2018 HR Excellence Awards: Executive of the Year, Small Organization, and Innovation

Jeff Bell and Dave Ghose
Emily Magill

Executive of the Year recognizes an individual who has demonstrated significant achievements that advance both a person's organization and the HR profession. Nominations were categorized by workforce size.

HR Innovation recognizes an individual or organization for successful implementation of a new idea that achieves proven results in compensation and benefits, employee recognition and retention, strategic alignment, succession planning, talent acquisition or assessment, use of technology, or work-life balance.

Emily Magill got right to work after becoming Zipline Logistics' human resources manager in May 2017, launching everything from technology-driven employee performance reviews to “good-choice” potluck luncheons. In the process, her efforts seem to be improving the lives of Zipline's employees and the work they do for the Columbus-based company's clients.

“It's been really fun to try new things here,” she says. “I've combined everything I learned in the other positions I've held and brought them to Zipline.”

Her resume includes human resources jobs with two state agencies, the quasi-government Ohio Housing Finance Agency and Stanley Steemer, the carpet-cleaning company with a national footprint. Covering a 10-year span starting in 2007, those jobs, along with earning a master's degree in human resources and employment relationships from Penn State University, provided Magill with a broad foundation to do a lot in a short period of time at Zipline.

But she has been careful to take a calculated approach in implementing new programs at the 55-employee company, which provides third-party shipping services, primarily to clients in the food and beverage industry. Zipline never had a human resources manager until its owners decided to hire Magill as a one-person HR department.

“I focused on getting to know the people here before I did anything,” she says. “That's really important because you have zero influence when you walk in the door. I had to build that.”

Magill admits some employees were apprehensive about a human resources specialist imposing a lot of workplace rules and policies at a small, tight-knit company accustomed to more of a casual environment. “Providing a structure that was not intimidating was a big deal for me,” she says, noting it was also important to understand the thinking of Zipline's millennial-dominated workforce with an average age of 27.

A millennial herself, Magill knew workers in that age group want to talk about their job performance with a supervisor at least quarterly. They also want to know what they need to do to advance in their organization.

Zipline lacked such a performance management system, so Magill began to do something about it by drawing on the positive experiences she had at Stanley Steemer with a web-based tool called Trello. She found that Trello, typically used to track work tasks, could be leveraged for employee performance management and as a human resources tool.

Magill launched the effort earlier this year after building a template for each Zipline department and position. The templates cover the skills and tasks necessary for each job and spell out what additional skills are needed to move up in the company.

From there, employees complete performance management assessments and a skills growth exercise, making it clear where they stand and what they need to do to improve.

Employees use Trello to track their progress weekly. Managers also review and comment on their progress monthly and discuss performance issues—including problem areas—with employees face-to-face each quarter.

“It's gone above and beyond what I expected,” Magill says. “Trello shows them exactly what they need to do to get to the next level.”

In addition to the Trello-based initiative, Magill has built a number of other programs that meet employee needs while maintaining Zipline's laid-back culture, says Bethany Cramer, the company's marketing director. Take employee engagement, for example. Magill has launched efforts such as monthly happy hours, twice-a-year family events, regular stops by food trucks and the Wooden Shoe coffee truck at Zipline's office, and women-focused activities that have included wine-making, painting classes and horseback riding.

She also has overhauled Zipline's orientation and training framework for new employees, revamped its health and wellness program, launched employee recognition programs and introduced one-on-one coaching plans for performance improvement and leadership development. Magill has done all of that with a “positive, enthusiastic, ‘employees-come-first' attitude,” Cramer says.

“Emily is always trying new things to enhance the employee experience and engagement,” she says. “Fitting in culturally and building trust with employees were No. 1 to her.”

Such an approach, Magill says, is critical for human resources professionals who want to improve an organization.

“What I think is important and a little different,” she says, “is that human resources can be what the company needs it to be. I like to ask a company's leaders about what kind of culture they have and how do I fit in with that.”

Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.

Diana Spurgus

Executive of the Year, Small Organization, Finalist

Diana Spurgus, Business System Solution Inc.

Diana Spurgus has built her company, Business System Solutions Inc., around a core value: “Always do what's right, even if no one is looking.” Over the past 20 years, that commitment has created a culture that encourages community service (see P. 70) as BSSI has grown into a successful IT company that caters to mid-size businesses.

While developing proprietary technologies, streamlining internal services and upgrading clients' technical infrastructures, among other things, Spurgus also emphasizes community-focused initiatives, such as BSSI's sister nonprofit temporary staffing agency TeenWorks, which helps economically disadvantaged young people develop work skills. “TeenWorks has helped me grow as an individual,” says one TeenWorks participant. “I have matured greatly and become a very independent woman.”

As the owner of a small, 20-employee business with offices in Lancaster and Columbus, Spurgus conducts interviews herself, as well as many other human resources functions. She handles employee evaluations, plans annual retreats and makes benefits decisions.

Spurgus also has earned several awards, including a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Hocking College in 2012 and an Athena Award from the Lancaster-Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce in 2015. “In a predominantly male-driven industry, Diana is a trailblazer and believes in building business and community,” wrote Julie Theado, of Krile Communications. “Her focus is on building her client's business, her business, the future of her team members and improving the community.”

Brad Lamone

Innovation, Finalist

Brad Lamone, Engineered Profiles

Like so many other Columbus businesses these days, Engineered Profiles was struggling to find employees. Its traditional hiring methods—staffing agencies, direct applications and referrals—just weren't doing the job in central Ohio's ultra-tight labor market.

So Brad Lamone changed the company's approach. As vice president of workforce development, he forged relationships with the South Side Employers Network, the Columbus Urban League, Jewish Family Services and other community groups. He found new pools of motivated candidates among the previously incarcerated who were having trouble finding work, rebranding the 250-employee plastics manufacturer (which specializes in custom profile plastic extrusion) as a “fair-chance employer.”

Lamone and his team also addressed the company's high employee turnover rate. They developed a pre-hire assessment tool to identify risk characteristics, such as absenteeism, unreliability and impulsivity. Since adopting the assessment—which serves as a map for interviews—they have reduced the turnover rate within the first year from 36 percent in 2015 to 26 percent in 2017.

“By bolstering the hiring filters, the HR team has been able to identify candidates [who] have a higher likelihood of success once on the job,” wrote nominator Erik Tait, marketing coordinator for Engineered Profiles. “Brad's workforce development efforts within the community with respect to restored citizens and community group outreach has put Engineered Profiles on the map within the local community and identified us as an employer of choice.”