By Christine Schaefer
While the annual online application for the 2017 Board of Examiners is open (until January 9, 6 p.m., ET), we are featuring another interview this week of a Baldrige examiner who has served in recent years. Competitively selected, these volunteers hail from many states, sectors, and professions. Following is an interview of (James) Chris Mitchell from Georgia. A quality advisor within the Georgia Department of Human Services, Chris has served on the Board of Examiners for the past two years.
1. Would you please share how you first became interested in becoming a Baldrige examiner?
In 2012, I accepted a new position as the quality advisor for the Georgia Department of Human Services’ Division of Aging Services. In this role, I’ve served as the organization’s Baldrige champion.
While researching resources for assessing an organization’s performance, I discovered many great tools that helped familiarize me with the Baldrige process; those tools of course included the Baldrige Criteria [part of the Baldrige Excellence Framework]. The more I learned, the more I understood the importance and value of the Baldrige framework to an organization and how using the Criteria can empower organizations to reach performance excellence.
2. What were your impressions and highlights of your first training [the Examiner Preparation Course]? What have been highlights for you of annual examiner training in subsequent years?
In the beginning, I soaked up all things Baldrige through reading (and occasionally watching a YouTube video). After gaining a strong foundation, I began surrounding myself with individuals with knowledge of the Criteria.
Soon thereafter, I applied for my statewide program [the Georgia Oglethorpe Award Process, Inc., a member of the nonprofit Alliance for Performance Excellence, a national network of state-level and regional Baldrige-based programs] and was given the opportunity to serve as an examiner. That process was very rewarding.
Afterward, I was given the privilege to serve as an examiner at the national level. My first training on the national level was intense; however, it was extremely rewarding. I was most impressed by the talent level of all of the selected examiners at the training. This was especially true for the senior and alumni examiners. It is not often that experienced individuals get to train alongside those with little to no experience. For me, the opportunities to network and learn from seasoned professionals was extremely valuable.
It has been a pleasure to serve as a national Baldrige examiner. For me, a major highlight of this experience is the opportunity to build relationships with other examiners. All the examiners I have met have been willing to share their knowledge and help out in any way possible. On numerous occasions, I have contacted senior examiners via email and telephone to ask Criteria-related questions. I’m always pleased with their receptiveness and willingness to help.
3. Without naming applicants, of course, would you please share some memorable learning experiences you’ve had as an examiner on Consensus Review teams?
Consensus Review (CR) may be my favorite stage of the application review process. During CR, examiners have the opportunity to truly learn the applicant at a pace they can control. It is also a great time for new examiners to bounce ideas off more seasoned examiners and ask questions.
The CR process is a truly integrated learning process. Many examiners even contact each other via telephone outside of scheduled CR calls to make sure they understand how a particular process within an organization works or how processes within the organization align with each other.
A memorable learning experience for me during CR is seeing firsthand the benefits of a well-organized CR call, which included structured meeting roles. For example, a recent team I served on had an excellent “Criteria cop.” This person ensured that all discussions and comments were limited to what was specified in the Criteria.
4. Similarly, would you please share some memorable learning experiences you’ve had as an examiner on a site visit?
The site visit (SV) is very enjoyable for an examiner when he or she has a good understanding of the Criteria and the applicant. SV is very fast paced, with little time for learning on the fly. However, each team will have senior members that are always willing to help.
A very memorable experience for me was being able to serve on a team that was tasked with reviewing an organization that conducted business over a large geographical area. Each team member went above and beyond to learn the complexities of the organization and supplied maximum effort to speak to a large number of the organization’s employees from many of its locations. It was truly a team effort. We were challenged with learning the complexities of the organization, speaking with a large number of the employees, and producing an excellent report for the applicant. The work resulted in a well-written report that added value for the organization.
5. How have you applied learning from your service as a Baldrige examiner to your work in a public-sector organization?
Overall, understanding the Baldrige Criteria through my experience as a Baldrige examiner has been invaluable. It has changed the way I think about continuous quality improvement and performance excellence.
It starts with Baldrige’s Core Values and Concepts. These concepts can be modeled by any organization. In fact, my organization’s values were developed and have been reviewed and revised with Baldrige’s Core Values and Concepts in mind.
Additionally, the Criteria have given me a greater appreciation for data and results. Many organizations (like mine) have what are perceived to be excellent programs and processes. Being an examiner has taught me that in order for the programs and processes to truly be excellent, they must have results to support the claim.
Baldrige has also taught me that an organization’s pursuit of excellence doesn’t stop with having data—having comparative data that are segmented to display strengths and opportunities for improvement in specific areas is also important.
6. How do your colleagues/family/friends view your service as a Baldrige examiner?
It is very important for Baldrige examiners to protect the privacy of the program’s applicants. Because of this, we can’t share applicant information—not even with close family or friends. Since I am unable to share much Baldrige info. (while serving on an evaluation team) with my family, the running joke at my house is that I’m moonlighting for the FBI. While it has been a privilege and honor to serve the good citizens of America domestically, in future years as a Baldrige examiner I may request to analyze information on an international level. (CIA anyone? LOL)