What You Can Learn from a Baldrige Award-Winning School

By Christine Schaefer

In 2015, the Charter School of San Diego (CSSD)—part of a public school system—became the first school of its kind to earn a Baldrige Award. (Baldrige Award recipients in the education category over the previous 14 years included seven public school systems, a university, a community college, and a business school.) Embracing a greater aim of education, CSSD’s leaders consider “transforming lives” their core work as the school advances the learning of students who had been at risk of not graduating from high school.

Male student in graduation cap and gown

Last spring, at the Baldrige Program’s annual Quest for Excellence® Conference, CSSD Executive Director Tim Tuter and other school leaders provided extensive information about the school’s innovative practices to help at-risk students achieve new levels of success (e.g., see a related blog here.)

Early next month, Tuter will return to the annual Quest conference to share more about his organization’s processes, results, and journey to excellence using the Baldrige Excellence Framework (which includes the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence)

In advance of that presentation, Tuter graciously responded as follows to questions about his school’s use of the Baldrige framework.

head shot of Tim Tuter

Tim Tuter

How has the Baldrige framework contributed to your school’s success?

The Baldrige framework has allowed our school to identify and exceed stakeholder requirements in ways that were unimaginable ten years ago when we started our Baldrige journey. By diligently applying the Baldrige framework, we have developed robust processes in leadership, strategic planning, knowledge management, and operations to improve our school each and every year.

Our strong and improving school results over the past decade have been attributed to directly applying the Baldrige Criteria to every aspect of our school. The most rewarding part in realizing our school’s strong results is to know that these results directly relate to student motivation, student achievement and most important, students graduating. Given that our mission is to reduce dropouts and reengage an at-risk student population, results mean everything.

One of the most unexpected outcomes of applying the Baldrige Criteria to our school has been the development of a common language within the entire workforce around process improvement. This common language has helped us shape a very positive workforce environment and contributed to very high levels of workforce engagement compared to top industry performance. Winning the Baldrige Award has helped reinforce a very strong culture among the stakeholders of our school.

Would you please share an example or two of successful Baldrige-based practices at your organization?

CSSD senior leaders spend a tremendous amount of time planning and participating in dialogue and events that allow us to engage our stakeholders in a variety of ways. The Senior Leader Communication Plan allows CSSD senior leaders to consistently interact with all members of the workforce in strategic situations focused on consistently communicating the mission, vision, and values of the school. From providing regular updates at faculty meetings, to leading training sessions for new workforce members, to giving handwritten Welcome Cards to all new employees, we use the Senior Leader Communication Plan to inspire the workforce and grow the school.

One of the most meaningful communication methods is what we call “Tea with Mary,” where our CEO (Mary Bixby) meets in an informal setting with members of each division of the workforce to discuss ideas they have for improvements. Some of our most innovative ideas have come from employees who had thought about something for a while but might not have had the opportunity to share it without a “Tea with Mary” or similar event. By providing several opportunities, in a variety of ways, for employees to express their thoughts to our highest-level executives, we have successfully improved numerous school processes and results in all categories of the Baldrige framework.

What advice would you give other education leaders for using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to support student learning?

Educators in every school across America focus much of their time engaging stakeholders to gather information and make improvements, with varying degrees of success. I often tell fellow school administrators that the Baldrige framework’s strategic planning criteria provide a perfect road map for how to improve a school with the goal of supporting student learning.Female student waving in her graduation day cap and gown

Our strategic planning process is very robust and gathers inputs from all stakeholders. Since our school has already invested in an effective strategic planning process with input from all stakeholder groups, we are well ahead of others in meeting a new legal requirement recently passed by California’s state legislature that requires all public schools to engage their stakeholders in determining how they will achieve all state-defined priorities aligned to their budgets.

It might seem odd, but we find strategic planning fun! We thrive on strategic planning, as we continue to achieve success from following our process. If you want to support student learning, you have to plan for it.

