In the Spotlight / Best practices make perfect

An engaged workforce and commitments to sustainability can drive business success

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Over a decade ago, Transitions Optical wanted to boost its workforce commitment. Management sought advice from Gallup, the polling company that also provides business leaders with tools to measure what employees think and how they perform.

"We were a company growing very fast but doing it at a pace maybe without the engagement of all of our people," said David Cole, president of Transitions, a Pinellas Park, Fla.-based maker of technology that tints eyeglass lenses from light to dark. It is a joint venture of Pittsburgh's PPG Industries.

Using a set of 12 questions developed by Gallup -- such as, "Do I know what is expected of me at work?" and "Does someone at work care about me as a person?" -- Transitions polled its worldwide workforce and discovered critical issues it needed to address, including working environment and productivity.

"I have to tell you we weren't in the top of Gallup's database when we first did the testing," Mr. Cole said.

But several years into the process, based on responses to the Gallup questions, Transitions had mapped out changes designed to improve its performance, including holding managers accountable for assigning employees to jobs that best fit their skills.

For the last three years, Transitions has won the Gallup Great Workplace Award. It was one of 27 companies to earn the award in 2012, an honor it shared with PNC Financial Services Group.

For Transitions, there's value beyond the crystal and silver-plated piece displayed at its headquarters.

"It's a true success driver," Mr. Cole said. "It's really your people who strengthen your technology, your brand and customer relationships. You need people to understand what's expected of them and be highly engaged."

Awards -- whether they recognize an engaged workforce or best practices in safety, diversity or cutting-edge product development -- can motivate employees and translate to employees feeling more responsible and invested, said Aimee Kane, assistant professor of management at Duquesne University's Palumbo Donahue School of Business.

"If the award seems real and prestigious in the eyes of others whose opinions they care about or trust, it can lead [employees] to feel more proud that they belong to the organization ... and they'll act on behalf of that group. It feels good to have others think well of you."

While the Gallup award is based on hard numbers that companies must track and submit to the organization for evaluation, some internal honors like "employee of the month" may not carry as much weight with the workforce, Ms. Kane said. "That plaque on the wall has to actually make people feel good. If everyone wins, it doesn't actually reflect true prestige or status."

Awards for sustainable practices are among those that can push people to be more motivated at their jobs, she said, because sustainability typically includes best practices that benefit the environment or social causes.

"Ten to 15 years ago, sustainability was more of a fringe thing. Now [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certification and sustainability feel modern, cutting edge and good even if you're not someone composting in your back yard."

PNC Financial has generated local and national recognition for green building practices being integrated into facilities from bank branches to a new office tower under construction Downtown.

An official with the Green Building Alliance, South Side, said PNC has benefited from the awards for its environmentally friendly real estate at a time it is penetrating more regions of the country through acquisitions.

"PNC's nationally recognized commitment to operating efficient buildings has helped raise their profile around the country concurrent with their transformation from a regional bank into a national financial services provider," said Sean Luther, director of the alliance's Pittsburgh 2030 District.

Energy-saving buildings also generate financial savings for the bank and provide a healthier workplace for employees, he said.

A number of companies with headquarters or major operations in Pittsburgh were named to Fortune magazine's "Most Admired Companies" list in February, including Bayer Corp., H.J. Heinz, Alcoa, PPG and PNC. Fortune ranks companies by industry sector, so Bayer and PPG, for instance, were in the chemicals category.

Bayer, which is based in Germany but has some U.S. headquarters operations in Robinson, keeps a running tally of the awards and designations it receives each year. The 2012 list ranges from its inclusion in Working Mother magazine's best 100 companies for working mothers to a ranking of best 401(k) plans.

Among the most widely respected honor in business is the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which local company Medrad Inc. received in 2003 and again in 2010.

Created by Congress in 1987 to spur competition and high performance and named after a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Baldrige Award is managed by the commerce department's National Institute of Standards and Technology. Companies pay to apply for the award and must meet specific criteria in a set of performance categories, including financials, customer satisfaction and employee development.

Westinghouse Electric's nuclear fuel division received the Baldrige Award in 1988.


-- Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580 First Published May 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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