Philadelphia Gas Works: 2009 Winner of the HR Department of the Year Award for Departments with 8-9 human resources employees

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Philadelphia Gas Works: 2009 Winner of the HR Department of the Year Award for Departments with 8-9 human resources employees

HR Best Practices: Profiles of winners of Human Resources Department of the Year Awards

The Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) is the largest municipally-owned natural gas utility in the United States serving 500,000 customers in the City of Philadelphia. From its rather humble beginnings in 1836, PGW has grown into one of the nation’s leading natural gas providers with a continued focus on safety, stability and service. PGW provides a wide range of employment opportunities and a comprehensive benefits package to over 1,700 employees and over 1,900 retirees.

PGW’s Human Resources (HR) and Organizational Development (OD) Departments, which employ more than 20 professionals, report into Abby Pozefsky, Sr. VP of Administration and General Counsel. HR and OD are two separate departments, performing distinct functions; however they share common goals and objectives that support the management of PGW’s workforce as they ensure the corporation’s objectives and strategic plan. Lorraine Webb, Vice President of Organizational Development is a 25 year veteran of human resources and is responsible for talent management, performance management, diversity, recruiting and staffing, training and development and employee relations. Bill Muntzer, Vice President of Human Resources has been with PGW for nearly 28 years and is responsible for benefits, compensation, labor, medical and EAP policies.

Scott Rosen met with HR and OD staff in December of 2009 to discuss the process of becoming the 2009 Human Resources Department of the Year Award winner for departments with 8-9 employees.

“I recognized an opportunity to tell a compelling story,” said Gary Gioioso, Director of Organizational Development for PGW about deciding to apply. “I have to be honest. The reason that we applied was just to make sure that our team, knew how well we were doing. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that. A lot of the stuff we’re doing here is cutting edge and it’s easy sometimes to not be able to see that.”

Pozefsky credits Webb and Muntzer in being able to carve out new programs to meet special challenges. For example, PGW has not been able to give employees raises for the past two years because of PGW’s finances. So in response, HR and OD have introduced other benefits including a compressed work week schedule–much to the enjoyment of the employees; exercise programs so staff can get an aerobic lunchtime workout; and back to school programs, open houses and a mini-MBA program supported by Drexel University so employees can enjoy life long learning. Webb has also been instrumental in initiating programs that reward excellent employee performance.

“The things that we have are really born out of necessity. We pride ourselves on being an employer of choice and we have learned to do the most we can with what we’ve got. A lot of it is out of fun and most of it is why not, nobody’s telling us no we can’t,” Webb said. “When you’re constrained in terms of giving great raises and all of the rest of that, the question is what is it that makes people stay?”

Thanks to the cutting edge initiatives in HR and OD, employees are not leaving the company. In fact, minus retirement rates, PGW’s turnover rate is around one percent.

“What strikes me about PGW is the generational stuff, because you have folks working here whose fathers and mothers have worked here, whose grandparents have worked here, whose cousins and uncles have worked here there’s a real sense of loyalty to the organization. There’s one person who said it is put bread and butter on my table and my children’s table,” said Webb.

Bill Ambrose, Director of Human Resources has been an employee of PGW since graduating high school 31 years ago. His mother and father worked for PGW and his brother and brother-in-law work at the company now.

“I have a very strong loyalty to PGW,” said Ambrose. “It’s a great place to work. I really believe it. You don’t see many people leaving here. They want to stay here. We provide excellent benefits for our employees. They’re not many companies left that provide full medical benefits to employees and their families at no cost. So that’s one of the things that, in working with the company, we’ve been able to do.”

PGW has training and career development programs at several Philadelphia area colleges including Drexel and Temple Universities. The company is also training students to be future plant workers through a specialized high school curriculum with the School District of Philadelphia’s Edward Bok Technical High School.

“We’re forward thinking with the intent of making sure that pipeline of human capital is full so that when we need folks we can go ahead and hire them,” said Webb.

What really strikes Pozefsky is how much PGW does with a small budget. It surprises her how people with plentiful resources do not do similar or grander programs for their employees that create a positive work environment.

“I think if you had a ‘making gold out of straw award’, that’s the award that we would really win because we have so many fewer resources to work with. It means that our HR/OD issues are really approached in a very different way than most folks,” she said.

Once Gioioso submitted the application, the staff met to talk about the judging process and the roles everyone would assume. This was a new audience to report their procedures and successes to. Webb and Muntzer created the presentation, but everyone was involved in meeting with the judges. It was both exciting and stressful for the staff. Gioioso viewed this as a great opportunity and the employees started to believe that they do a lot of good work and deserved the chance to showcase their achievement.

