In Education, the Student Is the Only Customer or Not?

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

For as long as the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence have existed, Student photoand probably longer, educators have debated whether the student is the customer or the product. In a 2010 New York Times Opinion piece, a number of business school deans debated this question with some interesting observations.

As a society, we have also questioned the roles of families as customers. But this blog post is about neither of those customer groups. It is about businesses in the school’s service area, an even less considered customer group. Consider this recent statistic: 96% of college provosts believe their students are prepared for the job market. That compares to 14% of the public, and 11% of business leaders. How can such a gap exist and persist? Probably because there is a lack of appropriate communication between colleges and business leaders. There is lots of communication about donations and recruiting on campus, but satisfaction with the education students receive? Complacency is almost certainly one culprit. Schools know the “important” subject matter and businesses know they have a significant role in training and developing new graduates.

I suggest some questions for schools to start the dialog between business leaders and college provosts. The questions come from the Baldrige education criteria items on Voice of the Customer and Customer-Focused Results:

  • How do you determine student and other customer satisfaction and engagement?
  • How do you determine student and other customer dissatisfaction?
  • How do your measurements capture actionable information to use in exceeding their expectations and securing their engagement for the long term?
  • What are your current levels and trends in key measures of their satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and engagement?

How would your Alma Mater respond?


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More Great Insights from Harvard’s Kanter

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

In a keynote address at the Baldrige Program’s recent Quest for Excellence® Conference, Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter shared key insights in the form of five of her favorite mantras. Friday we shared the first two; following are the other three.

#3 It Takes a Cross-Sector, Multistakeholder Coalition

“It takes a village” is an African proverb, but according to Kanter, success today takes a “cross-sector, multistakeholder coalition.”

According to Kanter, at Harvard University Advanced Leadership meetings, dignified leaders who have served as CEOs, venture capitalists, hospital system CEOs, physicians, managing partners at law firms, and government cabinet members still have to be taught “to think across sectors, not to think adversarially about government versus business versus whatever . . . but really always think cross-sector multistakeholder—who has to be at the table, from outside the building, to think bigger, to solve problems?”

As an example of such a coalition, Kanter described the city of Milwaukee’s success moving from an aging industrial city to a global water hub (one of three global water hubs in the world). Members from the community, including the business community, are collaborating to turn the infrastructure into one that focuses on what all of the declining industrial businesses had in common: water. Now Milwaukee businesses are making products and services leveraging water technology; a water council is redefining the city across industries; a graduate school is offering fresh water sciences; and entrepreneurs are turning abandoned factories into fish farms. In these factories, they are also growing sprouts as a healthy snack for Milwaukee’s school children.

#4 It’s Not Easy

“Kanter’s law,” she said, “is that everything can look like a failure in the middle because when you are doing things that are new and different . . . there can be naysayers. . . . There are so many obstacles and road blocks on the journey that the difference between success and failure is how long you give it before you give up.”

rk quote1A typical obstacle is forecasting problems, said Kanter. It’s difficult to know how long something is going to take and how much it is going to cost—something we all have a tendency to underestimate, she added.

Kanter stressed persistence and willingness to deliver as characteristics of success. “We know a ton of things are going to happen to throw [you] off. . . . Sometimes it’s more important to do it better the second time because you can’t always the first time get it right,” she said.

The middles of new projects and initiatives can be tense times, she said, “you hit obstacles you didn’t know were there because you’ve never gone down that road before. . . . The middles are another time [to be] in touch with your cross-sector multistakeholder coalition.”

Kanter said that she loves small improvements, quick wings, but if change involves anything big (which she encourages), “you have to persist and persevere, you have to have continuity of leadership. . . . There has to be a really dedicated team, and I also go back to mission and purpose. If you don’t have a strong sense of why you’re doing this and whom you are doing this for, it’s way too easy to give up. And giving up is by definition a failure.”

#5 The Happiest People Solve the Most Difficult Problems

“If you really want to motivate your staff,” Kanter said, “it’s not by making the work easier but by making it more challenging.” She said people seek out jobs in Silicon Valley and high-tech companies because they get to stretch, to learn new things, to have impact.

“The happiest people I know, amazingly, miraculously, are working on things that seem intractable,” she said. “Now they have to get over the sense of discouragement in the middle, but they have a sense of purpose, meaning, mastery, challenge, along with membership in community and a sense of meaning.”

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Kanter’s Five Mantras

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

To focus leadership on the things that really matter–that was the foundation of Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter‘s five mantras, shared with the audience at the 26th Annual Quest for Excellence® Conference in Baltimore, Md.

rosabethKanter, who served on the Baldrige Board of Overseers when health care and education were added to the eligibility categories of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, gave advice to leaders on “how to ensure the impact you want.”

Kanter’s favorite mantras are phrases, ideas, and concepts that she writes about and teaches at Harvard Business School. Following are the first two of five favorite mantras that she presented in her keynote address.

