Want to Improve Education? Why Process Management Matters

By Christine Schaefer

Since Pewaukee School District in Wisconsin earned a Baldrige Award in 2013, its superintendent, JoAnn Sternke, has often conveyed the benefits of the Baldrige Excellence Framework for U.S. education organizations. Through her presentations at best-practice-sharing conferences and frequent social media messages, Sternke has become a vocal ambassador encouraging her peers to adopt the Baldrige approach to make education institutions and systems across the country the best they can be for all students.

Interviewed recently about her planned presentation for the Baldrige Program’s annual Quest for Excellence® Conference in early April, Sternke said, “People in education should use the Baldrige framework because the stakes are high. We save lives in education by giving students the best learning opportunities possible.”

“We have to use the best management framework possible, and that’s Baldrige,” she explained. “If we are able to use that framework well, we will have more resources available to funnel into the classroom for learning.”

Head shot of JoAnn Sternke

Pewaukee School District Superintendent JoAnn Sternke

Sternke’s upcoming Quest presentation, “How to Manage Your Processes so They Don’t Manage You,” will focus on effective process management. Asked why this topic is important to an education organization’s success, Sternke pointed out that the processes an organization uses to accomplish its work “ultimately are customer experiences.”

Processes, she added, are “the tools by which we put our mission in action,” and effective process management “is the most important way we increase quality.”

Process Improvement: An Example

Sternke cited her school district’s hiring and onboarding process as “the process that has been the most transformative for our organization.” She explained that the process was improved to ensure that it would be effective in meeting the requirements (or needs) of those who use and benefit from it. A key adjustment, Sternke said, is that “we make sure that we see every teacher teach [as part of the hiring process] … which is not usual.”

This improvement has made the process “a little more time-consuming,” Sternke acknowledged. But she stressed the returns on that investment: “We’ve raised our hiring ability, the qualifications of the people we hire is better, the timeliness is better.”

Students and teacher focus on calendar at table

Photo courtesy of Pewaukee School District

Three Tips

For those who plan to use the Baldrige Excellence Framework to support effective process management, Sternke suggests the following as overall guidelines:

  1. Know your user requirements—what it is that you want the process to do. Talk to the consumers and users of the process, internal and external. Referring to her district’s teacher hiring process, Sternke said, “We wanted to see the people who will have the most impact in the classroom. Going out and seeing teacher candidates teach is now the most important step in the process for us.”
  2. Measure your user requirements. “Those become the metrics for the process,” Sternke said. “You get great results when you’re measuring the right stuff.
  3. Make sure every process has an owner. “People really need to know who is the go-to person to make changes to the process and manage it,” said Sternke. “It gets harder to identify that person as processes get bigger and there are so many users.”

What else might Quest attendees learn from Sternke about process management? “I’m a big believer in making the complex simple,” she replied. “So I’m going to be identifying five simple steps to manage processes. I want people to see that it isn’t magical and [can be] easy to understand.”

During the recent interview, Sternke also shared her “biggest wish” for U.S. elementary and secondary schools, offering this recommendation for education leaders everywhere: “Focus on student opportunity and student equity as those are key influences for student learning … to ensure that all students are well-served across our country whether they are rich or poor, in public schools or private, very able or very needy.”

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

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