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.

Posted in Baldrige Award Recipients, Baldrige Criteria, Baldrige Events, Education, Operations Focus | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It Started Out About an Award, It Ended Up About Operational Improvement

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

Throughout the almost 30-year history of the Baldrige Award, high-achieving organizations that might already be tops in their industries have been attracted to the idea of winning this highest, national, Presidential award for organizational performance excellence—another feather in their caps and highlight for customers and investors. But often, the journey to the award becomes something more. The journey becomes less about the award and more about what was learned along the way.

At the upcoming 29th Annual Quest for Excellence® Conference, Allison Carter, director at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Public Sector LLP, will be sharing what the Baldrige journey meant to this consulting practice that was already considered at the top of its game among peer organizations.

“We started our [Baldrige] process focused on the award. After a few years of developing Baldrige applications, we realized that if we really embraced the Criteria across our business, we would start to see some major improvements in the business. That makes sense whether you want to win an award or not, right?” asked Carter. “It started out about the award, and it ended up becoming about improving the business.”

Carter said her Quest presentation will focus on the importance of and how to identify gaps in business operations using the Baldrige Excellence Framework.

The process that PwC Public Sector used was to first look at the questions within the Criteria and flag those for further investigation that staff were not able to answer or were answering in different ways, she said. She added that the step of identifying gaps first was important to save a lot of time and headaches, especially if your organization moves to the Site Visit Review of the Baldrige Award process. It was also important to consider what you’re currently doing and how that might stack up with other organizations, Carter said.

“A pitfall that many organizations may run into is something we found. . . . They pick up the Criteria to start writing an application, and they think we’ll just submit and we’ll win an award. And then they quickly realize after one or two times of doing that, a smarter approach is to first figure out where your gaps are and implement initiatives to address those gaps before ever submitting an application. So you’re not wasting your time, and you are focused instead on improving your operations using Baldrige standards.”

An example of a success that PwC Public Sector has had using gap assessment methodology and looking at its Baldrige feedback was an integrated dashboard. Carter said the organization collects a lot of data on different things and uses that data to measure performance, but these data were housed in several different systems owned by several different people.

“There wasn’t one place to go for all that information in one view to use it for effective decision making,” she said. “You could look at system A and system B and patch all of that together and start using it to make decisions, but it would have been much easier if that data was consolidated in one place–not only to look at everything all at once but to compare your performance over time.”

She said PwC Public Sector Practice created a dashboard that pulled all of the information from these areas and systems into one dashboard that staff members could then use to get a holistic view of the metrics that were important to the business and to enhance the ability to make good decisions based on that data.

Other top tips from using Baldrige that the organization has implemented follow:

  • Don’t look at Baldrige as an awards program. Look at it as an opportunity to improve your business. “It ultimately is an award, and everybody likes to win awards, but you should be focusing on Baldrige as an opportunity for improving and enhancing business,” said Carter.
  • When writing an application, it can’t be aspirational; it has to reflect reality. “It’s easy to write a Baldrige application about what you think you should be doing or what you want to do, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect how you’re operating, which is why identification of gaps is so important,” she added.

At the upcoming Quest for Excellence Conference, in addition to learning about a structured methodology that participants can use for gap identification, Carter said she’ll also be sharing some leading practices that PwC Public Sector Practice uncovered through its own gap identification process.

She added that using the Baldrige Excellence Framework and its Criteria “helps you to achieve a higher level of integration and coordination across your business that you wouldn’t necessarily get from using another framework like Lean/Six Sigma. Integration is really a key beneficial factor of using Baldrige.”

To learn more, register now for the 29th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference, which will feature the 2016 Baldrige Award recipients and many more national role models sharing their best practices.

Posted in Baldrige Award Process, Baldrige Award Recipients, Baldrige Criteria, Business, Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management, Operations Focus, Performance Results, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Does Managing for the Long Term Pay Off?

Yes, say Dominic Barton, James Manyka, and Sarah Keohane Williamson in an HBR.com article. They describe new research showing that U.S. “companies that operate with a true long-term mindset have consistently outperformed their industry peers since 2001 across almost every financial measure that matters.” For the firms identified as focused on the long term,

  • Average revenue and earnings growth were 47% and 36% higher, respectively, by 2014.
  • Market capitalization grew faster.
  • They created 12,000 more jobs, on average, from 2001 to 2015.

The authors estimate that “U.S. GDP over the past decade might well have grown by an additional $1 trillion if the whole economy had performed at the level our long-term stalwarts delivered — and generated more than five million additional jobs over this period.”

And a number of these companies didn’t begin the study period with a long-term focus: “Leaders at the companies in this cohort managed to shift their corporations’ behavior sufficiently to move into the long-term category.”

