Two Inspirational Leaders Honored for Commitment to Excellence

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

For their leadership that has inspired performance excellence in their organizations and benefited their workforces, customers, and students, Mary Searcy Bixby and E. David Spong were recently honored at the 29th Annual Baldrige Quest for Excellence© Conference.

Mary Searcy Bixby

In recognizing Bixby as this year’s Harry S. Hertz Leadership Award winner, Baldrige Foundation Chair P. George Benson said, “While no one person in the organization can be credited with that organization’s performance excellence, this award recognizes all of the leader’s behaviors that inspire . . . are courageous, challenge, and empower others to achieve performance excellence.” Benson added that Bixby is a “transformational leader,” an “educational reformer,” an “innovator and pioneer in successfully addressing the needs of at-risk students,” and a “role model for educators everywhere.”

Accepting the honor, Bixby, the founder, president, and CEO of Baldrige Award recipient Charter School of San Diego, acknowledged her team and said, “Leadership is not a singular. It’s a plural.”

Bixby encouraged leaders and “organizations that wish to be futuristic” to invest in research that supports people and finds systems that can help them improve. She suggested that all leaders at every level deserve mentorship, support, and coaching.

“I do believe that our work is not just supporting our organizations and moving them into the future, but also inspiring others,” said Bixby. “There is change in the wind . . . for better or for worse. . . . Our clients, our patients, our students have discovered a voice, and I think that’s a good thing. Because guess what, they want the best. They want quality.”

Bixby said it’s important for all of us to look critically at how to improve. When we get data or information, “we need to be sure that it’s timely. It’s actionable. And it’s accurate. We can use it to make meritorious decisions. That’s what we did at our school. When we work with our workforce . . . our issue is to help prepare them in the best way we can so that they can touch the hearts of our students.”

The Charter School of San Diego, said Benson, has achieved phenomenal results, including continued overall student and parent satisfaction levels at close to 100 percent, reduced drop-out rates, and equalized or exceeded county-wide graduation rates. In addition, the school has maintained teacher and staff satisfaction levels and teacher and staff retention rates; “thereby creating the stability that ultimately brings benefits to students,” he said.

Bixby said her team has traveled across the country in this last year visiting school systems that “are eager to open that door to the Baldrige experience.”

“[Baldrige] was never work that was on top of our own work,” she said. “It was integrated from the beginning. This is our lives. Baldrige has opened doors to us, and we will be eternally grateful. We are willing to give back. . . . We are teachers. We transform lives. And we are Baldrige.”

David Spong

“To receive the E. David Spong Lifetime Achievement  Award, an individual must have a sustained, exceptional, and far-reaching contribution to the Baldrige enterprise,” said Benson of the new award. “Lifetime achievement award recipients change their worlds and inspire others to do the same. It is fitting then that the award should be named after and its first recipient should be David Spong.”

Benson added that through Spong’s 54-year career and well into his retirement, he has held multiple leadership roles including president of ASQ, chairman of the Baldrige Foundation Board of Directors, chairman of the Baldrige Board of Overseers, and chair of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Visiting Committee of Advanced Technology.

Spong, who said he was attending his nineteenth Baldrige Quest conference, said his life-long journey towards excellence started with a feeling of “maybe I’ll get there” but has come to believing fervently in the “Big Q.”

He grew up the youngest of five children in England, with a singular goal in mind. “There was no doubt where I was heading. I was going to be an engineer working on airplanes,” he said.

In 1956, Spong became an apprentice in the United Kingdom Ministry of Supplies Facility (also known at various times as the Balloon Factory and Royal Aircraft Establishment). He said he received his first lesson in the importance of quality working on a replica of a 1917 airplane. His assignment was to work on a steel plate that had to be hacksawed and filed, flat and square; no machines allowed. “At some point, I realized I made a mistake with the angle,” he said. “I continued to work on it hoping that no one would notice. At some point, the apprentice master . . . said there’s something funny about that. He measured it . . . and he said, ‘Start over, lad.’ I spent many hard-working hours . . . but it didn’t conform to the drawings.” This first very important lesson, Spong said, he calls “Little Q”–conformance to requirements or specifications.

Some 40 years later, after emigrating to America, Spong joined the aerospace industry to work on the “then beleaguered C-17 program.” About the same time, he said, his chairman and CEO, Sandy McDonnell, of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, put out a memo that the company would use the Baldrige Criteria in its business.

