For veterinarian Dr. Rona Shapiro, running a small business can be challenging.
“Many times, I’m the person pushing the broom, and being the veterinarian, and answering the phone. We all work very hard. . . . Running my own business—sometimes it tends to run you and you don’t run it.”
Then Shapiro began using the self-assessment tools that are a good starting point for the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence.
“When I started working with the Baldrige Criteria, I felt a light bulb switch on. [The Criteria framework] really gives me guidance as a business owner. . . . What Baldrige has done is it’s given me tools to feel like I know how to be a better leader. It has helped me understand what I need to do to lead my organization. . . . For the first time since owning a business, I feel confident in making decisions."
Shapiro’s business started in 1986, but after a year of practice, the founders realized that their original business model needed to be modified to sustain the quality of life of the veterinarian, including finding time to sleep. Another animal hospital and a 24-hour Animal Emergency Center were added to the Ohio practice, along with additional staff members. The three animal hospitals, staffed by 48 employees, now care for about 18,000 pets per year, and each hospital has a competitor animal hospital within a mile.
According to Dr. Shapiro, when she first read about the Baldrige Criteria online, she felt overwhelmed.
“Many companies have entire work groups, and all they do is human resources, or all they focus on is leadership,” she said. “As a small business owner, I am the workforce. I am the cage cleaner. I am the CEO. I wear many hats. It always seemed a little overwhelming to try and consider incorporating the Criteria in my company because I’m busy.”
For Shapiro, the Baldrige Criteria-based Are We Making Progress? survey proved the easiest way to begin and quickly identify areas to improve. She gave the survey to her staff members to learn how they thought the organization was doing. “Using the results from that questionnaire gave us guidance on what we needed to do to make things better,” said Dr. Shapiro. “It was very clear once we got results that the animal hospitals [within the practice] had different problem areas to focus on.”
The next step for the small business owner was to write an Organizational Profile. Shapiro said she needed to figure out “how did we get here? What’s important to us? What are we accomplishing, and what sets us apart from others? . . . When I started writing the Organizational Profile, it started to make things much easier. . . . Writing the Organizational Profile helped me identify who I am. I never really verbalized it. When I know what we want, it makes it really easy to figure out solutions to problems.”
Shapiro said the veterinarian practice always had a mission statement, but after writing the Organizational Profile, she changed the mission based on having a better understanding of what the organization wanted to achieve. She shared the mission with workforce members, ensuring that everyone was in agreement.
“Now that we have alignment in the workforce, it makes it really easy to use our mission, vision, and values in everything we do. Identifying how they relate to every aspect of our work, how we interact with each other, how we care for each other, even when we are doing evaluations, every statement ties back to our mission, vision, and values. [The Baldrige Criteria have] just made it really easy to do that.” Using Criteria principles to build alignment and consistency in the small business has also led to clarity for Shapiro as a leader. Because every decision is aligned with the organization’s mission, vision, and values, she said she finds it easier to manage the workforce.
“Every decision I make, I go back to the Organizational Profile,” said Shapiro. “It gives me clarity. . . . It helps me identify how we can become excellent, what are our stumbling blocks to that.”
She gave the example of the Criteria making difficult employee conversations easier; employees can now be reminded of when their interactions may not be in alignment with the agreed-to mission, vision, and values. Through writing an Organizational Profile, the small business identified one of its core competencies as making the patient experience as positive as possible, especially for fearful animals.
Shapiro and her staff started building on that core competency by explaining to pet owners what staff were doing and why, and teaching the owners what they can do at home to reduce their pets' stress and anxiety, thus reducing illness. Shapiro said such sharing has been very well received and enriched relationships with customers.
Baldrige also inspired benchmarking initiatives with other veterinarian hospitals outside of the service area, Shapiro said. Her practice is now in communication with similar practices to discuss ideas, software, challenges, and other issues--finding ways to help each other. Shapiro has even introduced the Baldrige Criteria to the board of her veterinary fraternity alumni group, helping the board write a mission and vision.
"This hopefully will help align our disenfranchised alumni with the very important work we do to help young, future veterinarians. Baldrige is truly inspirational," she said. In addition, Shapiro recently attended a conference sponsored by the Partnership for Excellence, her local Baldrige-based program that is part of the Alliance for Performance Excellence.
“The biggest thing that I took away from [the conference] is that the Baldrige community is very generous. They embraced me. Everybody really wants to help you achieve excellence," she said. From the conference, Shapiro said she learned how to coach for a culture of excellence and about the things that limit organizations from becoming excellent.
“Everything we’ve done [with the Baldrige Criteria] has made our organization a happier place to work. We’ve identified what’s really important to us," added Shapiro. “Even though there is a lot to do, I’m totally not frustrated with the process because the little bit I have done has given me so much clarity. . . . [Baldrige] has already helped us so much. . . . I’m inspired by it."
Editor’s Note: The subject of this story is a relative of a Baldrige staff member. The Baldrige Program welcomes similar story ideas about people who have seen results from using the Criteria; however, the program cannot promise that it can use every idea. Feel free to comment here.