What else might participants learn during your upcoming session at the Baldrige Program’s Quest for Excellence conference? For instance, since your organization won the Baldrige Award in 2015, how have you continued to use Baldrige concepts to drive improvements, innovation, and excellence?

Every year we continue to integrate Baldrige concepts within our school. One of the biggest enhancements has been our strong focus on improving our knowledge management. We have continued to enhance our Collaboration and Knowledge Management System to provide opportunities for sharing student performance data [among educators] in more disaggregated ways.

The student achievement data we discuss and the decisions we make from those opportunities have tremendous impacts on our instructional program and the overall operational direction of our school. One of the keys to our success is the strategic collaboration that occurs throughout the school year when we analyze and discuss new data and the dialogue leads to innovation and process improvements.

We begin planning for the next school year’s knowledge management methods six months before the new school year begins. We have a unique way of gathering data, distributing data, and making improvements from the information it brings us.

Any school or organization can learn from how our school manages knowledge, and we will share that during our concurrent session at the Quest conference.

To learn more from Tuter and other leaders of Baldrige Award recipient organizations in every sector, register now for the 29th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference.

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Being Remarkable from the Boardroom to the Bedside

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

“Remarkable” means extraordinary, uncommon, worthy of notice or attention, unusual.

Would you use that word to describe your place of work? How about your hospital? Now imagine how much more confidence you would have in your health care provider if it had proven itself to be extraordinary or remarkable.

Patient receiving home care at Hill Country Memorial

Baldrige Award recipient Hill Country Memorial continues to work toward being remarkable every day, with continuous improvements in the care it provides and in all areas of its operations.

At the upcoming 29th Annual Quest for Excellence® Conference, Dr. James R. Partin, chief medical officer at Hill Country Memorial, will be presenting on the hospital’s “journey from good to remarkable” and on how other organizations might learn to make their operations remarkable, too.

In a virtual interview, Partin shared with me Hill Country Memorial’s journey.

What makes Hill Country’s journey remarkable?

I think what makes Hill Country’s journey remarkable is the focus on improvement at all levels of the organization; from the boardroom to the bedside, each individual is committed to providing the highest quality of care and service to our patients and community. Another key has been our ability to integrate Baldrige into our day-to-day operations. We don’t “do Baldrige,” but rather we look at our processes and determine how we can revise/improve them to meet the Baldrige Criteria [found within the Baldrige Excellence Framework] and improve performance.

Can you share an example of your success along the journey?

One of our biggest successes along the journey was in the deployment of our strategic plan. We integrated this deployment into our cascade of strategic goals through department goals to support the strategic targets and individual employee quarterly coaching plans; these plans address how each employee implements action plans to help his/her department achieve departmental goals that roll back up to achievement of strategic goals.

Another success is our implementation of the Strategic Breakthrough Improvement (SBI) Process. This process includes 90-day, interdisciplinary, organizational-level improvement teams that work on strategic action plans. Through the SBI and cascading goal processes, we have improved achievement of strategic targets from approximately 50% annually to 85% annually.

What are your top tips for using Baldrige resources to support such a journey?

  • Don’t make Baldrige another thing you are doing. Rather, look at your processes and determine how you can improve them to address the Baldrige Criteria.
  • Share results with all stakeholders. Let people know how the work they are doing is helping the organization achieve its goals.
  • Involve physicians in improving key processes within the organization.

What else might participants learn at your conference session?

The most striking example of how Hill Country Memorial has continued to use the Baldrige Excellence Framework is in the Strategic Development Deployment Process. We continue to use the process and timeline to define our strategy annually for managing our strengths and improving our weaknesses to meet the changing health care environment, increasing competition, and the ever-changing payment models.

What are a few key reasons that organizations in your sector can benefit from using the Baldrige Excellence Framework?

The Baldrige framework

  • provides an organizational approach to improvement that is balanced;
  • helps an organization focus on key results and the processes that support those results, really honing in on important improvement opportunities; and
  • uncovers gaps/opportunities that staff may not know existed in the organization.

