. This generates more revenue, which results in greater profits."

Wells Fargo wins the 2005 Optimas Award for General Excellence for people strategies that successfully integrated two companies, fostered revenue growth while retaining talent and held employees to high ethical standards.

Herman Miller,
Zeeland, Michigan

Between 2000 and 2003, Herman Miller Inc., the 82-year-old office furniture maker, went into what could accurately be called a free fall. As the dot-com bubble burst, sales plummeted by 40 percent and the company slashed its employee ranks by 60 percent.

In this environment, most companies would think of nothing beyond the next quarterly earnings statement--if not just about the day-to-day concerns of keeping afloat. Herman Miller, however, has always taken the long view.

In the middle of the downturn, the Zeeland, Michigan-based company launched a new compensation system, which for the first time pegged pay directly to individual performance, including behaviors tied to the company's values. It also invested $500,000 in a new program to groom future leaders. It then extended the program to some workers at lower levels.

The company is the winner of the 2005 Optimas Award for Competitive Advantage for creating a strategic plan that encompasses its philosophy of employee participation as a core value.

Convergys, Cincinnati

Even as Convergys Corp. became a global leader in providing "employee care" for other companies, managing their billing, payrolls, benefits and pensions, its own workers felt slighted. Rampant attrition was dragging down profits and hampering growth.

After trying other approaches, Convergys applied a sophisticated analytical technique, often used in consumer marketing, to determine what programs would keep employees happy and make them stick around.

After crunching the data, Convergys was able to predict how many more employees would stay if, say, they were guaranteed that 75 percent of their requests for specific paid days off would be granted as opposed to just 50 percent. With that kind of information, Convergys could weigh the costs and benefits of proposed retention initiatives.

Now, with its customized retention offerings in place, the company estimates that attrition was reduced by 57,813 jobs over four years, avoiding at least $57 million so far in recruiting and training costs.

For its success at retaining employees and slashing costs, Convergys is the winner of the 2005 Optimas Award for Financial Impact.

Sun Microsystems, Santa Clara, California

In an era when companies increasingly battle for talented employees, Sun Microsystems has a powerful and portable weapon: its innovative and highly evolved iWork program, which institutionalizes the virtual office and flextime.

The results have been nothing short of spectacular. Currently, about 50 percent of the firm's 35,000 global employees and on-site contractors use iWork up to two days per week, and another 1,500 use a home office three to five times per week. As employees have opted to work at home or at drop-in centers, the company has saved money by eliminating or avoiding the need to supply 7,700 cubicles and workstations. The company has cut $24 million annually in IT and power-consumption costs and saved $255 million on real estate over the past four years. Finally, turnover is down and productivity is up.

For its success in implementing its innovative approach to work throughout the world, Sun wins the 2005 Optimas Award for Global Outlook.

United Parcel Service,

Facing unacceptably high injury rates, United Parcel Service Inc. took a chance and flipped its traditional top-down management approach to a ground-up safety program fashioned by drivers and parcel handlers. It worked.

Today, injury rates among the company's 320,000 U.S. employees are tumbling, turnover is down and UPS reports that company-wide attitudes toward safety have improved significantly. The Atlanta-based company began implementing the new safety program in 1996. Committees of drivers and parcel handlers were given broad new powers to design and implement safety strategies under a company-wide initiative called the Comprehensive Health and Safety Process.

For its success at significantly improving its safety record and lowering turnover, UPS is the winner of the 2005 Optimas Award for Innovation.

Bell Canada, Montreal, Quebec

Like many other large companies, Bell Canada knows all too well the consequences of downsizing: high severance costs, employee dissatisfaction and an eventual brain drain. The Montreal-based telecommunications company streamlined its workforce by almost 33 percent between 1995 and 1998, and has been downsizing by 4 percent to 5 percent a year ever since.

Bell Canada, which now has 43,000 employees, experienced a sudden wake-up call two years ago when someone asked: Why aren't departments that need to fill new positions looking first at talent in danger of being let go by other parts of the company? That question led to a wide-ranging initiative called Bell People First that has redeployed more than 1,500 workers at risk for downsizing and saved about $36 million in severance costs over the first two years alone.

For its innovative plan to redeploy rather than lose workers, Bell Canada is the winner of the 2005 Optimas Award for Managing Change.

Saint Francis Medical Center,
Grand Island, Nebraska

By 2000, the staffing situation at Saint Francis Medical Center had deteriorated from dreary to dismal. On some days, the 189-bed nonprofit hospital couldn't staff all of its beds.

In response, hospital officials developed an outreach effort that involved nearly every one of the facility's 1,200 employees. They focused on two primary targets: high school students searching for a stable career and older workers considering a career change.

To hook high school students early, the hospital hosts a special orientation session twice a year. The event is essentially a whirlwind sampler of six hospital departments, with attendees spending 10 minutes in each before moving on.

Saint Francis officials have also brought health care to the local high school. They opened a virtual hospital room to assist with training, filling it with patient beds, mannequins and X-ray-reading panels. By 2003, the organization was reaping 11.3 applications for every job opening, three times its response rate in 2000.

For its commitment to outreach and its significant turnaround, Saint Francis is this year's 2005 Optimas Award winner for Partnership.

Adolph Coors Co.,
Golden, Colorado

In the aftermath of events at Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, the emphasis on ethical business operations has reached a feverish pitch. But it didn't take a scandal or the wrath of the press for Adolph Coors to put a comprehensive program in place.

While other companies talk a good game about corporate ethics, Coors has developed one of the nation's most comprehensive programs. It offers its 8,500 employees a spate of resources, including interactive online training, ethics leadership training, a highly detailed set of policies and a help line.

At its inception in 1990, the company's ethics policy was little more than a basic code of conduct and set of guidelines. Since then, the firm has continually added features that are deliberately focused on a strategy of prevention rather than investigation.

The Adolph Coors Co. is the winner of the 2005 Optimas Award for Ethical Practice for implementing a customized program that has directly affected the way employees perceive their work and do their jobs.

Los Angeles Unified School District,
Los Angeles

Within fairly recent memory, the hiring process at the Los Angeles Unified School District was cumbersome and discouraging for applicants: long lines, surly attendants, misplaced records and endless shuttling back and forth between two locations. But in a brief two years, the massive LAUSD has metamorphosed into a desirable employer while saving taxpayers $10 million over a 24-month period.

In the past, the district received 35,000 paper résumés annually. Applications were lost or went unacknowledged, and potential hires waited months for a response. By then, many of the best had gone elsewhere. Now, an online application system makes it possible for applicants to receive a response within 24 hours, and those short-listed are promptly called in for interviews.

For its success in streamlining the hiring process and, in doing so, improving the level of teacher qualification, the LAUSD is the winner of the 2005 Optimas Award for Service.

Progeon, Bangalore, India

Every six months, hundreds of new employees converge on Progeon Limited, a business process outsourcing company in Bangalore, India. They're a high-caliber lot, with 90 percent holding university degrees. But their English accents can vary significantly, depending on which language--at least 18 are spoken across India--they use at home.

These are the employees who will handle home-mortgage information, overdraft notification, telephone-repair problems and myriad other tasks for Progeon's 22 clients, which include major banks and telecommunications and financial-services companies. Accuracy and customer rapport must be beyond reproach.

To that end, Progeon officials have developed a boot camp that spans areas ranging from accent neutralization to industry and sales training. The training program, launched when Progeon opened its doors three years ago, may last as long as eight weeks for employees entrusted to handle sophisticated transactions.

For excellence in its training program, which has graduated nearly 4,000 employees to date, Progeon is the winner of the 2005 Optimas Award for Vision.