A Word for Hectic Lives

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

I recently returned from the ASQ World Conference in Milwaukee, WI. After going through security in Terminal C at the Milwaukee Airport, there was an area (as is typical) for putting shoes back on, and reassembling belongings and yourself. What was different this time, was a sign hanging over this area that read: Recombobulation Area. The meaning was clear and the result was a smile, a chuckle, and the immediate easing of the stress that accompanies the 20160517_104205challenges of travel and needed airport security. When I returned home, I googled recombobulation. The first thing I learned was that the word is defined in the Urban Dictionary, as follows: 1. Something being put back the way it was, or into proper working order.  No surprise there. Next, I learned from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the sign was created in the airport maintenance shop in 2008 as a way of alleviating stress on airport personnel and travelers.

What caught me somewhat off guard was the Urban Dictionary’s second definition of recombobulation: 2. Gathering one’s thoughts or composure. Sure, why not have this meaning also. It caused me to think.

I am not proposing the addition of recombobulation to the Baldrige glossary of key terms or the Baldrige Excellence Framework. I am suggesting that we all establish a real or virtual recombobulation space in our workplace (and maybe our homes). Why might this be worthwhile?

  • It may allow decompression after a tough commute to work and before interacting with colleagues or customers.
  • After a stressful meeting, it can allow a calming period.
  • It could prevent a stressful colleague or customer interaction from affecting the next interaction.
  • Meetings could start with an intentional minute of recombobulation time to gather thoughts rather than diving right in to content.
  • It is a great segue into some thinking and reflection time.
  • Just seeing the image of the word in our minds may cause a smile and change of attitude from negative to positive.
  • It should encourage a mindset of operational excellence and win-win outcomes.

Thank you Milwaukee, for a great ASQ conference and insight into a simple mode of attitude adjustment! How might you and your organization effectively use recombobulation space and time?


Posted in Customer Focus, Leadership, Workforce Focus | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Tying Sustainability and Operational Excellence to Leadership

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

A recent article “Why Microsoft Gave Sustainability a Promotion” by Joel Makower and a recent interview with best-selling author Daniel Pink, in which we talked about authority, made me think again about the importance of having the C-suite involved in operational excellence initiatives like the Baldrige Excellence Framework, which provides considerations for leaders to follow to attain success now and in the future. Such initiatives, to me—with evidence provided by the success of the Baldrige Award recipients themselves—are intrinsically linked to sustainability and shouldn’t be simply delegated to a single department that is not tied as closely as possible to leadership.

According to Makower, in 2015, Microsoft’s chief sustainability strategist began reporting to the corporate vice president, who reports to the company’s president and chief legal officer, who in turn reports to the CEO. Previously, the chief sustainability strategist reported to the company’s public-sector division, a couple rungs lower on the organizational ladder and further removed from the C-suite.

The chief sustainability strategist is quoted as saying, “It’s an acceleration, amplification and prioritization of sustainability within the company. It’s now a cross-company initiative that has a center of gravity in the president’s office.”

The importance of sustainability as having a “center of gravity” with senior leaders–who have the authority for an organization’s mission, vision, and values–has always been part of the Baldrige Excellence Framework; the framework’s Leadership category specifically asks questions to guide senior leaders on how to build an organization that is successful now and in the future. Considerations for senior leaders include the creation of an environment for achievement of the mission, a workforce culture that fosters customer engagement, and an environment for innovation; organizational learning; and succession planning. According to the framework, factors in an organization’s sustainability might include workforce capability and capacity, resource availability, technology, knowledge, core competencies, work systems, facilities, and equipment—all elements that are considered in the framework.

An Industry Week article The Politics of Improvement: The Challenge of Getting Company Leaders’ Buy-In” also noted the importance of leadership’s role in sustainability and improvement initiatives, something I wrote about in “Tips to Bring Execs on Board.”

How closely are your sustainability and improvement initiatives tied to your senior leaders?

Posted in Baldrige Award Recipients, Baldrige Criteria, Business, Leadership, Operations Focus, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“Baldrige is the Secret”: A Veteran School Reformer Describes the Framework’s Value

By Christine Schaefer

Nancy Timmons has served as a Baldrige examiner for two years. She has served as an educational leader and reformer over three decades (and counting!). An enthusiastic advocate of the Baldrige Excellence Framework for education, Timmons recently shared with me how she’s been using her training and experience as a Baldrige examiner to continue guiding school improvements in recent years.