To learn how you and your organization can benefit from these insights and learn more, register now for the 29th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference, which will feature the 2016 Baldrige Award recipients and many more national role models sharing their best practices.

Posted in Baldrige Award Process, Baldrige Award Recipients, Baldrige Criteria, Customer Focus, Health Care, Operations Focus, Performance Results | 2 Comments

Baldrige: Answering the Call for Competitiveness

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

The U.S. Council on Competitiveness recently released its 30th annual report—self-described as a “clarion call” for the 45th president of the United States. The nonpartisan council is composed of corporate CEOs, university presidents, labor leaders, and national laboratory directors “committed to advancing U.S. competitiveness in the global economy and a rising standard of living for all Americans.”

According to the report, “For 30 years, the Council has emphasized that increasing innovation-driven productivity is the key to achieving . . . economic growth. The 2016 Clarion Call is a road map to drive productivity, revive growth and generate the good-paying jobs America needs.”

The original 1986 U.S. Council on Competitiveness report was a major influence on creation/passage of Public Law 100-107, which created the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (signed into law on August 20, 1987; I noted that in a 25th-anniversary piece on how the Baldrige Program began as a unique public/private partnership).

Here’s where, I think, Public Law 100-107 and the Baldrige Program, Award, and resources come in. Through the Baldrige Award, the U.S. government has recognized role-model organizations across all sectors of the U.S. economy. And these role-model organizations excel through systematic processes that have resulted in industry-best product, process, health care, student learning, customer, workforce, leadership, governance, and/or financial and market results. These organizations have proven efficiency and productivity, having their Baldrige Award applications receive more than 1,000 hours of trained examiner review, including a site visit review; receive several hours of judges’ review; and be the basis of their selection as award recipients by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

One primary focus in this new report is on health care, an area where the Baldrige Award has seen increased applications. “A study produced by Gallup and the Council suggests that improving efficiency in sectors like healthcare, housing and education could pay large dividends in the form of U.S. growth,” reads the report. “Public and consumer spending for these purposes have grown over the past several decades without clear relative improvements in quality. Making these sectors more productive would enable greater public investment and private consumption for other priorities.”

Cybersecurity, an area of emphasis both for the U.S. government and specifically for the Baldrige Program through its Baldrige Cybersecurity Excellence Builder, is also given prime real estate in the report. “As data and intellectual assets become increasingly valuable, firms also need to renew their commitment to best practices in cybersecurity and elevate the issue to their C-suites and boardrooms. Cybersecurity should be viewed as a business enabler rather than a technology expense. An effort by more senior U.S. corporate leaders to close their firm’s gaps between best practices and execution would make a significant impact.” It should be noted that the Baldrige cybersecurity initiative has multiple phases, including a future phase that may include best practices.

A third emphasis in the report is education, another area where the Baldrige Award has seen role models and continues to learn of high engagement in all areas of education, from K-12 public schools to charter schools to higher education. (In fact, in 2013, the founder of Baldrige Award recipient MidwayUSA and his wife offered $1 million dollars to the first Missouri school district to win the national Baldrige Award.) According to the report, “American higher education also is pursuing new ways to teach entrepreneurship, enable innovation, and prepare students to prosper.”

Although the Baldrige Program cannot publicize organizations who use Baldrige resources but have not yet received the award, many organizations are using the 2017-2018 Baldrige Excellence Framework and feedback from Baldrige examiners to improve efficiency and productivity and to drive innovation. Many consider the Baldrige framework itself as the roadmap to continuous improvement and success now and in the future.

How do you think the Baldrige framework, feedback reports, and other resources can help answer the clarion call to more competitive and sustainable U.S. organizations?

