Magazine article Workforce Management

Holding a Seat for Top Talent

Magazine article Workforce Management

Holding a Seat for Top Talent

Article excerpt

Office furniture maker Herman Miller Inc. had to cut staff because of an industry downturn. At the same time, however, it recognized the need to invest in retaining star employees and grooming leaders for better times ahead. By Joe Mullich

Between 2000 and 2003, Herman Miller Inc., the 82-year-old office furniture maker, went into what Don Goeman, executive VP of research, design and development, calls a free fall. As the dot-com bubble burst, sales plummeted by 40 percent to $1.3 billion and the company slashed its full-time employee ranks by 60 percent.

In this environment, most companies would think about nothing beyond the next quarterly earnings statement-if not just about the day-to-day concerns of keeping afloat. Herman Miller, however, has historically taken a long-term outlook.

In the middle of the downturn, the company launched a new compensation system, which for the first time pegged pay directly to individual performance, including behaviors tied to the company's values. Over a two-year period Herman Miller also invested $500,000 in a new program to groom 40 future leaders.

"We looked ahead and saw there would be a time when the economy would turn around and people would be looking for the best employees and willing to pay big bucks for them," says Linda Milanowski, Herman Miller's director of learning and development. "Companies always say how much they value employees, but that doesn't mean much unless you put your money where your mouth is."

In 2002, Herman Miller launched the Leading Edge Work Team Leader Program, a one-stop location for nearly all development material on the corporate intranet. Anyone in the company could sign up for the course work. It also began its Leadership Development Program, a special two-year initiative for 40 high-performance or high-potential employees at the vice president or director level. The program was designed to create foundational leadership skills based on principles from the book The Leadership Challenge. …

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