When a Community Profiles Itself: What We’re Learning

By Christine Schaefer

Baldrige Award recipients and other users of the Organizational Profile (PDF) have described the value of this set of 26 questions about an organization’s structure and strategic situation. Answering these questions— which form the preface to the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence (within every Baldrige Excellence Framework booklet)—provides the basis for an organization to use the Baldrige framework to gauge its strengths and opportunities for improvement. That’s because the unique key factors spelled out by an organization in its Organizational Profile become the context for assessing its performance in the areas of leadership; strategy; customers; knowledge management; workforce; operations; and results—the seven categories of a complete Baldrige Criteria assessment.

If you have filled out such a profile for a single organization—whether a business or nonprofit, health care, or education organization—you may be curious how the questions are being adapted and used in a community setting today. You may wonder, for instance, how a community that has committed to advancing its interests as a unified group but that, nonetheless, has diverse stakeholders from a variety of sectors and organizations defines its leadership, key offerings, strategic challenges and advantages, and so forth.

Insights on such considerations emerged from a recent workshop for participants in the San Diego pilot site of the Communities of Excellence 2026 (COE 2026) initiative. (For background, see previous posts “Update on Communities of Excellence 2026” and “Community-Focused Excellence: Something New on the Horizon.”) In late June, staff members from the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) South Region used the workshop to begin developing their region’s community profile.

The group used a draft version of the Community Profile that was recently developed by COE 2026 staff, Ellen Garshick of the Baldrige Program, and Brian Lassiter of the COE 2026 board of directors. The Community Profile questions are organized into five sections—Community Environment, Community Relationships, Competitive Environment, Strategic Context, and Performance Improvement System—which are translated from the five sections of the Organizational Profile.

According to Garshick, who facilitated the workshop, the section that asks a community to define its leaders and leadership structure (see graphic below) stimulated a lot of discussion during the workshop. “In an organization, there’s an existing leadership structure, but in a community setting, that structure may not yet be in place,” Garshick explained. For a community, she added, leadership is often shared across various sectors and diverse stakeholder groups, which is why the Community Profile uses the term collaborative leadership structure.

Questions extracted from the draft Community Profile

Two questions extracted from the draft Community Profile

Garshick and Norling both said the workshop helped capture valuable feedback on the draft Community Profile instrument. That feedback, said Norling, included “clarifications about the ways in which a community might want to consider competition, for example, in relation to its offerings and its assets and with other cities.”

“There was concern regarding whether competition is an appropriate consideration for a community given that we are working towards the health and well-being of all residents,” said Norling. “In the context of the profile [competition] serves as a backdrop for who they are and gets to their benchmarks.”

Added Garshick, “While communities want to collaborate with other communities, the fact is that sometimes there is competition between them. To reflect this reality, we learned that maybe we need to revise the question What is your community’s competitive position relative to similar or nearby communities? to What is your community’s collaborative and competitive position relative to similar or nearby communities?

For the workshop participants, the exercise was “a first step in their journey to excellence,” Norling said. “The team that went through the workshop will be meeting with … pilot region community partners, resident groups, and others to compile the community profile. We expect this profile gathering phase to last about two months. At the next South Region leadership team meeting in September, we will present the profile information for feedback. The hope is that each partner involved with Live Well San Diego [the community-wide wellness campaign that has embraced the COE 2026 model] will choose to adopt this profile within their organization.”

To learn more about the COE 2026 initiative and view the complete Community Profile of the Communities of Excellence Framework, contact the initiative’s managing director, Stephanie Norling, and visit the website at www.coe2026.org.


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