How to move to a long-term focus, or maintain one in the face of short-term pressures from boards and investors? The authors plan to explore the practical actions these companies took to do this.

Meanwhile, a place to start is the Baldrige core value Focus on Success, one of the values that underlie the Baldrige Excellence Framework’s Criteria for Performance Excellence:

Ensuring your organization’s success now and in the future requires an understanding of the short- and longer-term factors that affect your organization and its marketplace. Ensuring this ongoing success requires … balancing some stakeholders’ short-term demands with the organization’s and stakeholders’ needs to invest in long-term success. The pursuit of sustained growth and performance leadership requires a strong future orientation and a willingness to make long-term commitments to key stakeholders—your customers, workforce, suppliers, partners, and stockholders; the public; and the community. It also requires the agility to modify plans when circumstances warrant.

This value is reflected, for example, in Criteria questions about strategy development (asking for short- and long-term horizons and how you balance them), action plans (both short- and long-term), workforce (preparing your workforce for change and building a high-performing, engaged workforce), customers (engaging them for the long term), and measurement (asking for short- and longer-term measures),  among many others.

The evidence is in the job and revenue growth of two-time recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. And for inspiration on the “how,” see the experiences of current and former Baldrige Award recipients. To learn more, register now for the 29th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference, which will feature the 2016 Baldrige Award recipients and many more national role models sharing their best practices.

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The Emergent Organization, Strategy, and Innovation

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

According to Beth Comstock, we are in an emergent era, characterized by a constant state of evolution, in which complexity can arise from simplicity and order emerge from chaos. As Vice Chair of General Electric, she has been pondering the impact of the emergent era on organizations and how to best operate in this environment. This has led her to define the emergent organization as an adaptive organization where solutions to problems and opportunities will spontaneously emerge, before needs demand or exist. Her challenge is to structure GE as an emergent organization. With this in mind, she has suggested six principles for leading in the emergent era:

  1. Organize around information flows; ditch hierarchy and bureaucracy — This involves access to real-time data and open communication throughout the organization.
  2. Empower individuals — Encourage collaboration and localized decision-making.
  3. Replace long lists of rules with a good m.o. — M.O. is not only modus operandi, but more importantly mission objective and mindset orientation. This combined m.o. is intended to encourage creativity and speedy execution.
  4.  Get used to living in the “in between”  — We have to abandon the concepts of total safety (risk aversion) and comprehensive knowledge, and embrace uncertainty.
  5. Open up new feedback loops —Feedback needs to be open and honest. Failure, after honest effort, is seen as a mode of learning and should be communicated. It could lead to the next great idea.
  6. Tap into the Power of Minds and Machines — Capitalizing on machine simulations and artificial intelligence to spark human creativity can multiply the independent strengths of each and lead to innovation.

I see the Baldrige Framework and its Criteria for Performance Excellence as always emergent. They live in the “in between”.  They bridge current organizational systems and leadership with always striving for the next leading edge of  leadership and performance practice. Hence the regular revision/evolution of the Framework.

Furthermore, many of the questions in the Criteria help organizations adapt to the emergent era and help them to become emergent organization. Some examples of these touch points are:

  1. How do senior leaders set vision, values, encourage frank two-way communication, and create a focus on action?
  2. How do senior leaders cultivate innovation and intelligent risk taking?
  3. How does your strategic planning process address the potential need for organizational agility, including operational flexibility?
  4. How does your strategic planning stimulate and incorporate innovation?
  5. How does your strategic planning address key elements of risk, including finding potential blind spots?
  6. How do you decide which intelligent risks to pursue?
  7. How do you build and manage organizational knowledge, share it, and use it as a platform for innovation?

What is your organization doing to prepare for the emergent era? Let me know!


Posted in Baldrige Criteria, Business, Leadership, Operations Focus, Strategic Planning, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

What’s Happening with Communities of Excellence 2026?

By Christine Schaefer

You may recall reading here before about Communities of Excellence 2026 (COE 2026).

COE 2026 logo

Two years ago, we shared the big aims of this small nonprofit organization. The COE2026 story began when two former executives of Baldrige Award-winning organizations were discussing challenges faced by U.S. communities today. Together, Lowell Kruse (who led Heartland Health in 2009 when it received a Baldrige Award) and Richard Norling (who led Premier Inc. when it received a Baldrige Award in 2006) envisioned the Baldrige Excellence Framework becoming an innovative basis for American communities to improve education, health care, and economic outcomes through cross-sector collaboration.