“We had lots of contributions and thoughts from all 23 folks and then we invited everyone to come to the boardroom to meet with Mark [Spool] and Ed [Dunn],” Webb said. “We thought it was important that they see the face of the Human Resources and Organizational Development Departments. We had fun. People were very proud to talk about who they were.”

Ambrose added, “I think it helps them. They don’t, I mean, you try and recognize them for the work they do, but when they are in front of someone, an outside audience, as Lorraine said, they get that pride in them, that yeah, I really do this, and then they start to understand the value of the contribution that they’re putting into the organization and how they’re helping HR and Organizational Development together to achieve something for the company. So it’s really good to see that and it’s good to see people’s faces light up.”

Pozefsky noted that she was very interested in seeing how the judges would evaluate PGW “as a municipal entity participating in a process that was largely non-municipal.” How would they fit? She was impressed that the committee was able to see through that issue and focus on their process.

“I thought [the judges] were very thoughtful and very smart,” she said. “We had two really good ones. I think it’s tough because I think you’re looking at a bunch of apples and we’re definitely a pear. Yet they were able to figure out what the commonalities were and what would be a sustainable basis for an award. I really appreciated that.”

When the presentation was over, Webb asked Gioioso how he thought the presentation was received.

He said, “I think we have a chance. Where before, it was kind of a motivational kind of thing to keep people engaged, now it got to the point where I thought, ‘We’re going to win this. We can actually do this thing.’ It was an honor to be considered but then once you get past a certain stage, you want to win.”

Not everyone in the team of 23 was able to come to the event. They were able to bring their CEO, Tom Knudsen, who has been instrumental in the success of the programming, and Philadelphia Facilities Management Corporation Board Member Gerry Davis, who is the departments’ liaison to the board. Unfortunately, Gioioso could not be there the night of the awards presentation, but he was in constant contact with his coworkers during the event.

Webb and the team were shocked when PGW was called as the winner. Webb accepted the award on the team’s behalf.

“One of the funny things that we all commented on when we got back to the office was that many of the other companies, when they…would win, they would all cheer and stand up and when our name was called,” Webb said. “All our jaws just hit the table and there wasn’t a sound. Abby says that she was surprised that we won. However, I would have been surprised if we didn’t and the reason I say that is because I do believe that the programs are first rate and in some instances cutting edge. I think we’re very innovative.”

Pozefsky chimed in, “I wasn’t doubtful that we [would win]. The issue for me wasn’t what kind of a job we had done, because I think it’s really been extraordinary, but it’s how much we’ve done with so little.”

Ambrose added, “To me, the secret sauce is the people who work here, the dedication and the commitment that they have to get things done.”

Knudsen and COO, Craig White, as well as other PGW employees, came to congratulate the team the following morning. White said that he was recounting all the things that the teams have done and it was a real indication about the contributions that they’ve made to the organization.

That same morning, the team was talking about how they could win the award again next year with a repeat. They also rehashed how they could better themselves to win the Excellence Award they were also nominated for this year. PGW’s team has tasted a win and they want more.

Gioioso ended the meeting saying, “The honor that was conferred on us by the organization and the judges was just…on the one side, it was almost mind blowing; but on the other side, I knew we had it in us all along or else I wouldn’t have [applied]. I wouldn’t have put us in a position of being embarrassed.”

Actual application answer
Please tell us why your department is exceptional and should win the Human Resources Department of the Year Award.
PGW’s Organizational Development Department is exceptional for several reasons, most notably, the expertise and dedication of the team. All involved share knowledge, skills and efforts. No job is too big or too small for all involved. Secondly, necessity is the mother of invention. The department has been forced to be truly innovative. Budgetary strictures force us to be creative and flexible. We cannot “throw money” at a problem. The philosophy is every “problem” is an opportunity for excellence. We have developed an in house performance management system; we create and implement effective in house OD interventions; we have identified and met growing workforce development issue by implementing a leadership development program as well as a comprehensive “staffing the gap” initiative. Lastly, we have aligned all our learning and development initiatives with the core competencies of the organization. We have been named an employer of choice by a nationally published diversity publication. We have established relationships with high schools and junior colleges in order to imbed into their curriculum the knowledge, skills and abilities need for hard to fill positions at PGW. We have done more with less. We have done great work. We have never flinched from the challenges presented. We are a talented, dedicated and knowledgeable team led by a very effective leader. We deserve to be considered for this prestigious award.

© 2010, The Rosen Group Newsletter. Reprinted with permission by The Rosen Group, specializing in Human Resources Solutions and HR Staffing.


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