#1 Think Outside the Building

Kanter said, “Many people know the famous phrase ‘think outside the box,’ but the box just isn’t big enough . . . and that’s true in every sector because the business is not just its financial performance or even its customer metrics.”

rk quote2Kanter suggested that leaders, “Get out of the building to where the people are. Thinking outside the building is the first imperative for impact.”

In New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, buildings for schools and hospitals had to be rebuilt, but instead of building the full-service central hospital, mobile clinics were built to bring the care to where the people were and schools became community gathering points. These are “connections across problems,” she said, and there is a need for innovative thinkers to think outside structures to solve problems across disciplines and establishments.

An example of “thinking outside the building,” she said, is an educational innovation that was initiated by IBM: a six-year high school in Brooklyn, NY, called Pathways in Technology Early College High School. IBM, which was concerned about the state of education, worked closely with the public system, creating a collaboration among the K-12 school, the community college, and the corporation. Students graduate with a high school diploma, an associate’s degree, and a job interview. The city of Chicago is now opening five schools following this model, the city of New York is putting in more, and the state of New York is starting 16.

Such an innovation solves “multiple problems simultaneously, of connections to employers, skills that are needed, high academic performance, keeping kids in school,” she said. This style of thinking is “a whole new concept. It’s not just do what we’re doing even better. . . . but think about how you’re going to connect assets that exist outside the building, in the community, as other resources to get things done.”

Another example is a program that Kanter started with two colleagues called the Advanced Leadership Initiative because they realized there’s an opportunity in higher education for rk quote3_Page_1experienced leaders transitioning from their income-generating years to their next years of service.

“Surrounding us are all types of opportunities,” Kanter added.

#2 Act Bigger Than You Are

“This means act as though you can take on big problems,” she said. What creates jobs is imagination, she said, “the ability to imagine something bigger and set out to do it.”

Kanter cited the example of Dr. Donald Berwick founding a small nonprofit–the Institute for Healthcare Improvement–to change all of health care with campaigns to save and protect lives. As one individual, Berwick thought big ideas about improving patient safety, influenced by Baldrige and the quality movement, Kanter said. He leveraged others to take part in the campaign.

“The greatest opportunities for innovation come from the gaps, the things we’re not seeing.”

“Think bigger!” she said. “I’m frustrated sometimes by people who have it all there and yet don’t think bigger. . . . Think about where you could ultimately be. . . . Go for the big prize. Stand as equals with anybody.”

She added, “One thing that I love about the Baldrige and always have is . . .  the obligation of winners to teach others,” she said. “That’s another way of encouraging others to think bigger. And now the mission is getting the world to do what you do and not think of it as . . . competition.”

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Becoming Exceptional, Thanks to a Baldrige Feedback Report

Posted by Christine Schaefer

The visionary leader of the first health care organization to receive a Baldrige Award in 2002 still credits a 1999 feedback report for helping her organization become exceptional. “The feedback was humbling at the very least, but helpful, insightful, and transformative,” said Sister Mary Jean Ryan, former president and CEO of SSM Health Care and now board chair. The organization’s first Baldrige feedback report, she said yesterday, provided “the clarity and focus we desperately needed to move our organization closer to exceptional.”

Sister Mary Jean Ryan

Sister Mary Jean Ryan

Sister Mary Jean described pivotal events in SSM Health Care’s journey to excellence during her keynote address at the Baldrige Program’s 26th Quest for Excellence Conference in Baltimore.

She noted that her organization’s 1999 Baldrige feedback report spurred the organization to reconsider how it defined exceptional in relation to its performance, particularly the excellent health care results it aspired to achieve. The feedback report pointed out that the organization’s aim of providing “exceptional health care services” was at odds with its use of average results for performance comparisons. In defining exceptional performance in response to the feedback, the organization developed a focused approach to goal setting in each of these areas: satisfaction (of patients, employees, and physicians), clinical and safety outcomes, and financial performance. It then began to compare itself to best-performing organizations as it sought to improve and excel.

Sister Mary Jean offered additional insights on excellence through inspirational stories. She described the example of her religious order’s five original sisters in America, who survived great challenges in the 19th century as they began their ministry in St. Louis. Their example provided the legacy of caring for the work of SSM Health Care today and “is the reason I was so demanding when I was a CEO,” said Sister Mary Jean. “You see, it was up to me to ensure that the 24,000 employees, 5,800-plus physicians, and 3,000 volunteers of SSM Health Care knew that they had to deliver exceptional health care to every single patient.” She added, “If you remember only one thing from my remarks, I hope it is this: Our success as an organization is not the exclusive right of executives or managers.”

She recalled that when she became president and CEO of SSM Health Care in 1986, she saw “an organization that was only slightly better than average.” She found this unacceptable. Instead, she looked for the same “potential for greatness” in the organization that her religious order had taught her to look for and cultivate in individuals. “We were not as good as we could or should be,” she said of the organization. “Instead of constantly seeking to improve, people seemed to be satisfied with the way things were,” she added. “We were pleased to say that we were as good as the national average.”

