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Spring 2016


The 28th Quest for Excellence in Eight Words and Phrases

The Baldrige Program’s Quest for Excellence® conference provides me an annual refresher on what great organizations can achieve. This year’s conference was particularly interesting because of the diversity of the four new Baldrige Award recipients, representing four different sectors: small business, education, health care, and nonprofit. Each achieved role-model status in a way that honored its individual organizational culture and mission. While each organization is therefore unique, I looked for key themes across multiple organizations that would provide my framework for learning what is at the core of role-model behavior this year. I find that this mental exercise helps me focus and prioritize my learnings for application in my own environment. Following are my eight key takeaways from the 28th annual Quest for Excellence. Some are common themes from the past with a refreshing update, and some are new themes.

Eight Words and Phrases

All four organizations: MidwayUSA, Charter School of San Diego (CSSD), Charleston Area Medical Center Health System (CAMC), and Mid-America Transplant have a clear sense of why they exist and whom they serve. This clarity motivates employees every day and is enabled by the eight key themes presented below. I will illustrate each theme with examples from a subset of the award recipients.

As sung by Maria in The Sound of Music, “When you read, you begin with A B C; when you sing you begin with Do Re Me.” When you are an excellent organization, you begin with…

  1. M V V: Clear and concise mission and vision statements and values that guide the organization have been foundational and provide ongoing guidance to these organizations. To illustrate, Larry Potterfield of MidwayUSA stated very succinctly how the company is managed: “Mission statement first, financial statement last. If the company delivers on its mission, the financial results follow.” Dean Kappel of Mid-America Transplant talked about his organization’s two core competencies, one of which is a mission-driven workforce. Everything the workforce does is mission-driven and innovation-oriented (the organization’s second core competency; more on that later). John Heer, one of the keynote speakers, who was being recognized with the Baldrige Foundation’s leadership award,* talked about his eight-step process for servant leadership. Steps one and two are as follows: (1) Relate everything to the mission, vision, and values of the organization; and (2) Operationalize the mission, vision, and values.

  2. Culture: Culture is the fabric of these organizations. It is woven into how they behave, how they operate, and how they treat their colleagues, customers, and stakeholders. When you are in the presence of these organizations’ people, you can literally feel the culture. And when the senior leaders speak, their words embody the culture they are leading and living. This commitment to a high-performing culture is illustrated at Mid-America Transplant through its workforce philosophy of “We take care of ‘our people’ so they can take care of others.” And all of the 2015 Baldrige Award recipients displayed such employee centricity. MidwayUSA has a tailored employee survey that asks each employee to rank his or her personal satisfiers from a list of 25 possible areas and then adapts the culture to focus on the employees’ satisfiers so they can focus on the customers.

  3. Transparency: Knowledge is power, and these organizations want everyone to be empowered, so they are transparent in their operations and share data with employees and customers. David Ramsey of CAMC Health System says communication is the foundation for transparency and transparency builds trust. Critical improvement data are posted on “Top 5” boards in every department, and these boards are accessible to everyone, including patients and families. MidwayUSA holds “State of the Business” meetings to keep people informed and provides multiple modes for two-way communication. Communication is facilitated through posters throughout the business’s facility that define key Baldrige terms and MidwayUSA leadership principles.

  4. Work Systems: I felt these organizations truly grasped the concept of work systems and their strategic significance to a degree I had not previously witnessed in other organizations. And they used this information to their advantage in making key decisions. CSSD, for example, has three highly defined work systems: personalized pathways intake, student pathway implementation and progress, and successful pathways transition. Each system is focused on the individual customer’s unique situation (student and family). Each pathway involves suppliers and partners, for example, in malls and shopping centers where the school has resource centers, the school has helped students obtain retail jobs so the students can commit to the “intake” and afford to remain in school through “implementation and progress,” and the partner store helps prepare the students for the next phase in their lives at the handoff in the transition pathways.

    CAMC Health System has three sets of work systems: systems that guide, systems that do work, and systems that support. Within the systems that do work, there are inpatient care, outpatient care, and emergency care. This clarity allows clear decisions about CAMC-administered work processes and decisions about outsourcing, supply chain, and collaboration.

    Mid-America Transplant has two well-defined work systems that align with its mission: organ work system and tissue work system. From those work systems, all decisions flow.

  5. Innovation Process: While the Baldrige Excellence Framework (which includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence) has fostered a systematic and integrated approach to innovation for several years now, the 2015 Baldrige Award recipients have demonstrated a new level of maturity and commitment to fostering innovation. They have achieved this success through leaders’ setting the environment and establishing formal innovation processes. Innovation has become truly embedded in the very core of how these organizations operate. Mid-America Transplant has a defined Improvement and Innovation Process (IIP). For potential innovations, the organization has an intelligent risk identification process that includes monthly scoring of potential intelligent risks and decisions on which to pursue. Examples of intelligent risks pursued include establishing in-house operating rooms and operating motor vehicle license offices where the organization can educate drivers about organ donation. Diane Brockmeier described the five characteristics of her organization’s innovation culture: visionary leadership with a sense of urgency; transparent, two-way communication; mission-driven, cross-functional teams; a commitment to learning; and effective external collaboration.