“It was a long-term, total quality management system and internal evaluation,” Spong said. “I remember thinking at the time, who has time for this soft stuff. We have airplanes to build. However, we dutifully wrote our internal [Baldrige] application and performed a self-assessment. . . . Over time, our scores got better, and wonder of wonder, I noticed our performance was getting better, too.”

Spong said that after Boeing Airlift and Tanker Programs (McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997) received the Baldrige Award in 1999, “I was a full fledged believer in what I call Big Q.”

At Boeing, Spong said the company kept applying for the Baldrige Award, receiving feedback, and learning. Boeing Aerospace Support, which Spong led to a Baldrige Award in 2003, made him the only leader to guide his organizations to Baldrige Awards in two different sectors: manufacturing and service.

At the close of his remarks, Spong thanked his family and told the story of his granddaughter being nicknamed “Baby Baldrige” because she attended her first Quest conference at just two months old.

He added, “It took me 40 years to come back to where I was in the beginning: inspect my work and make sure it conforms. . . . Go forth and live the Big Q!”

Posted in Baldrige Award Process, Baldrige Award Recipients, Baldrige Criteria, Baldrige Events, Business, Education, Leadership, Performance Results, Workforce Focus | 1 Comment

To Invent Your Organization’s Future, Experiment, Question, Sometimes Fail     

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

Create an innovation advantage for your organization by letting go of industrial-age principles, embracing imagination, and experimenting even if you might fail, said Polly LaBarre, co-founder and director of Management Lab (MLab) and co-founder of MIX (Management Innovation eXchange). LaBarre, who delivered the 29th Annual Quest for Excellence© Conference keynote presentation, said, “You cannot have some big opportunities without having some big misses. . . . Mistakes should be shared and picked apart for every last tidbit of insight.”

LaBarre asked the conference audience, “How do you build the capacity for innovation and the adaptability that keeps your organization growing and thriving?” and “Are you capable of changing as fast as the world is changing? . . . The next game changer probably will come out of nowhere. Your customers, patients, stakeholders have more information, more choice, higher expectations than ever before. . . . In that context, are you constitutionally adaptable?”

The modern industrial-age organization was not built for adaptability and innovation, she said. Instead, the assembly-line plants from years ago were designed “to maximize standardization, specialization, predictability, and control,” said LaBarre, adding that the business model was to “get flesh and blood human beings to become widget-producing robots.”

“All of the practices and systems that we have built and embedded in our organizations [including] budgeting, performance review, ROI calculations, inventory. . . . All of those things were invented over a century ago to routinize the nonroutine,” said LaBarre; “When [today’s] challenge is for every organization to become ever-more adaptable, ever-more innovative, ever-more inspiring and engaging, those principles don’t serve us well. There’s no competitive advantage left. . . . We can’t solve the new problems with the old principles.”


LaBarre said that innovation in today’s organizations tends to get compartmentalized if it is not embedded in every activity, every function. “As a result, the 90% of people who do not have a formal innovation role, think of innovation as someone else’s job. And those companies then end up commercializing and capturing just a tiny potential of their people and their organizations,” she said.

The efficiency principles of the industrial age are still critical and necessary, LaBarre said, but to “transcend the inevitable tradeoffs of discipline without the cost and the drag on agility . . . and the crushing of human initiatives,” organizations should also consider pro-innovation principles such as aspiration, experimentation, diversity, freedom, and openness. She illustrated several real organizations who have embedded such principles and asked the audience to consider, “What kind of sustaining advantage can innovation bring?”

The first tip for our organizations, LaBarre said, is to expand autonomy. “Control [of people, information, deviation from the norm] is the wrong design when you want to unleash people’s best imagination, initiative, passion–the human gifts that are in so much demand today but which cannot be commanded or controlled into existence.”


LaBarre pointed out that we’ve all experience a huge expansion of freedom in our personal lives, especially with our ability to connect with anyone, anywhere in the world. “We can challenge, speak up, have a voice in the world, but the workplace lags so far behind,” she said, adding that in their personal lives, people can buy houses, cars, etc., but in the workplace, they may not have the authority to purchase a desk chair.

She asked the audience to consider, in their organizations, “Who does the thinking and who does the doing?” She described freedom as giving employees more opportunities and more channels to have meaningful roles.

She shared with the audience that she has traveled around the world looking for organizations that have reinvented their management models,swapping out industrial bureaucratic DNA for pro-innovation and pro-adaptability.” In some of these companies, LaBarre said she found employees with total autonomy, which is balanced by extensive accountability, especially by coworkers who, for example, conduct each other’s performance reviews. These organizations are growing their leadership capacity, she said.

