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The Official Baldrige Blog

CORE: A Most Excellent Quest Continues

CORE laboratory manager Kristen Stone in the CORE lab at their headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA.
Credit: CORE
Photo of Baldrige Crystal and Medallion.
Crystal Manufactured by Pelucida Glass LLC

Inscribed on the Baldrige Award medallion are the words “The Quest for Excellence.” Besides being the name of the Baldrige national conference that highlights winning organizations, those words have real meaning.

Organizations that use the Baldrige Excellence Framework and its Criteria—whether for self-assessment or to apply for an award at state/local or national levels—are on true quests.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a quest as an "act of seeking," in this case excellence. ("Quest" is also "a chivalrous enterprise in medieval romance usually involving an adventurous journey," but that is a different blog.) Oxford Dictionary defines quest as "a search for something." I also found this definition in an academic resource: "an exciting search involving an adventurous journey."

I asked the 2019 and 2020 Baldrige Award recipients what caused them to embark on their own quests for excellence, and how such quests helped them in the year 2020.

Susan Stuart, CEO for CORE (Center for Organ Recovery & Education), a 2019 Baldrige Award recipient, offered these thoughts about her organization’s quest for excellence:

Why did your organization get engaged in the Baldrige Excellence Framework (i.e., Baldrige Criteria)? In other words, what was the hook?

The most uncomplicated part of CORE’s decade-long performance excellence journey has been determining why we needed to take on such a journey at all. Our answer is not only simple, it’s also the greatest of our eight CORE values: Life.

Right now, there are more than 100,000 people in the United States who are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. But sadly, 20 of those people will die today because an organ won’t become available in time. Thousands more need healing tissue transplants or sight-restoring cornea transplants.

CORE coordinates the recovery and matching of organs, tissues, and corneas for transplant—we are the link between grieving families on the worst day of their lives and recipients desperately waiting for an organ to be available. We are the bridge between death and Life.

Although CORE has always been a high-performing organization, we decided we could not keep doing what we were doing and expect to get different results. To Save and Heal more lives, we realized that we needed to take a journey to excellence using the Baldrige framework.

Why did you stay involved?

Ours is a journey without a destination, and one we will continue until an organ is available to every one of those people who are in need.

We have stayed on the journey because people’s lives are depending on us to stay on this road to excellence. But that is not to say that our journey was always smooth. In fact, we hit a few bumps along the way. Yet, with each feedback report, the program strengthened us and provided guidance for improving processes.

A real ah-ha moment came in early 2018, when all our dashboards were red. It forced us to ask, “How is Baldrige helping us save more lives? Does Baldrige make a difference? Is this journey making us better?”

To answer that question, we focused on how CORE carries out our mission to Save and Heal lives through donation—and CORE’s Baldrige burger was born. The burger, as we’ve nicknamed it because it literally resembles a hamburger in shape, is the visualization of CORE’s Business and Work System. In the middle of the burger—the meat—are the critical key processes that are necessary to completing our mission. Identifying these critical key processes has allowed CORE to stay laser focused no matter the challenges.

CORE Business/Work System diagram (shape of a burger)
CORE’s Baldrige burger.
Credit: CORE

The Baldrige Burger has also helped us with strategic planning and daily, monthly, and quarterly metrics, as well as capability and capacity needs and adjustments. It is an example of how a pothole in your journey can become a learning opportunity and a chance to mature as an organization.

How did the Baldrige Framework help during the pandemic in 2020?

While CORE has always believed ourselves to be an innovative organization, that belief was truly affirmed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amidst the challenges of the last year, CORE never slowed down—in fact, just the opposite. We showed agility, resilience, and innovation to continue to carry out our mission. And the emergency plans CORE established during our performance excellence journey allowed our team to remain safe and mission-focused, and ensured the continuity of the organization’s operations.

Even though many of our critical key processes were significantly affected by the pandemic, CORE found ways to continue to execute these processes despite facing issues with space, supplies, testing, and logistics. The strong partnerships with our hospital and community partners played a critical role, allowing us to be responsive and innovative.

The results: 2020 was the second record-breaking year in a row for CORE. We made possible 792 life-saving organ transplants—an increase of nearly 20% over 2019. The increase is credited to the generosity of 324 donors—28% more than the previous year. The number of tissue and cornea donors increased by 9%, equating to healing and restored sight to more than 90,000 people.

I believe that CORE will be defined not by how COVID-19 changed us, but by how we refused to let it change us. Never once did we waiver from our mission, our vision or our values.

We were agile and resilient because our excellence journey
prepared us to be.

The last year is proof that with resolute focus and through support from solid partnerships, an organization can continue to strive for excellence even during the most uncertain times.

What quest is your organization on?

2021-2022 Baldrige Excellence Framework Business/Nonprofit feature image

Baldrige Excellence Framework

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.

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Available versions: Business/Nonprofit, Education, and Health Care

About the author

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program and involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience, 18 years at the Baldrige Program. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.

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