    CAMC Health System has a highly defined and flow-charted innovation management process. It begins with three sources of input: strategic planning, internal innovation ideas, and unanticipated events. It continues through analysis, identification of intelligent risks, commitment of resources, and then progress monitoring and continuous evaluation of priorities.

    CSSD was created with innovation at its core. Every system and process was a design innovation. The organization’s July strategic initiatives meeting includes an education reform and innovation plan for the short term (two years or less) and the long term.

    All four organizations clearly demonstrate the key ingredients for innovation: a supportive environment and intelligent risk taking.

  6. Metrics: Baldrige Award recipients have always been good at measuring results. Based on this year’s presentations, I felt the recipients had uniformly brought measurement to a new level. They define what is important and then measure everything about it. This transition was best summarized by Matt Fleming of MidwayUSA when he talked about a transition “from anecdotal to actionable.” I would elaborate by saying the transition has been from anecdotal (measure what’s available) to important (measures that matter) to actionable (measures that cause action in real time and in the long term). This year I saw a new sophistication in in-process measures that includes metrics for process input, metrics for process control, and then verification with process output measures that are predictive of product or service outcome measures.

    I felt the focus on the importance of meaningful metrics started very early in the conference with Mary Bixby in an opening plenary talk that focused on numbers, showing CSSD’s intense knowledge of its students as a population and as individuals. The school’s work systems are driven by the data the organization continuously gathers on student needs at intake to measures of progress and finally to measures of performance after students transition to the next phase of their lives, which then feed back to the school’s student pathways process.

  7. Integration: The Baldrige framework and Criteria have emphasized a systems perspective and asked questions that reinforce relationships for many years. At this year’s conference, the Baldrige Award recipients talked in systems language and constantly demonstrated performance integration as they described their organizations. They described systems that ensured horizontal and vertical integration for knowledge and information sharing, as well as planning and operations. I will illustrate with a few examples that the recipients used, but please note they did not use these examples to display integration but, rather, to describe their normal mode of conducting operations. Mid-America Transplant discussed its Operational Management System that starts with its strategic thinking process and then incorporates performance measurement, staff knowledge, the voice of the customer, knowledge management, and environmental information into a system that ends with the improvement and innovation process and a knowledge feedback loop.

    CAMC Health System discussed its integrated “systems that guide” the organization: governance–leadership–planning–performance improvement–innovation. The organization has similar flows for “systems that do work,” and they are underpinned by and integrated with “systems that support.”

  8. Transformation (or Transformational Change): To be successful and sustain an organization today, ongoing change is inevitable. The challenge is how to prioritize changes, manage them, and maintain the results recognizing that ongoing change will be needed. Change must be a cultural norm and must be sensitive to the changing needs of the customer, involving the customer when appropriate. These sentences sound like the platitudes of current-day business jargon, yet achieving these concepts in practice still eludes most organizations. Not so for the 2015 Baldrige Award recipients. David Ramsey of CAMC Health System entitled his plenary presentation “Change and More Change” (adopting employees’ quip about the “other meaning” of CAMC’s acronym). This ongoing organizational change to meet the changing needs of the U.S. health care environment is his leadership strategy for organizational success. A milestone in CAMC’s performance improvement journey was its adoption of a philosophy of “transforming care together” in 2008. The organization includes in its role-model practices a leadership system that requires leaders to personally build commitment, make changes that the organization implements last, and then raise the bar. An overall performance improvement culture, transparency, and a learning environment are the cultural norms that seem to power the transformation system.

    The core competency of CSSD is “transforming lives.” The organization has transformed the lives of vulnerable students through a total redesign of the education and learning environment. It has developed a student-centered approach that meets the needs and lifestyles of its student population, and it does this one student at a time through the Pathways Personalized Education Plan. Education is delivered by a dedicated staff at 18 resource centers. All students partner with their parent, counselor, teacher, and learning lead. All students complete their pathway with a “successful pathways transition.” CSSD’s staff members are recruited to fit the school’s culture and mission. CSSD has adopted “an engaging culture of accountability,” with a strong commitment to professional development and ongoing transformation.

    The Bottom Line

    Peter Senge described learning organizations as “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.” He further states, “When you ask people about what it is like being part of a great team, what is most striking is the meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative.”

    As I recently reflected on my perceptions of a learning organization, I wondered about how an organization brings Senge’s learning organization concept to reality. What would an organization do to become a learning organization? What would it look like? What would be the operational characteristics of such an organization? I believe the 2015 Baldrige Award recipients are truly learning organizations. And I would propose that the eight characteristics presented in this column are how you create a true learning organization. How well does your organization embody these characteristics? What is your next step toward truly becoming a learning organization?


*Editor’s Note: I am adding the full name of the Harry S. Hertz Leadership Award, though Harry, being Harry, excluded his name from the award reference in this column!





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Dr. Harry Hertz, Director Emeritus
Baldrige Performance Excellence Program

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