Public-Sector Excellence: The Promise of the Baldrige Framework

Posted by Christine Schaefer

Following is another story that exemplifies how the Baldrige framework for performance excellence can help public-sector organizations better serve their communities. In particular, this is an account of how the framework has been used in the city of Los Angeles to ensure operational excellence in the delivery of government-funded career-training and other human services to local residents.

I recently spoke with Manuel Chavez, an assistant general manager with the City of Los Angeles, to learn more about how he has long promoted the adoption of the Baldrige Criteria to better serve residents. As a member of the management team of the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) today, Chavez oversees operations related to city housing programs.

Photo of Manuel Chavez

Manuel (“Manny”) Chavez

“The city has been dabbling in Baldrige for more than 20 years,” Chavez said. His department, which was reorganized and renamed last July, is one of at least three city departments that have used the Baldrige framework over the past decade or more, according to Chavez. (Others include the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Los Angeles Convention Center.)

Federal legislation—starting with the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998—has made local workforce boards throughout the United States responsible for ensuring that community-based employment and training programs “operate at a high level of quality and satisfy the expectations and needs of their customers.” As the boards oversee independent organizations that use federal funding to provide career training services to local communities, the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence have been used to ensure that agencies operating local career centers meet quality standards and to promote continuous improvement in their program operations, among other aims.

“The WIA legislation promoted the concept of one-stop centers for job seekers to avail themselves of services common at any site throughout the country,” Chavez said. “In the City of Los Angeles and in the county, we explored use of Baldrige framework as the [WIA] legislation required use of a process to certify the level of excellence by service providers.”

Eventually, Chavez’s department (then the Community Development Department) refined its approach to fully adopt the Baldrige Criteria through its involvement with the California Council for Excellence—a state partner of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program that administers the California Awards for Performance Excellence (CAPE) awards. As the City of Los Angeles was subcontracting with community-based organizations to provide career-training services, Chavez said, it required all the WIA-funded contractors to apply for a CAPE award to ensure and promote operational quality. His city department also committed to apply for CAPE award. This is how “we began our journey into the performance excellence arena,” said Chavez, recalling that by the mid-2000s, two operational and one administrative divisions of his department had applied for the state-level Baldrige awards.

When Chavez was reassigned six years ago to the division providing human services within the city’s Community Development Department, he brought the Baldrige Criteria with him. In particular, he ensured that staff members received Baldrige Criteria training and used the framework in managing programs of the department.

He recalled that the department was then “funding about 130 organizations [providing human services] at about $50,000 each, and the model was not very efficient.” Under his leadership, the department in 2008 redesigned the delivery system around the WIA-based one-stop service-center model and reduced the number of human services providers to 21. As Chavez oversaw the establishment of the new service-delivery centers, called Family Source Centers, he made sure that all staff members were trained as Baldrige examiners so that they knew how to apply the Baldrige framework to ensure operational excellence.

“The new model was focused on being accountable, transparent, and—most important—outcome-oriented,” he said. The new contractors were also required to apply for CAPE awards, he added. By 2010, all 21 Family Source Centers had received a CAPE award, and the Community Development Department received a CAPE award in 2011.

But all this did not happen without challenges, according to Chavez.

“Within the department itself, we had some real obstacles, especially internal politics—not everyone was supportive of the [Baldrige improvement] journey,” he said.

After the Housing and Community Development Departments were realigned and renamed last year and Chavez became one of four assistant general managers, he pulled managers of the new bureau together and developed a strategic plan and scorecard. He said the Housing and Community Investment Department’s general manager is supportive of the scorecard approach to measuring performance and now “wants to take this department-wide.”

Among others he credits for the efforts under way, Chavez said that Grace Benedicto, acting as the performance excellence director within the Knowledge Management and Evaluation Unit of the housing department, “keeps us focused.” Benedicto served as a national Baldrige examiner in 2007 and 2008.

Given that the department spends federal funds, Chavez said, it contracted with California State University at Northridge to measure program success. For four years now, the university has prepared reports that, according to Chavez, show that “for the $50 million we’re spending [in federal funds], we’re getting double the return on that investment.”

That was not necessarily the case before the department adopted Baldrige practices.

“To put it simply, folks were spending a lot of federal dollars without knowing what the return was. No one was focused on outcomes,” said Chavez. “What Baldrige forced us to do was focus on outcomes. We [now] have a saying in our bureau, ‘if you can’t measure it, don’t do it.’”

A key benefit of using the Baldrige Criteria, he added, is that “it has given us a private-sector approach” to work in the public sector.

“It has gotten us to function as a business. Even in this area [public sector], you must operate as a business,” he said. “You have a market share. You have competitors. And you must focus on customer satisfaction. If you are regularly asking your customers if they are satisfied, it changes the way the public sector works.”

In addition, he said, the Baldrige framework has given his organization a way to standardize services across the city.

“We’re really excited that our new mayor is headed in this direction” said Chavez, suggesting that the Baldrige framework may be widely used to manage city service delivery. “We think we have a unique opportunity.”

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One Response to Public-Sector Excellence: The Promise of the Baldrige Framework

  1. Ramon Troiano says:

    ….Interesting article…I was employed in the public sector for a good part of my working career…good to see examples of “continuous improvement”.

    Ramon Troiano
    rjt43tro@twc.com

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