Posted in Baldrige Criteria, Baldrige Examiners, Business, Education, Health Care, Leadership, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Engaging Customers through a Relationship-Based Approach

By Christine Schaefer

Southcentral Foundation (SCF) has garnered national attention as a high-performing health care organization whose relationship-based approach to care may provide a means for U.S. hospitals and systems to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. As president and CEO, Katherine Gottlieb led SCF—whose Alaska Native community members are both owners and customers—to embrace the Baldrige Excellence Framework to guide its continuous-improvement efforts. The organization received a Baldrige Award in 2011, and Gottlieb received the Baldrige Foundation’s Harry S. Hertz Leadership Award in 2015.

Dr. Katherine Gottlieb speaking at the 2015 Harry S. Hertz Leadership Award ceremony

At the Baldrige Program’s annual Quest for Excellence® Conference in early April, Gottlieb plans to share more about her organization’s successful practices for engaging customers using the Baldrige Excellence Framework (which includes the Health Care Criteria for Performance Excellence). Following are her responses to some questions about her organization’s approaches and results in relation to her upcoming presentation.


  1. Why is customer engagement important to your organization’s success?

Alaska Native people chose self-determination and, as a result, we own our health system. We changed everything. We call our patients “customer-owners,” and this reflects our approach to health care. We’re customers because we’ve built our health system around the 65,000 customer-owners we serve, putting what they want and need first. We’re owners because as Alaska Native people, we own our health system. We also own and take responsibility for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. We asked and continue to ask our customer-owners what they want and how we can improve.

Southcentral Foundation (SCF) has learned that for most health care, the customer-owner has the most control over health outcomes. Providers can prescribe medicines, treatments, and regimens, but it is the customer-owner who decides whether to follow through on the provider’s plans and treatments and also how they will follow through. Providers are certainly important, but each customer-owner determines how they will take care of themselves and the steps they will take to achieve overall wellness. SCF saw a significant decrease in hospitalizations and emergency visits from our customer-owners after we reformed our system to focus on partnering with customer-owners and working with them on their journey toward wellness, rather than just treating problems as they arose.

We continue to tailor and develop our system, and all change at SCF is driven by customer-owners through different engagement methods. We constantly solicit input and gather feedback from customer-owners to determine the changes and improvements we should make. Once customer-owners give direction for what to do, we implement changes on an organizational level to ensure that changes diffuse across SCF. By engaging customer-owners and ensuring that change is made in accordance with what they want, we ensure that customer-owners remain satisfied, and that SCF is effective at providing the care and services customer-owners need.


  1. Would you please share an example of your organization’s successful customer engagement practices?

We are present and accessible to customer-owners. Just walk in to one of our clinics, and you’ll see opportunities to provide feedback. Customer-owners can even email me directly, and I make sure our leadership hears their feedback and takes action. And we show customer-owners that we responded.

One of the examples of customer-owner engagement at SCF is our relationship-based care practice. Since customer-owners have more control over their own health outcomes than providers do, we implemented a system in which customer-owners form strong, long-term relationships with their providers. This relationship-based care system accomplishes two things. First, it helps the provider better understand the customer-owner and gain insight into the health issues they may be facing. And second, it builds trust between the customer-owner and the provider, which is critical to providers helping customer-owners make healthier choices in their lives. There are many more examples of how the system is designed around the voice of the customer-owner.

Our practice of relationship-based care has proven successful for our customer-owners. SCF recently undertook a major research project to investigate the effect of relationships between providers and customer-owners, collecting data from a sample of over 2,000 people. Through the research, SCF found that 93.5 percent of those in the sample agreed that a relationship is important to improve health outcomes. In addition, 76.8 percent of customer-owners reported having a relationship with their primary care provider, and this figure was substantiated through analysis of the CARE Measures (developed by Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities). And customer-owners who self-reported having a relationship with their primary care provider showed better health outcomes, such as higher self-reported health ratings and fewer emergency room visits.

