NFI:Winner of the 2009 Department of the Year Award for Companies with 20-49 HR Department Employees

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NFI:Winner of the 2009 Department of the Year Award for Companies with 20-49 HR Department Employees

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

NFI offers a variety of services to help businesses manage, grow and succeed in today’s logistics marketplace. It is a fully integrated supply chain solutions provider offering logistics, distribution, transportation, intermodal, and real estate services across the U.S. Headquartered in Vineland, NJ, the company owns nearly 60 trucking and maintenance facilities nationwide and globally. Privately held by one family since its inception in 1932, NFI employs over 6,000 individuals, operates over 15 million square feet of contract and public warehouse and distribution space, and generates $800 million in revenue annually. NFI is a partner in the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program, which is dedicated to increasing energy efficiency and reducing the impact of the freight industry upon the environment.

NFI is the 2009 Department of the Year Award winner for companies with 20-49 HR department employees. Scott Rosen met with Nancy Stefanowicz, Senior Vice President of Human Resources of NFI Industries, to discuss winning the award.

Stefanowicz, a 15-year veteran of human resources and employee of NFI for four years, heard about the HR Department of the Year Awards in 2008. She immediately thought, “What would an HR Department of the Year look like?” and shared that question with her team.

At the time, they had just started documenting the great progress they had made over three years of work. Since they would not be ready to showcase their success for the 2008 deadline, she decided her team would strive towards the Award in 2009.

“So I have this in the back of my mind thinking, of course, this is a strategic objective that HR is going to take on,” she said. “I thought ‘I wonder if this will help us to lay the foundation to be able to move us in that direction. It will be a good starting point for us.’ We also felt, when we started jotting down the kind of things we felt like we accomplished this year, we’ve really done a lot this year.”

She assigned the task of completing the application to the training and technology person at first. After they started the process, the HR generalists took a look. In the end, everyone in HR had a chance to participate in the process to make it a whole team effort.

“The process did so much more than I expected it to. We figured we were going to put an application in and we’re going to see what happens, but it got the team excited about what we accomplished. So, the motivation and the passion that the team started to develop and even those new departments that were pulled in, benefits and driver recruiting, they were like, ‘What is this? I’ve been around here for 20 years. We’ve never done anything like this.’ I said ‘Just participate. Let’s see what comes out of it’ and they did.”

As the next part of the application process, NFI was evaluated by seasoned HR Awards judges Barbara Davidson and Carol Krause. Davidson and Krause asked to meet with members of the executive team and the HR team. Stefanowicz was able to schedule five members of the executive team and the entire HR team to meet with the judges.

“[The judges] were able to do a great job of seeing what the executives said and then asking for specific HR examples of how that married up. So they were able to see that the business wasn’t just speaking to try to get us an award, it was actually validated by the information that the HR Director said.”

Believe it or not, they didn’t plan or practice their presentation; nor did they create a formal presentation. They walked through their application section by section. Davidson and Krause were helpful to Stefanowicz and her team, because they were very interested in knowing what makes NFI qualified to speak to apply and to win.

“It was an uplifting experience for the team, so we actually celebrated that night with the executives and the HR team. We went out because I said ‘Even if we don’t win, we’ve gotten so much out of this and it’s done so much for the business to buy in.'”

“[The judges] said ‘You guys did a great job. We can’t give you any insight but you need to know your competition was brutal this year.’ Everybody did a great job.”

Early on in her career with NFI, Stefanowicz convinced Sid Brown, CEO of NFI, the organization needed to create a mission and vision and values statements. Brown reluctantly agreed to let Stefanowicz secure a consultant to help them design their mission, vision and values. For the first time ever, they brought all of the executives together for a three-day session to discuss the company’s future.

“There was no blueprint to making our decisions. There was nothing that was guiding our behaviors,” she continued, “No values. No roadmap.”

Once the mission, vision and values were created they started to create a five-year business plan, where Stefanowicz was the keeper of the plan documents. The executives saw that Stefanowicz could speak their language and could help figure out acquisitions and people development. HR started getting invited to decision making meetings because they gained credibility in helping make business decisions.

Stefanowicz reiterated a lesson she had learned a long time back, “Unless the business peculates the idea, or at least thinks it’s their idea, it’s never going to be successful. So although it needs to come from the top, if you don’t get the buy in at the business and make those two come together, HR is never going to be a partner.”

An executive paired up with HR for every single meeting to promote the mission to the employees. They traveled around the country to reach almost 5,000 people with their value statement. They also hired a consultant to develop training for the values rollout.

“When we started to bring people in the room, we did something called Stop, Start and Continue. We said, ‘Alright you know what? You’ve been here for fifteen years. You’re not believing what I’m telling you, but what do we need to stop immediately? What do we need to start? What do we need to continue?’ Once we started, we ended up seeing that we had the buy in for the cultural change, because we had to change the culture here so badly, from that old trucking mentality to a sophisticated organization that can now take care of any of your transportation warehousing or logistic needs.”