Dr. Nancy Timmons head shot

Dr. Nancy Timmons

From Fort Worth to Philadelphia and Beyond

Timmons began her career in education as a teacher in a small school district near Austin, Texas. She later worked in the Temple Independent School District in Temple, Texas. She joined the Fort Worth (TX) Independent School District in 1987, ascending through a series of administrative positions. Finally, she served as associate superintendent, which she described as the equivalent of a chief academic officer, a position from which she officially retired in 2001.

Shortly afterwards, Timmons was approached by the School District of Philadelphia, PA, requesting her assistance with a project to improve student achievement throughout the system. She was recommended for the work by the Council of the Great City Schools, in Washington, D.C., for which she had volunteered for a number of years on instructional reviews.

Timmons worked with the Philadelphia district for approximately four years, serving as a consultant under an initially “brand-new” superintendent. “We rewrote the curriculum and aligned it to the Pennsylvania [education] standards,” she recalled. The district continued the school improvements for several years, she noted, until the next superintendent discontinued the efforts.

In the early 2000s, Timmons landed what she considered a dream job: supporting a collaborative effort by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Darden School of Business to support school district improvements in multiple states. Again, she had been recommended by the Council of the Great City Schools for the position. Timmons led a team of school “experts” to conduct instructional reviews in school districts in six states.

For the past few years, Timmons has been serving the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) once again. As an executive consultant, she helps guide improvements based on a comprehensive, district-wide audit that produced a 400-plus-page report in the fall of 2012. “Having been an auditor, I know the boilerplate [of such reports],” said Timmons, “but it took at least 80 hours to review it and wrap my arms around it.”

The superintendent asked her to “point us in the right direction,” she said. But after perusing the report, she said she wondered, “How will I manage such a huge task?” “Can I be successful?” Yet she felt that “I owed it to her former district to give it my best shot,” so she took the assignment.

Today Timmons works out of the office of the district’s chief academic officer. She started the improvement work by guiding district staff members through “a series of Plan–Do–Study–Act” cycles. She also set up five teams, composed of central-office administrators, to lead action plans to carry out improvements based on the audit findings. Timmons’ role now is to provide ongoing guidance. “I believe if you don’t monitor and support people through something this big, it doesn’t happen,” she said.

Baldrige as a Backdrop and Basis for Improvements

While Timmons’ team members have not been trained as Baldrige examiners, she said they “are learning [the Baldrige Criteria] by using it.”

“I use the Baldrige Criteria as a backdrop,” she explained. “For example, if we have a leadership issue, I think about the questions [asked in the “Leadership” category of the Criteria] … to help me pose a question [to help the school system improve].”

Timmons also uses the Baldrige Criteria’s scoring system as a basis for approaches and tools that promote and track district improvements. For example, she created scorecards based on the Baldrige Criteria Scoring System that link the district’s audit findings with strategic goals and action plans (the template is shown in the graphic below). The scorecards thus connect the four major goals of the district’s strategic plan to the improvements related to the audit findings.

Timmons' scorecard template

Timmons’ scorecard template

“Throughout the school year,” Timmons said, “we use the Baldrige scoring criteria to help the teams become more mature in their processes.” In addition, she said she uses the Baldrige evaluation factors as she and district staff members review results, looking at levels, trends, comparisons, and integration (known to Baldrige examiners as LeTCI).

In late spring—which Timmons said is the “evaluative stage” for the school district every year—the focus of her district-level teams and school-based leaders becomes the evaluation of results (through the Baldrige review lens of levels, trends, comparisons, and integration) as well as planning improvements for the next school year. “That’s continuous improvement,” she said, again noting a Baldrige concept.

The district has had a new superintendent for about six months now, and Timmons said she’s been pleased by his commitment to continuing the improvement work. “We have not yet arrived,” she said, but she also indicated that she’s pleased with the “results that we’ve shown so far.”

Reflecting on the progress made since 2012, Timmons said, “I don’t think something this large could have been accomplished … had I not had the Baldrige [framework] to guide me through it.”

“The [Baldrige Criteria] scoring criteria force you to not get stuck at one stage,” she added. “I think [Baldrige] is the secret to whatever success we’ve had in responding to this audit.”

Posted in Baldrige Criteria, Baldrige Examiners, Education | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Orchestra Faces Bankruptcy, Meets Baldrige, Brings Beautiful Music Back to Life

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

Think back to the last time you experienced a live orchestra. How did the music make you feel?