doctor and child smiling

Courtesy of Southcentral Foundation


  1. What are a few practices you’d suggest for using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to support customer engagement?
  • Incorporate the Baldrige framework into employee training and help employees understand the Baldrige tools. SCF does this as early as possible, as part of new-hire orientation. When employees understand the framework and tools we use, it gives us a shared language and makes it easier to share ideas for improvement. For example, SCF uses the LeTCI evaluation tool [Baldrige results evaluation factors: Levels, Trends, Comparisons, and Integration] that allows us to take data and make sense of it at a basic level; we ensure that employees understand this tool to facilitate data-driven discussions.
  • Use the Baldrige [Criteria for Performance Excellence] questions to guide discussions about improvement. If SCF is particularly strong on a question, it allows us to identify what is working well and see if elements of that process can be incorporated elsewhere in the organization. If SCF is weak on a question, it allows us to identify opportunities for improvement and can also help guide the improvement process. At SCF, the Baldrige questions are part of our strategic planning process.
  • Give managers and leaders in the organization in-depth training on the Baldrige framework. At SCF, managers attend an in-house Baldrige training that is based on the Baldrige examiner training. Also, within our management foundations program, there is a course on Baldrige. Ground-level employees are exposed to the general Baldrige framework; the manager training is more in-depth, giving specifics on the Criteria and how they can guide decision making at a departmental level.


  1. What else might participants learn at your Quest conference session?

At SCF, we update our Baldrige [award] application annually. We identify what our strengths and opportunities are from the Baldrige framework and incorporate them into our strategic plan. Participants would learn about how we do this, and they would also gain insight into our strategic planning process.

At SCF, we have implemented a functional committee structure to handle day-to-day decision making that does not need to be addressed by corporate leadership. We established four committees that deal with operations, quality assurance, quality improvement, and process improvement. The structure supports decision making, communication, and knowledge transfer across the organization. Each committee consists of diverse membership with participation from across the organization. This encourages inclusiveness within all ranks of employees at SCF.

The committees and their subcommittees evaluate, define, and drive a robust focus on improvement and innovation that is committed to using the voice of the customer-owners and to strategically support work systems and improvement. The committees handle budget requests and strategic planning for the organization.


  1. What are a few key reasons that organizations in your sector can benefit from using the Baldrige framework?

The Baldrige framework is useful on many levels. At an organizational level, it’s always a useful tool with which to start a conversation about improvement. Making the questions part of the process for identifying what is working well and what needs improvement can greatly benefit an organization, no matter its size.

The framework can also be useful at smaller scale, even down to individual employees. At SCF, the Baldrige framework is part of the workforce competencies that are expected of every employee regardless of where they work in the organization. From providers to support staff to leadership, the Baldrige framework informs the competencies required for each position.

Finally, when employees understand the Baldrige framework, it makes discussions about improvement much easier and more productive because it provides a starting point that employees can use to guide those discussions. SCF expects employees to have at least a basic understanding of the Criteria, and this helps set our organization’s direction and implement the changes desired by SCF’s customer-owners.

To learn more from Gottlieb and other leaders of Baldrige Award recipient organizations in every sector, register now for the 29th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference.

Posted in Baldrige Award Recipients, Baldrige Criteria, Baldrige Events, Customer Focus, Health Care | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Using Baldrige to Support Our Military, Veterans

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

Support of the U.S. military and our Veterans has always been a core value for Americans.

And for the nonpartisan Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, when nonprofit organizations became eligible for the Baldrige Award in 2007, military bases, centers, agencies, and other units could receive feedback from trained Baldrige examiners on considerations to continuously improve their services. (VA and other military health care organizations were already eligible through the health care category.) In addition, Baldrige resources have supported the military and Veterans through Baldrige-based programs that have existed at various times at the five armed services branches, such as the Army Communities of Excellence, and within state Baldrige-based programs (the Alliance for Performance Excellence), as well as by the use of nonprescriptive and customizable Baldrige resources by any person or organization. Following are just some examples of how Baldrige has supported our military and Veterans through such endeavors.

