Building a Wall of Metrics
Steven Ginsburgh, head of HR at Universal Weather and Aviation, measures and harnesses internal talent to unlock his workforce's potential.
By Michael J. O'Brien
When Steven Ginsburgh arrived as a consultant on a compensation project at Universal Weather and Aviation in 2006, he encountered a dire situation: The front door to HR was literally closed and locked. Employees could meet with HR staff members by appointment only. And the credibility of the function was so low that several operating units within the company had established their own hiring and training functions.
"The best way to describe the company's HR situation," Ginsburgh says, "is that there were about a dozen people sitting in a bullpen behind a locked door. There was a payroll system operated internally and a few scattered training programs. No processes, no systems and a lot of undelivered-upon promises."
Not surprisingly, the compensation project he was brought in for "was in trouble, overdue, overspent," he says, adding that he had just completed a similar project at another organization.
Despite the bare cupboard in HR, the company -- a Houston-based firm providing products and services for general aviation whose customers include owners and operators of business jets -- was in heavy growth mode at the time, Ginsburgh says.
With his guidance, the project established a companywide compensation structure as well as bonus programs and incentives and was completed and implemented within 60 days, and "that was something that was needed and tangible, and something we could build upon. It linked what we do strategically all the way through to the overall mission of the organization."
Springboarding off the successful project, Ginsburgh was hired as vice president of human resources and workforce development at the company, and what he's done since then helped to earn him a spot on this year's HR Honor Roll.
In his effort to build out the company's HR function, he assembled an experienced team of HR professionals who were then strategically placed to ensure the delivery of top-quality HR services. The structure he created has become the organizational model the company now relies upon.
After compiling his team, Ginsburgh set out to implement a number of talent strategies, including solid staff recruitment and retention processes, while working to decrease the need for outside consultants to do the work.
Among his more impressive feats was the construction -- and daily updating -- of a Wall of Metrics, using only items he purchased from a local superstore.
"What we wanted to be able to do was demonstrate what we were doing," he says. "There was no previous representation of how things were done, so we engaged upon an approach on how we would measure each one of the functions," including both business and HR metrics.
"I basically went to Wal-Mart and bought some magnetic strips and displayed them metrically," he says. "We try not to hide things from people that should not be hidden, so we even have the number of employee-relations issues displayed on the Wall."
Among the other metrics that can be regularly found on the Wall are medical benefits cost share, pharmacy benefits cost share, training statistics, budget performance and the employee-turnover rate -- both voluntary and involuntary.
But Ginsburgh, now the senior vice president of human resources and workforce development, also realized that just exposing employees to the metrics of HR wouldn't be enough to move the needle on bottom-line business concerns. This led him to create the Employee Barometer Program.
"When I came to the organization, they were measuring customer satisfaction but struggling with measuring employee satisfaction," he says.
The problem with employee-satisfaction surveys is that organizations often treat them as something to do only every two years, and, because of that infrequency, "you'll never live long enough" to show a relationship between newly enacted programs and survey results, he says.
To combat that mind-set, Ginsburgh's team has done 15 surveys based on three factors -- alignment, capability and engagement -- in the past five years.
"The fact of the matter is, I've got a relationship that shows if our people aren't happy then our customers aren't happy," he says. "That's important to our operations group.
"We're not [surveying employees] just to do it," he says. "Our clients own $65-million jets. They expect perfection. There are a myriad of issues on each customer's trip, so we need to be able to deliver on everything in any country without violating any laws. And that requires immense focus and service."
Another area Ginsburgh turned his focus to was talent retention. In 2007, his team started the Talent Advantage Program, an online, integrated program that measures facets of the company's workforce, including performance proficiency, potential and promotability.
Since its inception, the program has identified 92 internal candidates with the potential to assume key managerial positions, Ginsburgh says, adding that "aggressive" plans are now in place to prepare those workers for leadership positions. It has also lowered the overall turnover of key employees from more than 30 percent down to less than 3 percent.
"This program is now being used not only for talent identification and retention, and succession planning," he says, "but with all the critical IT projects as well, because we're really looking at how top talent is being used. We're looking for different things now than we may have been before."
Universal CEO Ralph Vasami says Ginsburgh is a listening leader whose desire for success is contagious.
"He's competent, determined, a great listener with a sense of humor," he says. "He's caring and passionate about people and their development, and a solid leader who is still eager to learn and improve."
Ginsburgh also quickly adapts to internal and external changes regarding people needs and development, Vasami adds.
"His contributions have helped the company develop succession plans, fair and market salary structures and systems, a productive workforce-development center and key core competency training for all new employees," he says. "Steve's leadership is helping Universal's workforce to [gain] a true competitive advantage in a global and complex market."