I return each year from the Baldrige Program’s Quest for Excellence® Conference inspired and hoping more businesses, health care, education, and nonprofit organizations will take advantage of the role- model practices shared by conference presenters. While each organization will adapt the ideas to their own environment and, hopefully, select some gems that address the organization’s challenges and opportunities to accelerate their journey to excellence, I fear too many organizations marvel at the accomplishments of the role models and dismiss the gems as too much work. If you are associated with one of those organizations, please consider the advice at the end of this column. You can make progress.
For my own benefit, to organize my thoughts, I try each year to step back after the conference and synthesize themes that represent drivers of excellence that I have heard from multiple presenters.
I saw synergies among the four 2016 Baldrige Award recipients, the keynote speaker Polly LaBarre, the six 2016 Baldrige Category Best Practice organizations, and this year’s recipient of the Baldrige Foundation’s Leadership Award, Mary Searcy Bixby. Those synergies are the source of this year’s themes.
I will illustrate my themes with examples. I apologize if I have ignored gems from some of the people and organizations, but space only allows for a subset of all the many possibilities. And, being human, I was not able to hear all the presentations, so I have chosen examples from sessions I personally attended.
Five Themes and a Consistent Bit of Advice
All four recipients—Don Chalmers Ford, Momentum Group, Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation – Mountain Valley, and Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital—have a clear passion for what they do and whom they serve (their employees, their customers, and their larger communities). That same passion was evident in the presentations by the Category Best Practice organizations: City of Fort Collins, Kaiser Permanente San Diego, Maury Regional Medical Center, Duke University Hospital, Park Place Lexus of Texas, and Southern Management Corporation.
In describing my five themes, I will begin with the future in mind. Innovation is on every organization’s agenda. It is the hot topic. But, are your senior leaders truly….
- Leading for Innovation: Leading for innovation starts by setting clear direction. Leaders need to communicate about the market space in which the organization wants to innovate. What are the problems or opportunities you are trying to address? Then create a supportive environment and clear process that will encourage and approve intelligent risk taking.
Kaiser Permanente San Diego started with a leadership decision many years ago to focus on health care rather than sick care. The leadership at Don Chalmers Ford pushes for ideas that meet key customer demands, but also sees leaders’ role as knowing when to stop pursuing an idea. They emphasize that a leadership role is being open to ideas you don’t like. Leadership intuition is not always right!
Momentum Group leaders facilitate the initiation of projects that are expensive and hard to do, with the encouragement that failure is okay. If every innovation succeeds, there isn’t sufficient intelligent risk taking. Momentum Group’s profit-sharing plan is an incentive for employees to contribute to improvements and innovation. Similarly, Polly LaBarre reported that at Pixar they embrace experimentation, knowing that “pain is temporary; suck is forever.”
Kindred–Mountain Valley talks about a general philosophy of learning to say “yes” instead of “no.” The organization encourages innovation by having “What if?” discussions around issues and opportunities. Memorial Hermann Sugar Land makes sure it acts on employee ideas, either positively or through feedback. This is an essential part of building overall trust and the organization’s commitment to innovation. The hospital “welcomes the wow” by asking big questions and using crowd-sourcing for ideas.
Two examples of specific innovation approaches are (1.) Memorial Hermann Sugar Land has a separate strategic plan for innovation, its iplan, and (2.) Momentum Group does departmental mini-Baldrige assessments. The results are a source of potential innovations, not only at the departmental level, but also at departmental hand-off points. These latter opportunities are then addressed by cross-functional teams. This leads to theme number 2…
Collaborative Teamwork: As problems, opportunities, and solutions become more cross-functional, collaborative teamwork is becoming increasingly important. Senior leaders need to encourage collaboration and support it at all levels of the organization and with partners and suppliers. While I did not specifically hear it in the presentations, in a 2015 PricewaterhouseCoopers study (PDF) 47 percent of senior executives reported the need for external collaboration for innovation. Polly LaBarre spoke about the CEMEX encouragement of cross-boundary collaborations through the establishment of “communities of passion.” Duke University Hospital reported that collaborative teamwork is so important that it is one of the organization’s core values. Similarly, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land has made collaboration one of its core values, and Don Chalmers Ford and Kindred–Mountain Valley have made teamwork a core value. Finally, as already mentioned, Momentum Group uses cross-functional teams to address innovation opportunities at the interfaces between departments.
Culture + Strategy = Results: We have probably all heard the saying that goes something like, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” However, this is the first time I heard the simple equation about culture plus strategy, and I think organizations would do well to take it to heart and put it into practice. The City of Fort Collins is the source of this equation , which the city states as “(Great) Culture + (Great) Strategy = (Great) Results.”
