SHRM Honors Top HR Departments, HR Professional

By Beth Mirza Sep 25, 2008

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.—The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) honored three HR departments and one HR professional on Sept. 25 at the SHRM 2008 Strategy Conference for their innovation and collaboration in solving some of the business world’s most challenging HR issues.

Winners and finalists were recognized during the conference’s morning general session in front of more than 500 conference attendees.

SHRM created the Human Capital Leadership Awards in 2006 to recognize the HR profession’s leaders in innovation and strategy. The annual competition features four categories:

  • Innovative Business Solution award for a human resources department that develops a creative and ethical solution to a new or continuing organizational challenge.
  • Competitive Workforce award for a human resources department that responds to key workforce trends and needs in a changing economic environment.
  • Strategic HR Leadership award for a human resources department that drives improved performance by leveraging human capital and aligning HR with corporate strategic goals.
  • Human Capital Business Leader of the Year award for a senior human resources professional who is a leading force in designing and executing strategies that impact the organization’s success directly, and the HR profession’s image.

The HR Communications group at Capital One in McLean, Va., received the Innovative Business Solution award for its work on One Place, the company’s intranet portal.

In 2007, the team planned for and implemented changes to One Place to boost productivity, innovation and engagement by incorporating new technology, including discussions, profiles, photos, blogs, Wikis, videos and article ratings. The group surveyed employees and held focus groups to understand what they wanted from their intranet to help them be more successful at work. The HR group then partnered with the IT division to create and find applications that eventually every associate—from senior executive to teller—would use. In the latest user survey, 94 percent of the 26,500 full-time employees said they were satisfied with One Place. The Canada division plans to use its Wiki space to improve productivity by 5 percent, saving more than $1 million per year.

“At Capital One, we make it a point to hire the best and give them tools to succeed,” said Brian Gruber, vice president of HR at Capital One, who accepted the award on behalf of the company. “We looked to bring in the best of the Internet and change the way people work.”

Gruber said the company has seen great success with One Place, especially in the blogs where employees have “open, honest and rich dialogue. These are conversations that would never have taken place before.” Productivity and employee engagement are growing, he added, and employees “feel free to say what’s on their minds.”

The HR department atNebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City, Kan., received the Competitive Workforce award for looking beyond traditional sources of labor for its warehouse staff, and then ensuring that those new workers could succeed in their new jobs.

The Nebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City is the largest home furnishings store in North America, with more than 1 million square feet and a staff of 1,100. When the need for more staff began to spike in early 2007, HR turned to the local Hispanic community to recruit workers from a previously untapped labor pool. However, many of their new workers could not read or speak English. Working with a new, full-time interpreter on the HR staff, and with floor managers to make sure the appropriate vocabulary and concepts were integrated, Nebraska Furniture Mart launched free, on-site English classes for the Hispanic workers. They could also attend training classes, along with their English-speaking co-workers, to learn skills and knowledge to help them advance in their careers. There was initial resistance from warehouse workers who resisted the idea of adding Hispanic staff, but HR promoted the company’s mission: “we improve people’s lifestyles.”

Receiving the award for Nebraska Furniture Mart was Ed Lipsett, director of HR. Lipsett said that the company’s founder, Rose Blumkin—or Mrs. B., as the company calls her—was a Russian immigrant who arrived in the United States in the early 1900s not knowing a word of English. She started the business in the basement of a pawn shop in 1937. Her vision was not to only improve the lives of her customers but also to improve the lives of her employees.

“We are continuing her legacy … by helping people live the American dream,” Lipsett said.

The global HR team at Merck Serono received the Strategic HR Leadership award for its part in merging Serono, a biotech company, with Merck KGaA of Germany, a chemicals and medical company, in 2007.

HR staff from each company formed a new team to integrate 16,000 employees from two companies with very different cultures and business models. The team also supported Merck Serono’s rapid business growth: The division achieved faster revenue growth in 2007 and the first quarter of 2008 than the overall pharma market. An employee engagement survey in March 2008 showed that—compared with companies that had undergone a recent major change such as merger and acquisition or restructuring—Merck Serono was on average 10 percent ahead of benchmarks. And an April 2008 survey of management satisfaction with the global HR team found that management believed that HR understood the business, was accessible to support management and was responsive to business needs.

Geoffrey Matthews, vice president of the HR Center of Excellence for Merck Serono, said as he accepted the award on behalf of his department that “there’s an awful lot of literature on mergers and acquisitions saying they are fraught with challenges and high potential for failure.” Many of those failures occur in the human capital side of the business, he added.

“When the integration started, we knew we were at the foot of a big mountain. But we saw it as the opportunity to show the difference we could make,” Matthews said.

Lisa B. Peters, chief human resources officer for The Bank of New York Mellon, received the Human Capital Business Leader of the Year award for her role in leading the creation of a global human resources organization following the merger of Mellon Financial Corp. with The Bank of New York in July 2007.

Peters advanced through a variety of management and administrative positions, including HR, legal, corporate affairs, special banking services, retail risk management and compliance since joining Mellon Financial in 1982. In 2007, The Bank of New York Mellon was named one of the “Top 50 Most Admired Companies for HR” by Human Resources Executive magazine. During the first few months after the merger, Peters led the executive team in developing a new culture through the creation of new values. An engagement survey taken by 78 percent of the company’s employees tested readiness for change and acceptance of values. The results of the survey were used to form the basis of talent strategy priorities. Also under Peters’ leadership, the company is rolling out an enhanced version of its performance management program. And, recognizing the importance of ethical management practices, Peters created a new group within corporate HR—Human Resources Compliance and Governance—to make sure all HR policies and programs are consistent with the company’s core values and comply with all laws and regulations.

Accepting the award, Peters said that she “shared this with the global HR department, 500 strong, that worked on the integration for the past 1½ years.”

At the beginning of the integration, with 42,000 employees in 30 countries, the HR department “forgot about the scale, forgot about the geographies and focused on the vision and the values,” Peters said. “We paid attention to the employees and the clients.”

Two additional finalists were named in each award category and recognized. They are:

Innovative Business Solution

  • Infosys BPO Limited, Bangalore, India
  • Missouri Department of Transportation, Jefferson City, Mo.

Competitive Workforce

  • Carondelet Health Network, Tucson, Ariz.
  • Sodexo, Gaithersburg, Md.

Strategic HR Leadership

  • AON Corp., Glenview, Ill.
  • Southco, Concordville, Pa.

Human Capital Business Leader of the Year

  • Federico del Castillo, deputy general director of HR for Grupo Financiero Scotiabank Mexico, Mexico City.
  • Bridget Atkinson, vice president of HR and organizational development for GTSI Corp., Chantilly, Va.

Complete coverage of each award winner appears in the November 2008 issue of HR Magazine, including video interviews of the winners.

Applications for the 2009 Human Capital Leadership Awards will be available in March 2009.

Beth Mirza is senior editor for HR News. She can be reached at


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