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The Quest for Knowledge

Dr. Harry Hertz Photo and the Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence Logo

Dr. Harry Hertz, Director Emeritus
Baldrige Performance Excellence Program

April 2012

At the annual Quest for Excellence® conference, I am always amazed at how openly the Baldrige Award winners share their experiences and best practices. Every year I take away a few key messages that provide me with insights into excellent organizations. This year I heard seven themes in the presentations that represent commonalities among the 2011 award winners. I marvel at such commonalities because of the diversity of organizations in each year's group of winners. The 2011 Baldrige Award winners are a community hospital with under 100 beds (Schneck Medical Center), a major health system with multiple hospitals and many additional service offerings (Henry Ford Health System), a customer-owned health cooperative serving many customers and a large geographic area, with some parts accessible only by plane (Southcentral Foundation), and a 143-year-old publisher of religious materials (Concordia Publishing House).

Here are the seven key themes:

  1. People and Relationships: These organizations have achieved success because of the people they engage on their staffs, their commitment to their customers, and the relationships they build with both groups. For example, Concordia President and CEO Bruce Kintz talked about the four "P's" of "purpose," "people," "planet," and "profit" (in that order), saying that purpose and people were critical to his organization's success. Southcentral Foundation President and CEO Katherine Gottlieb talked about relationships being one of her organization's strategic advantages. She referred to physicians as "partners, not heroes."

  2. Mission and Values: These organizations all have clearly (and concisely) stated missions, which everyone in the organization can understand and commit to. And these organizations also have clearly stated values, which they use as the foundation for their decision making. When challenged by a situation, they vet their answer against their values. The concept of embedded values was concisely expressed by Henry Ford Health System CEO Nancy Schlichting when she referred to "a just culture."

  3. Openness, Transparency, and Communication: A theme in the senior executives' talks was frank, two-way communication and leaders' commitment to saying "yes" to employees' suggestions and ideas. As Tammy Dye, Schneck's vice president of clinical services, stated, "If they are not invited to the table, they will feel like they are on the menu."

  4. Entrepreneurism and Innovation: No matter how young or old is the institution, constant reinvention and searches for new opportunities seem to abound in the Baldrige Award winners. This characteristic sparks an ongoing sense of excitement in each of these organizations. For example, Concordia, an "old-line" publishing house of religious materials, has a new-products department and offers an ever-growing number of e-products to serve all its customers, from interactive books for children to products for religious leaders and church services. Henry Ford uses innovative products and services as a source of income to allow it to support charity care. The organization has developed new facilities around the concept of a hospital as a hotel for sick people. It has a training kitchen where families and caregivers of inpatients can go to learn about healthy cooking that is sensitive to the dietary needs of family members. And the organization recently launched an Innovation Institute as a joint effort among its physicians, Henry Ford engineers, the College for Creative Studies, and Wayne State University. Schneck has pioneered a 60-minute door-to-balloon time for cardiac emergencies that is remarkable because it includes the time to transfer the patient to a competitor hospital with the appropriate expertise. And the Southcentral Foundation relies on its Nuka system of care that embodies a commitment to the spiritual and physical health of its customer-owners.

  5. Intelligent Risk Taking: This concept is relatively new to the Baldrige Criteria and deals with taking a risk when the potential gain outweighs the harm or loss that could adversely impact the organization's sustainability if the opportunity is not explored. Intelligent risk is all about delivering on mission today and tomorrow for a sustainable organization in a competitive world. I felt that all four 2011 Baldrige Award recipients embodied this concept in their approaches to the future, in their entrepreneurism and their commitments to innovation.

  6. Technology: These organizations capitalize on technology. They see technology as a means to more effectively and efficiently serve their customers. For example, for a relatively small organization, Concordia makes extremely effective use of a "drill down" set of key metrics on a systemwide automated dashboard of measures. The organization also makes personal computing and communication technology available for free to its employees, so that they are comfortable with the technology that serves as a platform for many e-products. This enables the employees to talk knowledgably to their customers about their use of technology. Schneck has incorporated "big system" technology—including a state-of-the-art cancer treatment center and robotic surgery—into its relatively small medical center, to better serve its patients. The cancer center was made possible by donations from staff members and the community. Southcentral has been a pioneer in the use of telemedicine to bring real-time care to remote villages that are accessible only by plane. And Henry Ford has been an early adopter of enterprise-wide electronic health records (EHRs), while other institutions are still struggling to adopt EHRs in their central facilities.

  7. "Do other things well, and financials will follow": Specifically, focus on people and process, and the positive financials follow. This seems to be a mantra of all four organizations, which have the data to prove the point.

Besides those key takeaways from this year's Quest conference, I would like to share four memorable moments that showed the human side and leadership styles of the 2011 Baldrige Award winners' senior executives. One was when Katherine Gottlieb read an extremely poignant letter from her heart to employees, which she reads to all new employees to inspire them to make a difference. Another was when Nancy Schlichting referred to our nation's health care system as having moved from a point of last resort in health care to a point of last resort in our social system. Schneck Medical Center President and CEO Gary Meyer talked about all stakeholders being at the table to achieve a shared vision, shared knowledge, and shared goals. Finally, Bruce Kintz described how, with the four "P's" that guide all actions at Concordia (purpose, people, planet, and profits), the last one occurs if the first three are drivers.

Clearly, the 24th Annual Quest for Excellence marked another year of great learning. I encourage you to think about the seven themes relative to your organization and also ponder the leadership comments of the four senior executives. Are there opportunities for you to emulate their role-model styles and practices?


Baldrige Excellence Framework
Baldrige Excellence Builder
Force = Mass x Acceleration (January 2012)
Confronting the "no" in Innovation (February 2012)
Everybody Comes to Work Wanting to Do a Good Job (March 2012)
Archived Columns

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Created June 1, 2012, Updated November 15, 2019