While other presenting organizations did not show this equation, they verbalized its intent in many ways. Momentum Group talked about “planning our work and working our plan” as a team. The company measures everything in its strategic plan at least quarterly. The results measured and achieved are engaged employees, loyal customers, and sustainable performance (strategic and financial). And Momentum Group shares its successes through employee profit sharing.
Kaiser Permanente San Diego starts with the strategy based on its long-practiced intelligent risk of stressing health care rather than sick care. It embodies the equation in its “yes culture,” which is spelled out as, “Y= You make a difference, E = Excellence in all we do, and S = San Diego is #1.” And the results document the effectiveness. The organization has saved 29,117 lives per decade through preventative care.
Kindred–Mountain Valley uses its vision statement as its strategic framework. That vision statement uses the culture to achieve results: “Focus on our people, on quality and customer service, and our business results will follow.”
Memorial Hermann Sugar Land embodies the concept in its mantra “Why Not Us? Why Not Me?” which is instilled in everyone, starting with new-employee orientation. It encourages everyone and the organization as a whole “to be a role model, to achieve something greater, to accomplish something extraordinary, to be pre-eminent.” And its results show its success, including 90th percentile employee engagement and 92nd percentile physician engagement.
Lowering Fences: This is another term used by the City of Fort Collins, and I find it very appropriate for describing the concepts of building trust through transparency and accessibility. Kindred–Mountain Valley displays visual maps and results in break rooms for transparency. Similarly, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land has visibility boards in every department. For Don Chalmers Ford, transparency is the first of its “real simple core value,” building from there.
Transparency and accessibility are necessary conditions for building trust, but not sufficient. They must be complemented by ethical behavior and high integrity, modeled by the leaders of the organization and practiced throughout the whole organization. Which brings me to theme number 5, the concept of…
Family Values: Each of the 2016 role-model organizations focus on their employees first and believe that the family values that result, initiated by leadership behaviors, yield superior customer service and a sustainable organization. Memorial Hermann Sugar Land presenters talked about their true love of each other, which builds a culture of trust. Don Chalmers Ford treats the organization as a family and displays family values by being closed on Sundays, when most dealerships do brisk business. The dealership also has an on-site health and wellness clinic open to employees and their families. And this small business regularly sponsors family-centered activities. Don Chalmers Ford employees ask three simple questions when making decisions: “Is it the truth? Is it fair? Is it the right thing to do?” If it is, then it is ethical and okay to do. If not, then it is not okay. Employees can make decisions based on these questions because they know that, if an issue is brought to the leadership, the questions will still be the basis for the final decision, no matter how much it might cost the dealership. This was exemplified by Don Chalmers Ford’s refusal to sell used cars with defective air bags, even though it was legal, the dealership was taking such cars as trade-ins, replacement air bags were not available, and other dealerships were selling such cars.
Family values were displayed by the focus these organizations have on safety, wanting to return every employee safely to their families and doing no harm to patients for those in health care. Safety is among the daily measures reviewed by the organizations. Don Chalmers Ford, Kindred, and Memorial Hermann Sugar Land all have a daily safety bingo, in which a randomly selected employee receives a prize each day for which there has been no safety incident.
The focus on safety is heightened by the practice of many role-model health care providers today of holding morning huddles attended by all senior leaders. Memorial Hermann Sugar Land conducts these huddles very visibly in a corridor.
Mary Bixby shared her philosophy of family values through her practice of leading by inspiring, trusting colleagues, and believing that the emotion that results moves people to action. And this kind of action motivates an organization toward excellence!
The Bit of Advice
The choice is yours. Why not choose to be remarkable? The decision must be intentional and must be made with commitment. That’s what the 2016 Baldrige Award recipients did; and, as they each reported, it started with a single step and a sense of humility and virtue. Each of them had a slightly different approach, all with the common theme of urgency and starting small. Don Chalmers Ford recommends an organization start anywhere where improvement is needed or beneficial, get some early wins, submit a Baldrige application, and act on the feedback. Momentum Group started by getting into a pattern of continuous quality improvement, using quick wins to gain momentum. Kindred–Mountain Valley started by using the American Health Care Association’s Baldrige-based award and assessment process at the bronze level, doing one improvement project. Memorial Hermann Sugar Land started by writing an Organizational Profile, which contains a description of the organization and its strategic situation. The hospital then chose one improvement project that touched several Baldrige Criteria categories.
All the organizations emphasized that becoming remarkable is a journey. It is about better serving your employees, your customers, your community, and lastly about bettering your financial performance. Don’t you owe it to your stakeholders to be the best you can be? Improvement is the path; excellence is a goal. Why not you?