Initiative Identifies Best Practices

February 13, 2004
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HOLLAND — Pursuing a key objective behind its formation, a business coalition has launched an initiative designed to flush out and showcase best management practices at area employers.

By highlighting the best practices in a variety of areas, West Michigan Works seeks to provide examples from successful companies for others to emulate.

The Strength Through Knowledge initiative stems from ongoing discussions among West Michigan Works participants — including some of the Holland-Zeeland area’s most prominent businesses — on how to highlight practices that led to their long-term growth and success.

“We said, ‘We all do some pretty cool things. Wouldn’t it be neat to have a clearinghouse to showcase what you do at your organization,’” said Ellen Smith, an executive committee member for West Michigan Works and vice president for human resources at Tiara Yachts.

“We’re taking a bigger picture (approach). The success of all the companies here really depends on West Michigan being an attractive place to do business,” Smith said.

The initiative will identify best practices in employee communications, community involvement, support for family life, quality control, participative management, employee development and recognition, and lean manufacturing.

Strength Through Knowledge is the first major initiative from West Michigan Works, a think tank of sorts that wants to trigger dialog on what made the community economically successful in the past and what may produce the same results in the future.

Business leaders who formed West Michigan Works 18 months ago believe the community’s conservative culture and character, the work ethic, the connection between management and workers, and the willingness to work together are key elements that helped catapult the Holland-Zeeland area to great economic success in the 1990s, when unemployment at one point dipped below 2 percent.

At a time when unemployment is much higher, mainly due to the staggering loss of jobs in the office furniture industry, West Michigan Works founders say highlighting and leveraging those social characteristics can provide the community an edge in luring new jobs and employers to the area in the future.

The Strength Through Knowledge initiative applies that same premise — the showcasing of what works best — to help existing employers grow and become better companies with employees that are loyal, well motivated and highly productive.

“Our goal is to create a base of knowledge for these practices in our community that companies can draw upon and tailor to fit their own needs and those of their employees,” said Don Heeringa, chairman of Trendway Corp. and a member of the West Michigan Works executive committee.

West Michigan Works will publish the best practices on its Web site (

Randy Boileau, a spokesman for the group, expects the initiative will identify a wide range of management practices that have similar characteristics and are designed to bring about a similar outcome: creating a strong, positive, successful workplace.

“We’re trying to get them to focus on what they can do. There isn’t any organization anywhere that can’t find a way to get better,” Boileau said.    

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