HR excellence earns awards

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 1:00am

Imagine an employer caring so much about your job satisfaction that it has a Gallup Poll commissioned to measure your opinions and concerns. Unlikely, you say? Not at Nashville-based Renal Care Group, which annually commissions the Gallup Organization to interview its employees and determine the effectiveness of its HR programs.

Renal Care Group is among those companies committed enough to communications and development of employee skills to put together a great human resources program - the type of program that will be recognized at the fourth annual Middle Tennessee HR Excellence Awards and luncheon June 7, at the Nashville Downtown Hilton.

This year the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Middle Tennessee Society for Human Resource Management, organizers of the event, will honor three companies for having excellent HR departments.

Along with Renal Care Group, State Farm Insurance Companies of Murfreesboro will also be recognized, and Nashville-based Education Networks of America will be presented the overall 2005 HR Excellence Award.

ENA, which sets up and manages computer networks for school systems and government agencies, excelled in all five HR categories the award covers: strategy; management practices; employee education, training and development; performance measurement; and employee well being, satisfaction, loyalty and commitment.

Companies nominate themselves for recognition and are judged in the five categories based on the HR principles of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program, which is widely recognized as the gold standard in many operational aspects of running a business. There is a 20-page application questionnaire and usually an onsite interview. In other words, companies compete against the standards as opposed to each other.

This year, nine companies chose to nominate themselves. Of those nine, only three achieved an excellent ranking in any of the categories and only ENA was deemed excellent in all five categories.

Renal Care Group, a dialysis services company, will be recognized for its accomplishments in the strategy category. And State Farm Insurance Companies will be recognized for its achievements in employee well being, satisfaction, loyalty and commitment.

Jean Schmidt is chief people officer for ENA, which was founded in 1996 and has 55 employees. "We started at the top with our overall vision, and that filtered into the mission statement and values and the overall performance of the organization because we were all plugged into it," Schmidt said. "Strategic planning helped make the HR program real."

ENA surveys a new hire's impressions and expectations of the company. Then a survey is conducted six months later and sometimes periodically beyond that.

Being able to respond to employees is important, especially at a high-tech company like ENA, Schmidt said, "because a dynamic company like this is constantly changing."

At the same time, ENA employees work to meet personal and company goals through detailed individual and team plans. This has resulted in a provable and positive impact on productivity, Schmidt said.

Russell Dickinson, assistant vice president for human resources with Renal Care Group, said the company had at least six major goals dealing with recruiting, training and retaining employees, benefits and salaries, and improvement of overall employee relations.

While many companies might set similar goals and objectives, Renal Care Group makes an extra effort to get feedback from its 8,800 employees through focus groups and the Gallup Poll it commissions yearly, Dickinson said, adding that the survey is an important gauge of employee attitudes.

Rod Bray, human resources manager for the Mid-America Zone of State Farm Insurance, said the company is very committed to the development of its employees. The office covers a three-state region (Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio) with 3,200 employees, including 1,250 in Murfreesboro.

"State Farm offers a lot of opportunities and we feel good about the culture here," he said.

The awards come at a time when there are a great many changes happening in the nation's labor force.

"The single biggest challenge in the next 10 years is that the supply of educated skilled workers is decreasing," said Judy Cline, senior vice president and general manager for the Nashville office of Lee Hecht Harrison, a global career management services company. LHH has sponsored the Middle Tennessee HR Excellence Awards since they began four years ago.

"Forward-thinking human resource companies are companies that focus on the talented people they can develop within their organization," she said. "Attracting and retaining talent - the companies that are successful do that."

This year's winners will share their best HR practices with all interested companies during a workshop in October. For more information, contact the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce at hvincent@nashvillechamber.com or 743-3051.

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