NMP cello bass-Feb 25Some say music experienced in a live venue, especially classical music, can transcend you to another time and place, to a world of beauty or tragedy or even suspense. An orchestra can reawaken senses and emotions. Researchers say, if you close your eyes, live music can actually have physiological effects and help us learn, focus attention, and feel rejuvenated.

So why are so many American orchestras in a time of crisis? See, for example, “American Orchestras: A Time of Crisis or Rebirth?”, “Why Music Is Important: The Orchestra Crisis,” “Who’s Afraid of Symphony Orchestras?”, and “Cities and Symphonies: Will the Music Stop?” According to Anne Midgette of The Washington Post, “Given the turmoil across the country as orchestras battle financial duress, and strikes and lockouts lead to concert cancellations, some might ask what exactly there is to celebrate.”

But there is something to celebrate in New Mexico. These journalists may not have heard the story of the New Mexico Philharmonic (NMPhil) and its board of directors, led by president Maureen Baca, who also happens to be a Baldrige Alumni Examiner. NMPhil was created from the bankruptcy of its predecessor and has become the flagship classical music organization in the state, performing for more than 40,000 audience members each season and becoming a vital part of New Mexico’s cultural scene at a time when orchestras around the country are failing.

So how did Baca and her colleagues do it?

In 2011, Baca, who said she felt a personal loss when the 79-year-old New Mexico Symphony Orchestra declared bankruptcy, received an invitation to join the newly incorporated NMPhil. But she said she would accept only if the organization would let her help it improve its processes—if they existed at all. She used the Baldrige Excellence Framework to bring clarity to purpose and process; a common language for all involved; and a focus on outcomes, with clear strategic objectives that included measurable action plans.

It all started in April 2011 when the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1932, declared bankruptcy, the path to which was paved during the 2008 recession (this has also been the fate of many other U.S. orchestras). In addition, analysis indicates an increasing trend in local, regional, and national foundations reducing or eliminating funding to the arts. Baca said this trend stems from the reduction and elimination of arts education in most public schools 20 to 30 years ago; people now in senior leadership positions in companies and foundations grew up with little to no background in the arts. And, said Baca, the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra had faced a perfect storm: budget growth beyond community capacity, dramatic changes in the economy, unsustainable overhead, labor/management issues, personality/individual issues, and no apparent systematic processes.

Right before the orchestra went bankrupt, NMPhil was incorporated. Following the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra bankruptcy, NMPhil was advised by its lawyers to “go live,” activate its board of directors, and raise funds to purchase the orchestra’s music library. By the fall of 2011, NMPhil had successfully raised over $100,000 to purchase key assets to begin operations, hired an executive director from restricted funds from an anonymous donor, and began performing its first season.

NM Phil in Popejoy

Baca said the work to sustain NMPhil began in 2011 by helping the organization understand process: linked activities that can be repeated and improved; produce results for the organization; and include combinations of people, techniques, and improvements in a defined series of steps. In this work, she used her life-long passion for classical music, passion for Baldrige and process-based organizations, and 20+ years’ experience applying the Baldrige framework to organizations.

At the start, Baca said her success came from keeping it simple, being patient, and showing how processes can make life better. Meetings started going from having vague minutes, unclear decisions, and little to no follow up, to being structured, with clarity of decisions, action items identified and closed, and improved outcomes and satisfaction. She said board members saw immediate results, and their work became more productive; “they did not even know that we had started on a quality journey with Baldrige.”

The focus on process continued through the selection of a new executive director and strategic planning (this is where she was able to really create believers, said Baca). This work was especially important, said Baca, because NMPhil did not have a strategic plan, vision, mission, objectives, goals, or action plans. As part of strategic planning, all key stakeholders were interviewed for data gathering, self-assessments of strengths and opportunities for improvement, and NMPhil’s challenges and advantages. An environmental scan of external factors was also done. The biggest result, said Baca, was that the executive director and board became believers in the value of process.

From here, said Baca, a Baldrige based, process-focus culture was born, beginning with workforce-focused processes, including for volunteers; product/service processes; and a new focus on measurement and management by fact.

In 2013, based on the Venezuelan concept “teach children the beauty of music, and music will teach them the beauty of life,” NMPhil began the Young Musician Initiative, an in-depth music education program for economically challenged public school students offered in partnership with Albuquerque Public Schools (APS). But more than just music education happened. Students in the Young Musician Initiative now outperform other APS students and National Dance Institute children in academics, and their behavioral results and attitudes about life have improved. Baca said the music program has become a model for other after-school programs “because we track results.”

candids042“We are all proud to say we are process-based,” said Baca. “We leverage what we do, we make no mistake twice, we learn from each other, and we continue to move from being dependent on individuals to relying on our processes.” She added, “If NMPhil, a small arts organization, can be process-based, develop its strategy, deploy its action plans, track its results, manage by data . . . so can any organization.”