Veteran support demonstrated at the Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center

Baldrige Award recipient the Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center is a federal government organization that supports multicenter clinical trials targeting current health issues for America’s veterans. The Center manufactures, packages, stores, labels, distributes, and tracks clinical trial materials (drugs and devices), and monitors patient safety.

According to Dr. Robert Ringer, assistant center director for pharmaceutical management and research, the Center’s work aims to benefit Veterans through clinical research, with the goal of improving health care outcomes that are particularly prevalent in the Veteran population.

“Rigorous clinical trials help us better understand and treat diseases and conditions that disproportionately affect those who served this great nation,” he said. “The culture of our Center is such that we believe we owe it to our Veterans to deliver the highest quality products and services to the research sites we serve. We believe the Baldrige Criteria has the strongest record of measuring and achieving performance excellence. The [Baldrige] model helps us more intensely scrutinize our operations and measure ourselves against organizations that are best in class to keep us focused on performing at the highest level.”

Lab work at the Center

The Center uses the Baldrige Excellence Framework, which includes the Criteria, to help it better understand its own systems and processes, and how to improve linkage and alignment across the organization, said Dr. Ringer; adding, “We observed a significant improvement in customer satisfaction and productivity, as well as higher employee engagement—all of which made the Center more capable of achieving our mission of improving health care outcomes.”

By receiving the Baldrige Award, the Veterans’ program at the Center demonstrated that performance excellence can be achieved in a federal organization. Also, Dr. Ringer said, by measurably improving its systems and processes, the Center was able to demonstrate real value to both Veterans and tax payers. Many improvements were achieved by learning from feedback, which was received after applying at Baldrige-based state, sector, and national levels, as well as participating in Baldrige site visits.

“We carefully reviewed each and every [opportunity for improvement] OFI generated by site visits from examiners from Baldrige, Quality New Mexico, and [The Secretary of Veterans Affairs’ Robert W. Carey Performance Excellence Award]. There are far too many OFIs to list here, but it is safe to say nearly every systematic process was improved in some way by implementing changes based on the OFI report,” he said.

Added Dr. Ringer, “For us, Baldrige principles and performance excellence have become part of our ‘standard procedures.’ We are a leaner, more productive organization—and continually look for ways to improve. [Baldrige] ties directly into our core mission, vision, and values. We believe we have one of the most noble jobs in America—to serve and care for those that served our country.”

Fort Campbell (Kentucky/Tennessee) received a 2016 Gold Award in the Army Communities of Excellence competition for supporting soldiers, families, and surrounding communities.

Brenda Lopez, program manager for the Army Communities of Excellence (ACOE) who works with the Texas Army National Guard, said during her tenure she has led cross-functional teams in developing and implementing key business processes, leading strategic planning sessions, and establishing a culture for continuous process improvements using the Baldrige framework.

“As a military leader and service member for over 16 years, . . . I learned several important key core values such as loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage, and . . . have a special interest in quality and improvement for both personal and professional settings,” said Lopez. Being a lead writer and examiner for the annual Baldrige-based ACOE performance assessment has allowed me to provide feedback for improvement to other National Guard states, she added.

“Throughout this [Baldrige] journey, I have acquired specific knowledge and comprehension in business operations and organizational excellence. My objective is to continue helping improve business operations through effective and systematic processes, and assisting [organizations to] become top-performing and professional models for all,” she said.

Lopez says she hopes to become a national Baldrige examiner to expand her analytical skills and knowledge about the different industries using the Baldrige model. “Additionally, becoming a Baldrige examiner will allow me to share best practices within my organization and improve the overall business operations for the Texas Army National Guard,” she added.

To read more about how Baldrige resources support the U.S. military and Veterans, here’s another story about Baldrige Award recipient U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center. There are also several stories about improved, streamlined performance being demonstrated by ACOE award winners, for example in Ohio and Wisconsin.

Posted in Baldrige Award Process, Baldrige Award Recipients, Baldrige Criteria, Baldrige State & Local Programs, Nonprofit, Performance Results | 2 Comments