In this three-part blog series on the 2021 Baldrige Award recipients’ leadership presentations at the 33rd Quest for Excellence® Conference (April 3–6, 2022), senior leaders of the three, new, national role models share best practices and stories of how they achieved excellence.
As only the second, three-time-award-winning organization in the history of the Baldrige Program, MidwayUSA has posted some very impressive gains: for example, a 129% gain in jobs from its first Baldrige Award in 2009 to its second in 2021, and a 263% gain in revenue over the same time period. But what hasn’t changed for the service winner is its absolute focus on its Customers [capitalization style that of MidwayUSA] and its literally-carved-in-stone values.
Speaking at the 33rd Quest for Excellence© Conference in early April 2022, MidwayUSA President and CEO Matt Fleming said use of the Baldrige Excellence Framework and its Criteria have worked for us “better than we ever could have imagined.”
The family-owned business, which received Baldrige Awards in 2009, 2015, and 2021, was founded in 1977 by Larry and Brenda Potterfield who, after careers in the U.S. Air Force, wanted to turn their passion for shooting, hunting, and the outdoors into a business. In Columbia, MO, they founded MidwayUSA, which now carries products ranging from archery, ammunition, and fishing to optics tools and gunsmithing. Over the past 45 years, the still-privately-held, family-owned company has grown from a two-person small business into an Internet retailer with 656 employees, 1.8 million active Customers, 185,000 products in 18 categories, and 950 suppliers.
Fleming said that MidwayUSA “still serves Customers today exactly like Larry and Brenda served them 45 years ago. We are still serving them the way we would want to be served.” He added,
We’ve been using the Baldrige framework since 2004. It’s been really great for our organization, a real game-changer. . . . A lot of processes, strategies, and goals . . . that we have at MidwayUSA, we owe to Baldrige because [the Baldrige framework and its Criteria] ask all of these fantastic questions. . . . Answer these questions and you’ll design really great strategies and processes. . . . We’ve gotten so much value out of using the Baldrige framework.
MidwayUSA is now moving into a brand-new, state-of-the-art warehouse and distribution center, which is what leaders consider its 500-year campus because they think 500 years into the future, he added.
Outlining a leadership system—as the Baldrige Criteria ask—has been instrumental in setting direction for the organization, the greatest task of senior leadership, said Fleming, who has been with MidwayUSA for over 20 years, which is also the average tenure of all members of the senior leadership team.
Setting direction is the first of five basic tasks, and this includes knowing first who is supposed to and empowered to do what, he said. Key work systems—another key part of how leaders set direction—are merchandising, marketing, Customer service (mainly through the order-taking process), and logistics. Fleming said these processes are built around Customers’ requirements, developed from listening to and learning from them.
Four organizational goals are at the center of MidwayUSA’s Leadership System:
Fleming noted that while shareholders are put last, the organization has found that if it satisfies the other groups, shareholders will be satisfied, too. This strategy has led to MidwayUSA being ranked in the top 3% of all Internet retailers for Customer satisfaction and engagement, he added.
“We have strategies to serve our Customers better than anyone else could possibly serve them,” he said.
Fleming said MidwayUSA’s mission statement, which has been continuously refined and improved over many years, defines what the company does and is “owned” by the Board of Directors. “Our position is that the mission statement is so critical to the organization that it really has to be owned by the highest level in the organization,” he added, and everything must align with that mission.
“We want to be the very, very best at what we do,” he said, “so we stay extremely focused on what we do, and we do it better than anyone.”
The vision, a desired future state to which MidwayUSA aspires, is “to be the best-run business in America, and the most successful, most respected business in our industry, for the benefit of our Customers.” He said this vision is “at the heart of every process and every decision. . . . Our vision is part of every single strategy.”
We want to be the best because our Customers deserve the best. We want to be a Baldrige Award recipient because we believe it helps us run a better business, serve our Customers better, and they deserve to be served as best as we possibly can.
Fleming said MidwayUSA relies on high-performing, industry-engaged Employees who share its values, align with its culture, and have a passion for serving its Customers. Nine “non-negotiable, family principles” guide the organization: honesty, integrity, humility, respect for others, teamwork, positive attitude, accountability, stewardship, and loyalty. These values are engraved in every entryway of the company’s building in order to remind employees every day of what MidwayUSA wants Customers to know about us, said Fleming.
“We call these our company values, but companies don’t have values; only people can have values,” he added. “The only way you are going to get the values you want in an organization is to hire people who have those values.”
These values are integrated into the hiring process and performance evaluation process, and Fleming said that the company only hires employees who share its values because “an organization adopts the collective values of its employees.”
The mission, vision, and values, he said, “are not just pretty pictures on the wall. We use them every day to help us run the business . . . [and] we always refer to them when we’re doing our planning.”
Using the Baldrige framework helped MidwayUSA understand the need for a Culture Statement that helps define "who we are, who we want to be, how we treat each other, and how we treat our stakeholders," said Fleming, adding "it’s how we run our business." The current Culture Statement has 31 items, including the nine company values and the 11 Baldrige framework core values. Fleming said the Baldrige core values are considered because they are the elements of high-performing organizations, and “we are Baldrige ambassadors. . . . because Baldrige has been so good to our organization that we want to [show] how important it is to use the Baldrige framework to help [other] organizations.”
“You have to be in charge of your own culture,” said Fleming, as “the culture makes you successful. We define the culture that we want as an organization and then we relentlessly guard that culture so that we can achieve the results that we want.”
Moving forward, MidwayUSA has continued to focus on Customers, including designing product packaging based on Customer requirements. Customers are also the central focus of the highly integrated Strategic Planning Process, which is very hands-on, with each participant focusing on delivering value, said Fleming.
According to Fleming, MidwayUSA also manages for communication and organizational learning. The company learns, improves, and innovates using the Voice of the Customer, Employee Satisfaction and Engagement Process, and Supplier Satisfaction Survey, as well as other documents and tools. It also carefully considers the measurement of everything important, he said.
“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of use for information that doesn’t have a goal and is not tied to something important in our organization.” Fleming added,
I can’t say enough about Baldrige. . . . Baldrige has helped us build a great organization that has helped us serve our Customers better than we could imagine. It helped us build a Leadership System to better serve our Customers.
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The Baldrige Excellence Framework has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.