LaBarre spoke of the “latent creative potential” of employees and cultures of collaboration. Invite everyone to be part of the strategic and creative realm, she suggested. In one organization she visited, LaBarre said she found hundreds of “communities of passion” that work on strategic priorities and local problems, and resolve issues must faster than they could under a standard corporate model.

“Design systems and practices for more headroom and elbow room,” she said, “so people can operate outside of their spheres. . . . People can find natural collaborators, pursue their passions, [find] the slack [they] need for trying new things, for experimenting, and for taking risks.”


“If you want to build innovative, adaptive capacity, there is no more powerful leverage than experimentation,” said LaBarre.

How life itself has flourished is a perfect example of experimentation, according to LaBarre. “Life has become ever more capable and complex in the process without a CEO, SVP, or strategic plan at the helm,” she said. “Evolutionary progress . . . is a product of rampant experimentation. Mutations are mistakes. Let me put it another way, if life was run by Six Sigma, we would all still be slime.”

LaBarre said experimentation is about cycling through ideas, testing assumptions, getting feedback, discarding what isn’t working, and building on what is. “It’s a strategy for measuring your insights,” she said.

Organizations should develop the facility to fail in order to learn, because in the words of Pixar Animation Studios, according to LaBarre, “Pain is temporary. Suck is forever.” Or, in other words, she said, Pixar understands that “if you are going to try new things, you’re going to have errors” and that’s how you learn.


To truly build an innovation capability at your organization, “Ask more questions than you give answers,” she said. “If you’re open, curious, you can surface more possibilities. As a leader, craft stretch questions. . . . Invest as much in what could be as what is. . . . Walk in stupid. . . . Practice the innocence of children to gain fresh eyes to innovation.”

She encouraged the audience to question every orthodoxy in their industries and to hack every process to imbue it with innovation principles. “Questions that no one has asked before spawn innovative answers that no one has sought before,” LaBarre said, adding “invite the subversive in.”

Innovation Panel

To further explore innovation, senior leaders from the four 2016 Baldrige Award recipients joined LaBarre on stage. They talked about how they define innovation and how they equip people to handle it.

Roger Arciniega, CEO of Momentum, said, “Culture is most important. You need a structure for innovations to break through. A big barrier is employees not wanting to be associated with failure,” adding the importance of not having a “gotcha” mentality.

The health care senior leaders on stage, Maryruth Butler, executive director of Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation Center – Mountain Valley, and Malisha Patel, vice president of operations at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land, discussed how to stimulate innovation and still ensure patient safety.

Don Chalmers Ford’s Andy Strebe, director of fixed operations, said innovation sometimes means being open to ideas that make you uncomfortable. The leaders also talked about getting out of the way of employees’ ideas, integrating work processes with action plans, looking for innovation in the supply chain, simplifying innovation, trusting employees, and putting down your “pivot foot” (i.e., practicing values-based innovation).

Posted in Baldrige Award Process, Baldrige Award Recipients, Baldrige Events, Business, Customer Focus, Health Care, Leadership, Operations Focus, Performance Results, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It’s Like Sampling and Buying Jam

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

This is about strategic thinking. However, I need to preface it with a story.

It all started with an NPR broadcast recently that discussed data from a TED talk by Sheena Iyengar. In the TED talk, Iyengar discusses an experiment she conducted with a local grocery store that offered a large number of choices for each of its products, including 348 different types of jam. With Iyengar’s encouragement, the store set up two sampling stations for jam. One had 24 jams to sample and one had six. Given the choice, 60 percent of the people stopped at the 24 jam station and 40 percent at the six jam station. Next they looked at how many of the people actually purchased jam. Of the people who stopped at the 24 jam station, only three percent bought a jar. Of those who stopped at the six jam station, 30 percent actually bought a jar. For the store, this meant those with only six choices were six times more likely to make a purchase. Choice overload led to inaction. More limited choice led to action (purchase).

Now let’s turn to strategic thinking, Baldrige, and strategy execution. The Baldrige Excellence Builder (and also the more extensive Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence) ask the following questions:

  • What are your organization’s key strategic objectives?
  • What are your key short- and longer-term action plans?
  • What are your key workforce plans to support your strategic objectives and action plans?
  • What key performance measures do you use to track achievement and effectiveness of your action plans?

