Significant changes were coming when Washington Prime Group announced a $4.3 billion acquisition of Glimcher Realty Trust to become WP Glimcher. And Glimcher's human resources department, specifically, faced big challenges.

Significant changes were coming when Washington Prime Group announced a $4.3 billion acquisition of Glimcher Realty Trust to become WP Glimcher. And Glimcher's human resources department, specifically, faced big challenges.

The merger, announced in September 2014 and closed just three months later, increased the company's shopping mall property holdings from fewer than 30 to 119 in 28 states. That required hundreds of new hires and a litany of HR responsibilities including recruitment, applications, onboarding, payroll, benefits, office space, training and responding to questions.

The success of WP Glimcher's team in accomplishing lofty goals earned it the honor as Columbus CEO's top HR team-a new category in the 2016 HR Excellence Awards.

"What was most impressive about what the HR team was able to do-we hired 580 new associates, and they were able to do that in the short window while maintaining the same culture of making people feel welcome, taking the appropriate time to train them and onboard them and really spend the time with the new associates to make them feel welcome. I think that's a real challenge to do," says Lisa Indest, WP Glimcher's senior vice president and chief accounting officer.

Among the key responsibilities faced by the WP Glimcher HR team were:

• Analyzing the benefits, policies and procedures from both companies to decide which the combined company would adopt.

• Conjoining separate payroll, email and benefit systems into one.

• Managing training on all new systems and processes companywide.

• Negotiating and planning additional office space-two new floors in the Columbus headquarters and a new office in downtown Indianapolis.

• Working with department leaders to create hiring plans and budgets.

About 440 individuals working in field locations had to be interviewed and integrated into the new company, with HR creating materials, securing trainers, coordinating and scheduling training to onboard them, Indest says.

For corporate operations in Columbus, more than 100 new hires had to be secured, but the HR team added just one position to focus on recruiting, bringing the overall team up to about 20 members.

"I probably have at the corporate office the largest department, and I was very impressed with how quickly they identified candidates that we needed-and quality candidates, not just people to fill the chairs-people who would fit in with our culture as well as qualified to do the job we needed to do," Indest says.

"It was impressive; it was excellent what they did," Indest adds.

To maintain WP Glimcher's existing small-company feel after the merger, HR formalized and expanded the onboarding program to give new hires a more comprehensive overview of the company and planned monthly group breakfasts for new hires to meet senior executives. HR collaborated with leadership and corporate communications teams to better inform veteran employees and established quarterly town halls after every earnings call.

Building on its collaborative environment, WP Glimcher fields teams in Pelotonia and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Light the Night Walk and also covers bi-weekly Meals on Wheels routes.

While maintaining other core duties, the HR team renegotiated and merged medical insurance and other benefits, resulting in $400,000 in cost savings with some benefit upgrades.

"Our team has really pulled together throughout the integration," says Jamie Nichols, WP Glimcher's director of human resources. "We've all needed to step outside of our comfort zones, but everyone has pulled together and pitched in because we all genuinely want to see each other succeed."

"Everyone has pulled together and pitched in because we all genuinely want to see each other succeed."

Finalist:Ohio Presbyterian Retirement ?Services

The philosophy behind the Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services Human Resources Team is simple: Before anyone can be a resource to others, they must be a good internal resource and teammate.

The team incorporates five named concepts that provide a remarkable result: higher productivity and happier employees. That success helped the OPRS group become a finalist for Team Excellence.

The concepts start with Purpose-creating a workplace where each person thrives and contributes, and supervisors and leaders commit to employee engagement and strong partnerships.

Joy mandates team members agree to take work seriously, but not themselves.

Optimization helps the team commit to evaluating where it is in the business at times of transition, growth and stagnation and to make changes to stay engaged and moving forward.

Competency drives investment in employees through certifications, advanced education and online learning.

Finally, Synergy inspires the team to seek feedback, create opportunities for project leadership and work through struggles with discussions and respect.

The team recently changed processes related to compensation, job descriptions, job codes, learning management systems and more.

OPRS also developed six key values by which it evaluates employees for recognitions-care, integrity, customer service, innovation, financial stewardship and leadership-and provides recognition training so new leaders knows how to provide positive reinforcement.