2018 HR Excellence Awards: Team Excellence

Melissa Kossler Dutton and Dave Ghose
The Cameron Mitchell Restaurants HR team

Team Excellence recognizes a department, team or group of individuals that has achieved excellent results by working together to advance their company or organization.

For the human resources team at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, collaboration is always on the menu. The team not only prioritizes working together within their department, they also focus on collaborating with their colleagues throughout the Columbus-based restaurant chain. Blessed with substantial hospitality experience, HR associates make sure to take into consideration the company's business goals when implementing procedures, says Chuck Davis, vice president of human resources.

“Part of the CMR HR department's success is they understand the business their associates are in, but make it a priority to not get stuck in the day-to-day,” Davis says. “Therefore, the team is able to solve and address different issues by stepping back and seeing the bigger picture.”

The collaborative approach helps employees and their managers better understand and perform their jobs, says Katie Laudick, director of human resources/operating partner. “It comes very natural to us,” she says of the department, which consists of 13 associates.

While some HR departments may see their role as informative—passing on information about rules, regulations and policies to employees who must implement and follow them—the CMR team takes a proactive approach, Laudick says. “We're not just handing it off to operations, we try to think creatively to make sure it works,” she says.

A lot of time is spent examining how things will play out in the restaurants, adds Kristen Hinshaw, director of HR for Rusty Bucket, one of the restaurants in the CMR chain. “We're really good at being realistic, about saying, ‘Is this going to work? Let's collaborate.' There's a lot of conversation to make sure we get it right. You can't just send a memo and be done with it.”

The focus on helping people do their jobs easily and efficiently also contributes to the positive culture that CMR strives for, Laudick says. From the start, Cameron Mitchell focused on creating a work environment where his employees could learn and grow but also find work-life balance, she says.

The HR department continues to work toward that goal, Hinshaw adds. “Cameron has a vision of how he wants to treat people in his organization,” she says. “We're all naturally nurturers and knowing that our leader values that tremendously—that's a really empowering piece. It's OK to explore that in our actions every day.”

The company helps people find work-life balance through flexible scheduling and teamwork, Laudick says. CMR has employees who work one day a week, weekends only or add hours in the summer. “[Cameron] has not tried to mold anybody into something,” she says. “He just created an environment that's really healthy and offers really good balance. You're encouraged to find that balance.”

Another cornerstone of the culture is that feedback is continually sought and valued, Laudick says. Associates are welcome to provide suggestions directly to their managers or they can offer them anonymously on the employee hotline. The company also regularly performs employee surveys to gauge satisfaction. Multiple leaders read “every single word” and the results are shared with all associates. Survey suggestions have led to everything from new menu items to changes in restaurant layout. “We look into it and roll it out, or explain why we can't do it,” Laudick says.

All of the attention to culture and employee satisfaction has had positive results for the company, Davis says. Turnover rate at CMR for hourly associates is 55 percent, compared to the national average of nearly 70 percent, he says.

“The HR team at CMR attributes lower turnover rates to hiring the right people, treating them right and helping them grow,” he says. “People are less likely to leave aworkplace where they are happy and growing, which is why this is a top priority of the team.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.

Goken America team

Team Excellence, Finalist

Goken America

Over the past two years, Goken America established a nine-person human resources team to help keep up with the Dublin technical services firm's fast growth. With a combined 100 years of professional experience in their field, the HR staffers have supported company strategy through recruiting, onboarding, associate engagement, benefits, compensation administration, training and professional development and many other critical areas.

The HR team has formed collaborative relationships through one-on-one conversations, focus groups, surveys, feedback sessions and other methods. Those interactions have led to a slew of new programs for the 200-employee company, including succession planning, formal recruiting, a wellness program, exit interviews, an ambassador (buddy) program for new hires, management training and a streamlined electronic performance review process.

The programs were customized to fit Goken's business model, culture and diverse population of associates, 75 percent of whom are minority or female. What's more, all this was accomplished while revenue grew 15 percent, earning the company a place on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing, privately-held companies in the country.

HR staffers also can point to a 6 percent year-over-year improvement in employee retention and a 31-percent improvement in first-year retention. “I have never had the privilege of working with such a high-performing group of HR individuals who exhibit such strong commitment, technical expertise and business acumen,” wrote nominator Bill Nichols, COO for Goken. “They have helped us move from a ‘teenage' startup to a stable and mature business.”