Workforce.com

Really, It Was Our Honor

March 30, 2005

The winners of the 15th annual Optimas Awards, which Workforce Management presents for excellence in human resources and workforce management, arrived at the event in New York last month in the teeth of a blizzard. Once they shucked off their overcoats, we editors saw a varied bunch.

    Some of the winners work for huge public companies, but we also had a nonprofit hospital and one sprawling school district. The winners covered the spectrum of age, race and gender.

    There were regional rivalries (Southern Ohio took a few pokes at Kentucky) and contrasting tales of business travel: the exhaustion of a 21-hour one-way flight from Bangalore to New York; the nightmare that is an Atlanta commute; the joys of telecommuting from a cabin in Lake Tahoe.

    But when the leaders from the 10 organizations sat down to compare notes on their businesses at an afternoon round table, their differences fell away.

    I moderated a discussion on globalization and its impact on the winners’ businesses. As the participants first sat down, I feared that we editors had picked too narrow a topic to engage everyone at the table. I worried unnecessarily.

    Here was Nandita Gurjar of Progeon, a business process outsourcing company in India, comparing notes on employee retention with Curtis Stoll of Cincinnati-based Convergys. Cultural differences were much on the mind of Warren Malmquist of Molson Coors Brewing Co., since his company recently brought a Brazilian brewing company into the business. But they were also preoccupying Lee Elliott of Saint Francis Medical Center in Grand Island, Nebraska, where the Sudanese community in town would like to control the hiring process for Sudanese people.

    At other tables, our winners talked about fostering a culture of accountability in the workplace and how to replace a sense of entitlement with a feeling of empowerment. They puzzled over how to engage workers in their 20s, who may be no less motivated or committed to their jobs but whose priorities are simply different from the older generations of workers. Good luck getting them to pick up and move with you to your company’s new home office in Cheap Industrial Park, Nevada. (I think that’s just outside Pahrump.)

    The winners touched on the intersection of home and work. Recognizing that some employees pack their personal problems into the office much as they pack a lunch, Saint Francis Medical Center offers a class called "How to Be Married." At Progeon, the recruiting process involves not only selling a job candidate on how great the position is, but selling her family, too. Without their blessing, she’s not taking the offer.

    There were perennial bellyaches (unions). There were new headaches (Sarbanes-Oxley). But most of all, there was a sense of real enthusiasm for this work--for the engagement of people, in all their diversity and challenge and brilliance.

    Some human resources gatherings degenerate into employee bitchfests: Employees are lazy, underhanded, litigious, etc. We heard none of that. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. What our winners have in common, above all, is their deep understanding that employees are what powers success. If you feel the same way, think about entering your company in the 2006 Optimas Awards. More details are atwww.workforce.com/optimas.

    Bragging rights: For the second year in a row, Workforce Management has won the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for best single issue of a magazine (this year it was for the November 2004 magazine). Workforce Management is the only human resources publication to win this honor in 2005 from American Business Media.

Workforce Management, April 2005, p. 6 --Subscribe Now!