What are the benefits and challenges of starting a Baldrige-based program from scratch in your organization?
Lt. Col. Rory Thompson started such a program at the Idaho Army National Guard. In this blog, he shares his experiences on how he has been working from within to encourage a defense organization to implement Baldrige’s learning principles to achieve organizational performance excellence.
“If defense organizations in the United States are to navigate the complexity of today’s unpredictable security environment and attain competence in organizational adaptability, innovation, integration, and process improvement, what new ways of thinking and acting are available to achieve these objectives?” asked Thompson, PMP, G3, Idaho Army National Guard Strategic Planning Manager, in his paper (submitted at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom) “How Can Defense Organizations Sustain a Competitive Advantage in the Security Marketplace? An Analysis of the Idaho Army National Guard’s Implementation of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.”
According to Thompson, he volunteered to attend training and develop the organization’s Baldrige program because in his previous positions, he kept experiencing the same general problems. “We lacked defined systematic processes to manage operational work effectively to meet our customers' or stakeholders' requirements, or we had a defined process but no means to evaluate it to determine ways to improve," he said.
"In these instances," Thompson added, "the organization was inadvertently accepting higher amounts of unnecessary risk or contributing to rework and waste. I found myself questioning processes and wondering how or why we seemed to jump from crisis to crisis. Based on the Baldrige-based training from the Army National Guard ACOE program, I began to frame problems from a systems perspective. In other words, I relied less on individual process management and began working on organizational process management. The point is that organizational behavior and reinforcing systems play a critical part, and until we can address system issues, the processes people manage will continue to return the same result.”
The Idaho Army National Guard began its journey to become a learning organization in 2014 with its first application to the Army ACOE program. It used the Baldrige Framework as an organizational management and maturity model to achieve the following:
- Provide high-quality services to customers, partners, and stakeholders
- Guide and facilitate organizational learning as a method to increase efficiency and organizational effectiveness
- Empower the workforce to contribute to quality
- Manage complexity and risk
In his paper, Rory writes that the Idaho Army National Guard’s initial priority was “to influence organizational culture and human behavior through an organizational design modification that adjusted the common military functional management model to a matrix management model. The objective for the design modification was to break down barriers of communication and enable departmental cross-talk and sharing of information.”
The next priority was to set the conditions for a learning organization. According to his paper, “The primary objective of the organizational learning model was to provide a reference point for the workforce to view learning from feedback as it occurs at tactical, operational and strategic levels of work. The secondary objective was to reinforce how the Idaho Army National Guard supports a climate for learning and information sharing. The tertiary objective was to ensure that paths of learning were available at the operational, tactical, and strategic levels of operation.”
“As we became more familiar with the concepts of the Baldrige Framework and overcame some initial hurdles, we have had great successes, and we will continue, as is the beauty of the Baldrige Criteria [with the Baldrige Framework],” said Thompson.
One of his favorite recent examples of successes in using Baldrige and other continuous improvement training programs are employees calling him or contacting him directly wanting to get involved, get trained, and start effecting positive change, he said. In addition, new methods to communicate externally and internally to the workforce, customers, partners, and stakeholders have emerged; these include an external website, internal podcasts, external and internal social media platforms, a new brand and logo, and new organizational strategy layered with Baldrige concepts. There’s even been more “workforce engagement and willingness to explore better ways of doing things,” Thompson added.
“The overall experience is and has been critical to my organizational management/leadership skills,” said Thompson. “This [Baldrige] framework has opened doors I had no idea existed. The moment I became involved in Baldrige, my eyes and mind opened to at first what was confusing and different, but as I learned the framework, I began to view organizational management from a much different perspective. As I learned more about the Baldrige framework, I began to see gaps in my own ability to manage organizations.”
Inspired by his learning, Thompson became an examiner with Performance Excellence Northwest, a Baldrige-based program and member of the Alliance for Performance Excellence that covers the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. He also earned a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and went to PROSCI Change Management training, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training, and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt training.
Thompson offers advice for others who may be trying to start an internal Baldrige program, but he warns that there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach because there are simply too many external and internal organizational variables.
“There is no set timetable, and the organization will cue you in when it is ready to press harder. You should manage expectations early; however, you are not out to win an award. The award is a byproduct of a relatively mature system,” he said.
Some general advice follows:
- Start the program small, and be careful not to “upset” the traditional ways of doing things.
- Try to select those for your implementation team who have some leverage and longevity in the organization, and who show a natural inclination towards continuous improvement and quality.
- Get small wins with your team to help build momentum.
- Find a balance between controlling implementation and stifling innovation.
- Eventually work Baldrige concepts into the strategy without upending the overall structure.
- Speak the language your organization understands. Do integrate Baldrige concepts but avoid using specific Baldrige terminology.
The Idaho Army National Guard is one of fifty-four National Guard organizations organized within the National Guard Bureau and United States Department of Defense. According to the National Guard Bureau, in 2015, forty-one Army National Guard State organizations and five U.S Army Reserve Commands participated in the ACOE program.
For this endeavor, Thompson's mentors have been Kevin Deats, Idaho and national Baldrige alumni examiner; Margaret Dorchester, Washington and former national alumni Baldrige Examiner; and Cranfield University Professor Karen Carr. The Idaho Army National Guard ACOE team comprises
- Lead: LTC Rory Thompson
- MAJ Heidi Hecox
- Paul White
- SFC Krista Fletcher
- LTC Dan Johnson
- COL Michael Garshak