Winning Innovations in Human Resources: Business Schools across the Country Are in the Midst of an Era of Experimentation - Unparalleled in the Past 30 Years

By Smith, Bob | Management Review, July 1994 | Go to article overview

Winning Innovations in Human Resources: Business Schools across the Country Are in the Midst of an Era of Experimentation - Unparalleled in the Past 30 Years


Smith, Bob, Management Review


Back in 1987, Stone Container Corporation decided to undertake a $347 million modernization program at its Port Wentworth, Ga., pulp and paper mill. The goal: transform the mill's manual production system to high-tech computerized capability.

At that same time, Howard O. Hallman, human resources manager, was grappling with a critical problem: approximately one-fourth of the mill's 525-member workforce was functionally illiterate. Some tough questions arose: Could these employees cope with the changes? How could the company help them adjust to the changes?

Hallman approached senior management with a request to invest $1 million for a two- to four-year training program. "I convinced the appropriate corporate officials that if the $347 million expansion was to be successful, it would be necessary to either train our existing employees in basic skills or abandon a lot of long-term, loyal employees and replace them with a new educated workforce," Hallman says. Senior managers decided to recognize their employees' loyal service and provide them with the basic skills they needed to succeed.

Some 158 employees participated in the training. Every worker reached a minimum of a ninth-grade education level; 37, in fact, obtained high school equivalency (GED) certificates. In addition, Hallman noted that the plant established an all-time production record in 1991 while still undergoing modernization, even with more than 2,000 contractor personnel on-site each day.

The program was designed with two teachers conducting classroom sessions on the mill site. Employees received one-on-one instruction that allowed them to learn at their individual pace. Ninety-minute classes were held Monday through Thursday after the morning shift and before the evening shift. All employees were paid for their classroom time.

Personal computers and software were installed about six months after the program started. This allowed workers to learn at a faster pace and gain computer literacy while becoming more literate in basic skills. Today the mill's computer lab is being used to provide literacy training for adults living in local low-income housing projects.

Hallman summed up the bottom-line impact of the literacy program: "The mill has moved from being the worst mill of the 12 in the division to fast becoming the flagship of the corporation."

The Power of Suggestion

For 63 years, IBM has been seeking suggestions from employees on how to improve the company and employees' job functions through its Suggestion Plan. However, Thomas J. Dupre, policy manager for the IBM Ideas Department at Workforce Solutions, came up with one suggestion that directly impacted the suggestion system. The result: "IBM Ideas," an on-line computer system that makes it easier for the company's 124,000 employees to submit suggestions and have them evaluated and implemented faster.

"To survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive world, every business must strive for continuous improvement in both quality and customer satisfaction," Dupre says. "Such improvement is possible only if all employees actively seek better ways of doing business."

Employees receive cash awards for cost-saving ideas.

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