Now in its fifth season, the nonprofit NMPhil has become the state’s major professional orchestra, with 74 professional, conservatory-trained musicians; 6 full-time staff; 5 contract staff; 15 board members; and 40 guild members (volunteers). It has a $2 million budget ($1 million earn, $1 million donated) and offers two categories of products:  concerts provided to paying audience members and education programs provided to public school children at no cost to parents or students.

“Effective business management enables NMPhil to fulfill its mission and meet expectations within an extremely small budget,” said Baca. “Agility is requisite for sustainability because revenue streams can change in a single week, visiting artists and conductors can cancel at the last minute, and venues can be impacted by weather and unexpected emergencies.”

In support of orchestras, according to the League of American Orchestras, “Orchestral music making . . . encourage[es] creativity and bring[s] people together to share the experience of live music. Orchestras fuel local economies, attract new business development, educate young people, and—through the power of music—unite individuals and cultures in times of public celebration and healing.”

The League should check out how NMPhil, with the Baldrige framework and its focus on processes as its guide, is making this vision a reality.

Posted in Baldrige Criteria, Business, Customer Focus, Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management, Performance Results, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

What Is a Leader to Do?

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

I recently read an HBR blog by Sunnie Giles that reported the results of a study of 195 leaders representing 30 global organizations.The leaders were asked to identify the most leadership targetimportant competencies for leadership. The study reminded me of a complementary article in Forbes by Glenn Llopsis,  about the competencies employees expect in their leadership. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two studies and also look at the overlap with the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence requirements related to leadership.

The top seven leadership competencies in the eyes of leaders (per Giles) are:

  1. High ethical and moral standards
  2. Setting goals and objectives and then empowering employees to achieve
  3. Clearly communicating expectations
  4. Flexibility to change opinions and admit mistakes
  5. Committing to ongoing employee training
  6. Communicating often and openly
  7. Being open to new ideas

The top seven expectations of leadership as expressed by employees (per Llopsis) are:

  1. Specificity in expectations
  2. Empowering employees to achieve
  3. Sharing her/his vulnerabilities
  4. Honesty
  5. Demonstrating personal accountability
  6. Showing respect for employees
  7. Authenticity

While the language is somewhat different in the two presentations, there is a lot of overlap. I must admit, I have always believed, as the leaders do in the HBR study that a key expectation of leadership is open, frequent, and two-way communication. While some of the employees’ expectations in the Forbes article require communication, it is not specifically called out as a top employee expectation. Yet when we visit organizations on Baldrige site visits, no matter how effective communication is, we usually hear an employee desire for more communication.Furthermore, Baldrige Award recipients are generally role models for effective two-way communication.

Baldrige role models also demonstrate their commitment to learning as an organization and to personal learning and development of employees. While empowerment (identified in both studies) requires knowledge, the employees did not specifically call out the need for leadership commitment to employee development.

Looking at the employees’ expectations of leaders, they identified both respect and authenticity, which were absent in the leaders’ set of top competencies. Many of the competencies the leaders chose imply a respect for employees, such as empowering them, openness to their ideas,  and willingness to admit mistakes to them, but respect is not specifically mentioned.

The one term that appears to me to be truly unique to the Forbes study is authenticity. Authenticity requires a level of empathy and personal sharing that was not included in the leaders’ description of needed competencies.

Taking a step back and looking at the Baldrige criteria, there are two of the characteristics that are not specifically identified in criteria questions. Those characteristics are sharing vulnerabilities and authenticity, both in the employees’ expectations of leaders. Indeed authenticity would require a degree of admitting to vulnerabilities. Many of the Baldrige questions when taken in aggregate would lead to leaders sharing their vulnerabilities and to their being authentic, but we do not specifically ask how they demonstrate these competencies.

As we approach the next criteria revision cycle, I am interested in how people feel about adding specific references to vulnerability and authenticity to the criteria requirements for senior leadership (item 1.1) or to the visionary leadership core value. I welcome your thoughts!

And while you ponder that question, I ask leaders and employees to think about both lists of competencies and see how your organization performs.

Posted in Baldrige Criteria, Leadership, Workforce Focus | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments