Where Improving Results Means Saving More Lives

By Christine Schaefer

Last spring, Mid-America Transplant was honored as the first organ and tissue procurement organization in America to earn the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for excellence. In the days following the national award ceremony in Baltimore, leaders of the St. Louis-based nonprofit told the story of Mid-America Transplant’s journey to excellence and shared their insights and successful practices during the Baldrige Program’s annual Quest for Excellence® Conference.

Early next month, Mid-America Transplant President and CEO Diane Brockmeier will return to Baltimore for the annual Quest conference. This year, her presentation, “Strategies to Implementation: How People Make the Difference,” will share how her organization integrated its strategic planning with other organizational processes to boost its performance—thus saving more lives through organ and tissue transplants.

“Because we’re such a people-centric business, one of our key learnings has been [the need] to have a systematic process to review workforce planning,” Brockmeier told me recently, noting that Mid-America Transplant’s workforce is currently about 165-people strong. “Having that process has really ensured that we have the right people with the right skills at the right time to deliver what our families and [organ and tissue] recipients need.”

Head shot of Diane Brockmeier, President and CEO of Mid-America Transplant

Diane Brockmeier, President and CEO of Mid-America Transplant

Following are more highlights of the recent conversation with Brockmeier.


How has integration of your processes contributed to your organization’s success?

We measure our success as lives saved, and our mission statement is, “We save lives through excellence in organ and tissue donation.” So I think that we have found that the more we can be process- and data-driven, the more we can ensure that we measure the right things, and the more we can ensure that we’re delivering the right experiences, not only to our customers but also to the rest of the stakeholders. Those processes have really made a difference in our trajectory as we’ve increased organ and tissue transplants year after year.

We had a record-breaking 2016 as defined by multiple donation metrics. We have metrics for both organ and tissue donation. In 2016 we reported a record number of tissue donors, and it was the second-highest year ever on the organ donation side [of our operations].

So we’ve continued to hold the gains that we experienced in 2015 and 2016. … On our journey from 2003 to the current time, those trend lines look remarkable for organs transplanted and tissue donors.

For us, a number is not just a dollar or a widget; it actually is about saving lives and improving the lives of those we work with. That’s why the continued improvement [of our results] is so important.”Photo showing hand with organ transplant document

Would you please describe an example of a key process improvement you’ve made?

One of my key learnings over the continuum of our 12+-year journey is to find better ways to do workforce planning. One of the things we implemented and that we’ve continued to refine is quarterly capability and capacity meetings (instead of at the year’s end). [In the beginning] we didn’t have a very robust process to plan for workforce needs.

[Now] managers come to meetings prepared with data to justify staffing decisions (e.g., time worked, staffing needs regarding training, volume). These data become part of our strategic planning … which is a year-long process.

And this [workforce planning] has been so important to us because everything we do is related to people.

What are your top tips for others about using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to support improvements?

  • Don’t try to create [a Baldrige initiative] as a side job; make sure it becomes the way you work. That realization that it’s not a parallel track, that it’s actually embedded and the way we do our work, was a key learning for us.
  • Make innovation part of what you do every day to get better. We’ve made sure innovation is an integrated process, and it’s reflected in our core values. We’ve been able to create innovation teams that are multidisciplinary, and they’ve been able to work on a host of issues across the last several years, from rewards and recognition, to communication, to how we manage part of our day-to-day work. So these innovation teams have become a key piece of our work and our learning.
  • Integrate data into an effective performance management system. A real learning for us was that we had to ensure that we were actually measuring the right things. Early on we would change metrics almost every month after leadership met. … Establishing a series of cascading scorecards that go from top line all the way down to the individual performance tool has really made a difference for us to make sure that we keep the key things, the right things, in front of people all the time while they’re doing their work.
  • Make sure you’re obtaining and using meaningful comparative data. We were always a very data-rich organization. Initially there was very little publicly available comparison information in our industry. So we created a comparative data process and really had to work to obtain comparisons. … We had to create affinity groups to create meaningful comparisons. You have to make sure you’re getting better, and that you’re getting better at the same rate or better than others are. In the absence of [such data], it’s really hard to quantify your improvement.
  • Make sure that your key personnel understand the Baldrige framework. You just get a much richer experience if you understand it and can apply it from all sides. We made a commitment as an organization that we’d train our entire leadership system to be state or national examiners. … We’ve made sure that it’s not just one person who has all the answers or that really understands strategic planning, for example, so one of the things we’ve done is to change team leadership, even from the leaders’ perspective, to try to give them a more well-rounded perspective and understanding of the [Baldrige] Criteria.

What else might participants learn at your Baldrige conference session in April?

One of the things I’m going to talk about is that it all starts with your strategic planning. For us, that’s a continual process. I think it’s key for people to see that there’s integration across the [Baldrige Criteria] categories. They really do all fit together.

Another thing is that people make all the difference for 99% of us, regardless of the sector. So what I hope to share around capability and capacity in category 5 [“Workforce”] has broad applicability.

What are the key reasons that organizations in your sector can benefit from using the Baldrige framework?

For most organizations, if you’re process- and data-driven, your methodology is repeatable, you ensure that you measure the right things, and you have people engagement, then that drives success.

We first heard about Baldrige from folks in the health care sector, from Sr. Mary Jean Ryan of SSM Health Care [the first health care organization to receive a Baldrige Award, in 2002], who’s right here in St. Louis. [The Baldrige framework is] transferable to the nonprofit sector and, in turn, to the education sector; that’s the beauty of it.

It’s been exciting for us to see about ten or so other organ procurement organizations adopt the Baldrige business framework since we started on our journey. We are in continual learning mode, and it’s been nice for us to learn through sharing back and forth with them.

 

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

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