NFI developed and implemented a fully integrated Human Capital Management System (HCMS) and new HR Service Delivery Model designed internally. They created a service center as the single point of contact for HR, Payroll and Benefits information. The new headcount was fully funded by headcount savings in Payroll and Benefits. To roll out the new HCMS, they created, designed and developed a communication plan to transmit all communication messages and training materials from the system. The CEO was behind them in launching the new system.

“Sid sent the letter out to everybody saying ‘This is coming. This is awesome. It’s mandatory, you have to come to this training, and we’re going to be kicking off for the next three months traveling the country kicking off this new performance management system that’s tied to our competencies and salary grades. It’s really great stuff.'”

NFI also expanded its Driver Recruiting Initiative by creating a new on-line Recruitment System and reevaluating only advertising in newspapers, transitioning them from all paper applications to On-Line Applications. The change provided a substantial cost reduction in both cost per hire and advertising buy. After 10 months of the implementation of the on-line Recruitment System, NFI received over 49,000 applications for non-Driver positions, resulting in over 400 hires. Over the past twelve months, through organic growth and acquisition, they have hired over a total of 1400 employees (Drivers and non-Drivers).

“We have laid all of the foundation from an HR standpoint to keep up with the business growth. So again, enabling technology with our applicant tracking and our recruiting system and putting a recruitment department in place because we’re growing like mad. We’re going to grow by at least 1,000 employees this year again. We’re just growing exponentially and that’s twenty percent. So just putting the systems in place that can handle that. We are taking training to a new level this year so for the first time. We’re instituting both computer based training and instructor based training for executives to warehouse employees. It is going to be a very big initiative this year. We’re increasing the functionality that we have from our HCMS system so we’re in the process right now of implementing.”

The changes Stefanowicz and her team have made really had an impact on the bottom line of the company as a whole. They  cut out 1.2 million dollars in pure spend with the adoption of the HCMS. Their cost of an ad per hire went from $1600 for a driver to $285.

“I mean it’s just unbelievable and that’s just by putting in a process and a system and being smarter and get the right people in the jobs.” She continued, “This year we’re going to be able to measure through productivity, training, and turnover, with absolute potential to bring more money to the bottom line.”

Nancy brought her team to the Awards ceremony, as well as Brown. “I just wanted Sid to even be exposed to the profession because he’s never been to an HR function before, and our president, Joe Roeder, who runs two of our biggest divisions was also there. He’s a big HR fan anyway. I wanted the team to be exposed to both Sid and a process like this so even if we didn’t win it would have been time well spent.”

Nancy’s team told her to have notes prepared for the awards ceremony, but she didn’t think she needed to. “They were like ‘If you win, you are not going to embarrass us, you’re going to go up there and do a good job.'” Since they kidded her all week, she did prepare a few notes which she happened to forget when NFI was called as the winner.

Brown was very proud of the team, which made the team even more pleased with their accomplishment. The day after the ceremony, he sent a note out to the entire organization telling them that they won. Their marketing department distributed press releases and secured a couple stories about their win.

“This is a win for NFI as well. Yes, HR was recognized here but it’s only because, as I said in my speech, we were enabled or given the keys to the ‘truck’ by the CEO and the presidents , so I really feel that this sets NFI up for continued success and not just NFI HR.”

The award is currently at the front of the human resources office, but eventually they will be getting a trophy case.

“It’s a great opportunity. I’m so appreciative to even have had it. I kind of felt like the newbie in there. Everyone else knew each other and I’m like who am I to come in and do this?”

Actual application answer
Please tell us why your department is exceptional and should win the Human Resources Department of the Year Award.
Until about 3 years ago (NFI is 76 years old), the HR department was viewed as a traditional, administrative department (hire and fire). A new SVP of HR was hired with a mission to transform the HR function to be a strategic part of the business as well as be more efficient in a growing and changing organization. (and it’s nice to have a CEO that is willing to support the change!). We believe our department is exceptional due to our many accomplishments and positive impact on the business and desired cultural change despite our limited resources (people: 30 HR for 5400 employees and funding) we have made during the past year.

Our team is willing to take risks to ensure we have the right solutions for our clients. We are creative and innovative.
We desire to be world-class and strive to be better everyday.
We have great relationships with our clients and vendors. We are customer (internal and external) focused.
We have made a positive impact on our company culture and community
We provide sound counsel. We have strong Generalists and Specialists.
We care.
We are a solid team. Everyone is willing to help one another all the time.
© 2010, The Rosen Group Newsletter. Reprinted with permission by The Rosen Group, specializing in Human Resources Solutions and HR Staffing.