But complacency with the status quo began to change as the organization began to improve its processes and adopted the Baldrige framework. “I can say without reservation that because of Baldrige we are much closer to achieving our mission today than ever before,” she said. “And that equates to being a better organization than we were when we began our quality journey.”

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“We Did It with a ‘Can-Do’ Attitude and a Love of Our Mission”

Posted by Christine Schaefer

Pewaukee School District Superintendent JoAnn Sternke likened her small organization’s persistence on its journey to excellence to that of the small engine in The Little Engine That Could, as she spoke during the 26th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference®.

The beloved children’s book, she noted, highlights the “tenacity and persistence” of the little engine that helps the train that breaks down: “That’s us … we’re a … small little school district. I hope our story inspires all of the small organizations, in this room and not in this room, because if you think you can, and you employ the principles of Baldrige with that same level of perseverance, you really can achieve great things.”

“We did it with a can-do attitude and a love of our mission,” Sternke said of her district’s journey to reach the level of excellence that enabled it to earn the 2013 Baldrige Award. She recounted how Pewaukee’s journey to excellence began in 2007, a year after she was first handed a Criteria for Performance Excellence booklet from a member of her district’s board of education.

Pewaukee School District Superintendent JoAnn Sternke, speaking at Baldrige Award Ceremony on April 6, 2014. Photo by Eddie Arrossi.
Pewaukee School District Superintendent JoAnn Sternke, speaking at the Baldrige Award ceremony on April 6, 2014. Photo by Eddie Arrossi.

Sternke said she made a commitment to writing a Baldrige application within a year and to ensuring that the district’s leadership team would be trained as Baldrige examiners. In 2007, the district submitted its first award application to the Wisconsin Center for Performance Excellence (an Alliance for Performance Excellence member and state partner of the national Baldrige Performance Excellence Program). The Wisconsin program provided “wonderful feedback,” said Sternke, and the district used the feedback report to work on improving its processes and results.

“I loved the Criteria right from the start,” said Sternke, citing how “it could be used in any sector.” She added, “I think that education is sometimes too myopic looking inside to fix problems as opposed to looking outside.”

“I also love that the Criteria would work for everyone in our organization,” she said. “Whether you are our director of buildings and grounds or you are our middle school principal, you can talk the same language of improvement at the table using the Criteria.”

She said the Organizational Profile of the Criteria proved valuable in the early stages of Pewaukee’s Baldrige journey because the prefatory self-assessment questions “offered an opportunity to get to know ourselves.”

Sternke named three areas of focus for the district today as it prepares students for the future: (1) student engagement in learning, (2) higher student achievement, and (3) student citizenship (which Sternke described as “making sure that we graduate good people”).

She also shared these five keys to improvement for the district’s leadership system:

1.       People: Sternke described the aim as bringing on employees who are mission-driven and then engaging and training them to put the mission into action.

2.      Plans: Sternke pointed out how the district has used strategic planning since 1992 but has gotten better at it over the years as it has used Baldrige feedback to improve its strategic planning process.

3.      Results: Sternke noted how the district has gotten better at using data to make improvements and using measurement as a process.

4.      Processes: The Pewaukee district uses Plan, Do, Study, Act as its improvement methodology. “Ultimately we learned we had to improve our processes to get better,” said Sternke.

5.      Innovation: Sternke described the “paradoxical secret” that came as a surprise during Pewaukee’s Baldrige journey: “By using a systems approach which some people would find constraining, it ultimately allowed us to think more freely and come up with innovations in our delivery model, not only for transportation and facilities, but for the very instruction that we provide to students,” she said. So it wasn’t just the best way to improve results; it actually got us better as a whole organization.” The district is now seen as an innovation center for its use of technology, she said.

She offered these answers to the question, Why Baldrige?

·         “Because before we used [the Baldrige Criteria], we were hard-working, but now we’re more effective and efficient.”

·         “Because [Baldrige] allowed us to leverage our strength in planning and get better to reach new heights of achievement.”

·         “Because [Baldrige] allows us to make sure that we are using results to drive improvement.”

·         “Because by using a systematic approach, we became more innovative.”

Pewaukee School District is located in southeastern Wisconsin 20 miles west of Milwaukee. During Sternke’s tenure as superintendent since 2001, she has overseen several program improvements to increase student achievement. These include a nationally recognized initiative that provides laptop computers for every student in grades 5 through 12, a four-year-old kindergarten program, foreign language instruction in elementary grades, advanced course offerings for high school students with Northwestern University, and increased graduation requirements for high school students.

Noteworthy results that the district has improved in recent years include a high school graduation rate of over 97%, one of the highest in the state of Wisconsin; and an increase in the proportion of high school graduates who go on to college, to over 90% today.

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