The word “key” in each of these questions (as well as elsewhere in the Baldrige Excellence Builder) is about prioritization. What would the likely impact be of having 24 key strategic objectives, with 24 key action plans for each? You would have 576 action plans. Lots of options to choose from. And like the jam jar purchase, choice overload would lead  to confusion and either random action plan selection or choice paralysis and inaction.

Deciding what is most important and then focusing on those few important opportunities is critical in everything organizations and people do. That is why the word “key” and the concept of prioritization are so central to organizational performance leadership as repeatedly emphasized in the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence.

And a final suggestion, for those of you who attended the Quest for Excellence conference April 2-5. As you go back to your organizations, remember the word “key” and prioritize the many, valuable learnings from the conference down to the vital few for implementation back home.



Posted in Baldrige Criteria, Business, Operations Focus, Performance Results, Strategic Planning | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Leadership Practices of 2016 Baldrige Award Recipients: Momentum Group

Posted by Christine Schaefer

During the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program’s 29th Annual Quest for Excellence® Conference this week, national role models in every sector showcased their best practices.

Following is the last of four blogs on the leadership presentations of the 2016 Baldrige Award recipients (in order of publication): Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital (health care), Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation Center–Mountain Valley (health care), Don Chalmers Ford (small business), and Momentum Group (small business).

Momentum Group

head shot of Roger Arciniega

Roger Arciniega

Momentum Group President and CEO Roger Arciniega shared that he joined the small business, which is headquartered in California, in 1998. With an organizational vision to be the undisputed leader in innovative and sustainable contract textiles,” Momentum Group, he explained, is in the business of developing fabrics used in upholstery for furniture in commercial office settings as well as in health care settings for patients and their families. (Its three key customer groups and markets are business, health care, and hospitality organizations.)

The company’s mission is to “create textiles that inspire and equip our customers to execute great work for their clients. We are individually and collectively committed to superior service and operational excellence,” said Arciniega.

In light of Momentum Group’s consistent growth (depicted in graphic below), Arciniega said, “Really I think our core competency is planning our growth and growing our plan.”

Chart showing Momentum Group revenue growth

The company currently has 157 employees and boasts high retention, with an average employee tenure of 10 years.

It implemented a program of continuous improvement based on the Baldrige framework in 1991, according to Arciniega. In 2015, it earned its state-level Baldrige-based Eureka Award.

According to Arciniega, Momentum Group’s “Secret Sauce” for success is composed of continuous improvement, employees sharing in its success (profit sharing), and a culture of core values. Those core values form the acronym FABRIC, as follows:

  • Fairness, honesty and respect in all interactions
  • Advancing, developing and hiring employee excellence
  • Bettering the world around us
  • Reducing difficulties experienced by our customers
  • Increasing shareholder value
  • Continuous improvement of our products and services

Arciniega highlighted several “fundamental” practices of Momentum Group, including behavioral interviewing, six core work processes, five support processes, strategic planning, a focus on organizational learning, and recognition and rewards for employees.

Behavioral interviewing, he said, is “based on what people have done in the past rather than their opinions—a key building block to assembling high-performing team.”

Momentum Group’s six core processes include product development, sample management, sales, inventory management, inside sales, and order filling. “These are the processes that customers judge us by,” said Arciniega.

The five support processes encompass marketing, credit, information, accounting, technology, and human resources.

As part of its strategic planning process, Momentum Group conducts an annual analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that is holistic, Arciniega said.

In relation to Momentum Group’s commitment to being a learning organization, Arciniega said, “a key part of innovation is having people learn new things in a structured way.” The company has developed an internal Baldrige Award program through which each division writes a 15-page Baldrige application. Momentum developed this process after benchmarking another high-performing company, he said. The applications respond to the Baldrige Excellence Framework’s performance assessment questions and are scored by a third‐party national Baldrige examiner.

Other Momentum Group practices related to being a learning organization include its new-employee orientation, learning plans, company‐wide training, core and support process learning, leadership learning, and employee recognition for continuous improvement.

Momentum Group’s comprehensive employee recognition program provides rewards at the company level, across work groups, for action teams, and for individuals.

Arciniega also highlighted Momentum Group’s strong results for engaged employees, loyal customers, and sustainable performance.

For more details, see the Momentum Group profile on the Baldrige website.

Other blogs in this series are linked here:


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Leadership Practices of 2016 Baldrige Award Recipients: Don Chalmers Ford

Posted by Christine Schaefer Continue reading

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