By Workforce Editors

Oct. 29, 2009

F or 18 years, the Optimas Awards have recognized workforce management initiatives that directly improve business results. And every year, the judges see themes emerge from the entries they read and the companies that Workforce Management reporters write about and offer as companies worthy of consideration.

    One thing that this year’s winners have in common is resilience, a unique ability to roll with the punches—a characteristic that will likely be put to the test now that all organizations are facing a worsening worldwide economy. 

    Every organization is different, but among the 2008 winners are stories of a hospital fighting its way back from bankruptcy, a technology company battered by turnover, a health care organization challenged to better respond to patient demographics, and a food and facilities management services company that suffered a massive failure in recruitment process outsourcing. In each case, the organization looked to its own most precious resource—its people—for a solution. The hospital involved its staff, from the lowest-level worker to the top executive, in its recovery. The tech company decided that trust was the key to retention and created a pay scheme that gave more income security to workers. The health care organization ramped up its cultural competency to better serve its community—and improved its market share in the process. The food and facilities management services company created its own internal talent team and put the process back on the right footing.

    It’s our pleasure to honor the achievements of the 2008 Optimas Award winners, and to share them with you.

Crouse Hospital,
Syracuse, New York
The hospital pulled itself out of bankruptcy and has established itself as a leader in medical services in a highly competitive regional market by using its reorganization not only to fix its finances but also to reinvent its corporate culture.
American Express,
New York, New York
Two years ago, American Express began a journey in its U.S. customer care organization to define and deliver a new employee value proposition to drive world-class retention, enhance its talent pipeline and engage each of its customer care professionals so they could deliver extraordinary customer care. The results achieved include highly qualified candidates with enhanced early performance, a significant reduction in attrition and improved customer satisfaction.

Kaiser Permanente,
Oakland, California
Kaiser Permanente has a 30-year record of exceptional compliance with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and has been recognized for its diversity management. But the not-for-profit health care organization went further by developing a strategic plan to ensure that diversity was expressed as a fundamental value of its corporate philosophy and behavior and was integrated into every aspect of its business.

IBM, Armonk, New York
Applying the principles of supply-chain purchasing, IBM saved more than $1 billion with a workforce management initiative that cataloged the skills and experience of every employee worldwide into a searchable database. The end product has helped managers more easily find the IBM employees they need while also allowing the company to more efficiently hire contract workers.
ArcelorMittal, Luxembourg
ArcelorMittal is the world’s largest steel company, yet less than 15 percent of its 310,000 employees spoke the official corporate language—English. ArcelorMittal worked with GlobalEnglish, a company that specializes in online English-language learning programs, to implement a companywide English-learning initiative. So far, more than 5,000 employees have participated, with 500 new users added each month, opening avenues for employee global mobility and increasing productivity, thus saving the company more than $8.6 million annually.

HCL Technologies,
Noida, India
HCL is one of the pioneers of the information-systems revolution in India, but it lagged behind competition in the IT services business, where it was a late entrant. HCL was confronted with the challenge of retaining people in the face of attrition that was much higher than its competition’s. HCL then embarked on its “Employee First” program, introducing several policies with a focus on inclusivity, teleworking, extended leave policies, flextime and a compressed workweek for female employees. All of these make HCL unique in its community and have helped it drop its attrition rate to below 15 percent as of July 2008.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service,
The agency’s expanding role forced it to compete with other federal employers as well as those in the private sector for top talent in such fields as microbiology and risk assessment. But delays and inefficiencies in its HR systems affected the agency’s ability to perform. The department’s overhaul of its approach includes recruitment bonuses in hard-to-fill locations, efforts to address shortages in the veterinary field, a reduction in hiring delays, an increase in teleworking and other alternative work schedules, and efforts to link employee performance with the agency’s mission.
Metropolitan Development Association of Syracuse and Central New York,
Syracuse, New York
The association was formed by executives from more than 100 local companies in Central New York who realized they needed to stop the outflow of young talent from the area, which is home to 35 colleges and universities and has a workforce 20 percent more educated than the national average. It created the Essential New York Initiative, partnering employers and universities to retain students after graduation. The partnership is producing significant results, with regional employment reaching near-record levels in 2007.
Gaithersburg, Maryland
Sodexo outsourced its recruitment process, but when that model failed, talent acquisition became the company’s No. 1 executive issue. The organization then created an in-house, best-in-class Talent Acquisition Group, with the goal of transforming Sodexo into a forward-looking recruiting powerhouse and magnet for top talent. As a result, the company’s retention rates for management and hourly workers are above industry norm, while customer satisfaction, client retention, employee referrals, quality of hire and college recruitment have seen significant increases.
Linn State Technical College, Linn, Missouri
A few years before the start of the energy crisis, Linn State began offering a nuclear technology program to train students for careers in nuclear energy. The two-year degree program attracts high school graduates and prepares them for careers with starting salaries around $55,000 a year in a field that is experiencing a resurgence but does not have enough trained workers to accommodate increasing capacity.

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