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The Official Baldrige Blog

Baldrige Award Judges' Panel: Interview with New Member John Molenda

head shot of John Molenda

John Molenda, Jr.; photo used with permission.

In just two weeks, the Judges’ Panel of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award will meet to decide which 2017 Baldrige Award applicants will receive site visits as part of the process for identifying national role models. Of the 12 judges on the panel, four were appointed this year

Following is an interview of one of the four new judges, John Molenda, Jr., who is a senior financial management executive at Del Norte Credit Union in Sante Fe, New Mexico.



What experiences led you to the role of Baldrige judge?

The Baldrige Excellence Framework takes on a personal significance for me. For the past 20 years, my personal mission has been to create value and vision in both organizations and employees. I look across the country, and I see significant numbers of people who have been positively impacted by the framework without even knowing it. These people are customers, students, patients, and employees of organizations that use the framework.

I began my journey by volunteering with our state [Baldrige-based award] program, Quality New Mexico, in 2007. My experience was so meaningful, I decided to learn as much as I could about the framework and eventually became involved with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Never passing up a learning opportunity, I found that some of my best experiences included serving on Baldrige Collaborative Assessment teams, helping to facilitate examiner training, serving as a consensus team and site visit team leader, and serving as a judge at the state level.  


How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework as valuable to organizations in your sector and industry?

Since 2006, I have worked at Del Norte Credit Union (DNCU), in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  As not-for-profit financial cooperatives, credit unions have an interesting role; they are both nonprofits and in a service industry. Within the service sector, the Baldrige Excellence Framework is a great tool to improve the organization through better understanding of customers’ key requirements and the impact these have on the organization when integrated throughout everything it does. Many organizations in the service industry have products that are commoditized, and financial institutions are no exception.

The Baldrige framework helps identify areas of innovation that can be transformative in nature, allowing an organization to truly differentiate itself. The Baldrige framework has transformed Del Norte from a transaction-based financial institution to an organization with a simple, yet significant mission, “Improving Lives.” This transition happened by using the framework and listening our employees, our members (customers), and our communities. I imagine a day when even more organizations are asking themselves questions such as, “How do we use our core competencies to improve our key communities?”

Organizations’ missions, visions, and values can be enhanced and realized by using this framework, and the people who benefit are employees, customers, and communities. To me, the Baldrige framework means that more kids in our communities are positively impacted as lives are improved. For others, the framework may take on different meanings depending on the unique mission, vision, and values of their organizations.  


How do you apply Baldrige principles and concepts in your current work and organization?

Before using the Baldrige framework, I felt as though we just kept rebooting the organization, changing things based on ideas that seemed good, and then changing again when things didn’t work. We measured everything but didn’t isolate results that were important. We were data-rich but information-poor. The Baldrige framework has helped us prioritize important results, along with the processes that lead to these results. A systematic approach to the evaluation and refinement of our processes is a key to improving our results.

One of the most significant improvements for my organization was the transformation related to our mission, vision, and values. Our employees told us that rather than an organization where they simply punched in and punched out, they wanted to work for an organization that gave them a sense of purpose. By working through the Baldrige framework, our employees developed the mission of “Improving Lives” and a value we call “Del Norteño Pride.” Del Norteño Pride is the sharing of one’s individual culture and traditions with others.

This improvement has transformed our organization by introducing an element of emotion into each of our key work systems. The resulting organizational culture has won us much recognition and has truly made us an employer of choice. This did not happen from the Senior Leadership Team down; it happened by working through the Baldrige framework, concentrating on improvements, and listening to our employees, then incorporating their thoughts throughout the organization.  

As a judge, what are your hopes for the judging process? In other words, as a judge what would you like to tell applicants and potential Baldrige Award applicants about the rigor of the process?

The performance excellence journey is a humbling but incredible learning experience. The more I learned about the Baldrige framework, the more I realized how much I didn’t know! However, every year I look back at my organization and see how much we’ve grown, matured, and improved. I look at our employees and see an organization that really values their views and incorporates their thoughts into our strategic planning process. I look at our communities and see people whose lives we’ve improved as we used the Baldrige framework to improve our impact on our key communities. It has been a truly transformative experience.

I am also humbled by the examiners who devote so much of their personal time to help others, both at the state and national levels. I wish applicants could see the passion displayed by the examiners and the Baldrige staff as they convey their desire to provide very high-quality feedback.

An important outcome of the annual Baldrige Award process is the identification of role-model organizations that others can learn from as they continue their own growth and development. One of the more interesting things to me is learning from organizations outside of my industry. Innovation can be stimulated by taking practices from one industry and adopting them in a different way in another industry or sector.  

What encouragement or advice would you give Baldrige examiners for their work in evaluating organizations as part of the Baldrige Award process?

The community of examiners is very supportive, so don’t be intimated if you’re a new examiner. The examination process works, so trust the process, do your best, and have a good time. The environment is very collaborative, so ask as many questions as you can. Examiner training is truly world-class, and I’ve met many great people at training whom I now consider my friends. Becoming an examiner has been the best thing I’ve done for my personal and professional growth. I wish you the best and know that you will have a great impact on your organization and others as a result of your participation in this process!  

See other blogs profiling members of the 2017 Judges’ Panel: Dr. Ken DavisTammy Dye; Eric FletcherDr. Greg GibsonMajor General John C. Harris, Jr.Miriam N. Kmetzo; and Dr. John C. Timmerman

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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