Last March, we profiled the San Diego (CA) pilot site for COE2026, with an interview of the county agency leader who’s shepherding the collaborative effort as part of the “Live Well San Diego” campaign to improve population health and welfare. In August, we described that San Diego agency’s use of the COE-adapted version of the Organizational Profile (which is the preface for the Criteria for Performance Excellence within the Baldrige Excellence Framework).

In September, we shared how COE2026’s second pilot site was organizing to enhance community vitality in a rural region of Missouri.

2017 Updates

Recently, we asked COE2026 Director Stephanie Norling for the latest news on her work, which is supported by the Baldrige Program, in part through BPEP Director Bob Fangmeyer’s participation on the organization’s advisory board.

COE2026 Board Members JoAnn Sternke (Superintendent of Pewaukee School District, 2013 Baldrige Award Recipient; Brian Lassiter, Executive Director, Performance Excellence Network; Bob Fangmeyer, Director, BPEP; and Lowell Kruse, former CEO of Heartland Health, 2009 Baldrige Award Recipient

COE2026 board members in 2016 (from left to right): JoAnn Sternke, superintendent of Pewaukee School District, a 2013 Baldrige Award recipient; Brian Lassiter, president of Minnesota-based Performance Excellence Network; Bob Fangmeyer, director of BPEP; and Lowell Kruse, former CEO of Heartland Health, a 2009 Baldrige Award recipient

Norling shared that the Northwest Missouri pilot organization “has contracted … to do an in-depth data analysis of the 18-county region” to better understand the economic challenges facing the region. “The community foundation that serves as the backbone organization is working very hard to secure the funds needed to successfully support an ‘all-in’ approach across the region,” she said.

For the San Diego County pilot, Norling described highlights of a January meeting of a regional leadership team for the Live Well campaign. At the start, a presentation of regional demographic changes from 2010 and 2015 community survey data allowed the leadership team to gain a better understanding of the community, according to Norling.

“Those data and more resulted in a vibrant conversation among the various community leaders about where as a community the team should be diving deeper and what additional formal or informal leaders should be represented (e.g., senior citizen residential facilities, given the significant increase in seniors in the region),” said Norling. “That started the conversation about developing shared community goals.”

The next time the San Diego regional leadership team meets, said Norling, the represented organizations will report back on their internal priorities, the community’s priorities, key customers, and populations groups they target. “Each group will then present this information to the team to help develop a set of shared community priorities,” she said.


National Sharing in Baltimore

Norling is looking forward to sharing information about COE2026 in early April with attendees at the Baldrige Program’s Annual Quest for Excellence® Conference, where she will participate in a panel session.

Norling will be joined by Anabel Poole, chief of agency operations for the County of San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA). Poole oversees HHSA’s organizational Baldrige journey and supports the Communities of Excellence journey within the county’s South Region. In that position, Poole also supports and oversees the process of spreading the pilot approach to the other five regions of her county.

“Participants at this session will get a progress update on COE 2026, with a focus on the San Diego County pilot,” said Norling. “We plan to outline the process they used to adopt the COE framework, why they selected to do it, and why they selected the particular region they did to start.”

Poole will share “what went well along the way, what course corrections needed to be taken, and what elements or preconditions proved to be essential to begin the journey,” she said. She will also share the “early insights and ‘a-ha’ moments that developed as a result of undergoing this journey, with a specific emphasis on how organizations involved in the COE journey can gain value for their internal operations by being a part of the effort.”


Key Benefits of the Baldrige Framework

How can using the COE-adapted Baldrige framework help a community? Following are five benefits Norling described:

  1. Using the data and the Community Profile to know your community will help individuals working with the community to be more effective in how they develop and target [improvements] as well as to identify gaps in service where they are needed.
  2. Focusing on the customer (the resident) will result in stronger engagement and insights by those who need services the most.
  3. A diverse and well-functioning leadership team will help your community be able to respond more quickly to changes in your environment, political situation, natural disasters, or other challenges.
  4. Understanding your community’s strengths and assets can help you focus on how to best entice new residents to the region or attract new businesses.
  5. Articulating and agreeing on your shared community goals as well as understanding how each organization can contribute to meeting those goals will increase your ability to move the needle on some of your community’s key challenges.


Getting Started

Asked how an interested community can move forward with the COE2026 approach, Norling suggested, “Join the COE2026 Learning Collaborative starting in April!”

“Beyond that,” said Norling, a community will “need (1) reliable data to understand your community; (2) the support of a strong leader or backbone organization that understands the Baldrige framework and its value; and (3) a commitment to create a leadership team that is representative of the key sectors, resident groups, and generations in your community.”

To attend the COE2026 informational session in April, register now for the 29th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference, which will feature the 2016 Baldrige Award recipients and many more national role models sharing their best practices.

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