Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


The Official Baldrige Blog

Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund: A Most Excellent Quest Continues

Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund employees working at the call center.
Credit: Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund
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.

Kathy Goerdt, Organizational Excellence Officer for the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, 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 Baldrige framework features the various areas (Leadership, Strategy, Customers, Measurement/Analysis/Knowledge Management, Workforce, Operations, and Results) that encapsulate a successful operation. Moreover, the Criteria are updated every two years based on the best practices of leading organizations across the nation.

We also appreciate the value of having industry experts volunteer to serve as Baldrige examiners and the added value of having our own staff members trained as examiners.

The knowledge sharing at conferences and other Baldrige events among organizations on their own excellence journeys has been top-notch. We have not only found meaningful comparisons for similar data, we have also learned so much from other organizations that may be in different industries but face the same challenges.

Why did you stay involved?

The “AHA!” moments as we dived into our feedback report opportunities for improvement (OFIs) were eye-opening. The holistic picture that the examiner teams were able to derive during their intensive evaluations of our organization let us know that they understood who we were as an entity, and they accurately and fairly depicted our strengths and OFIs in a way that both brought heightened awareness and encouraged further growth.

Additionally, as we responded to the feedback, the value-add of the improvements within our organization became both tangible and intangible. Yes; there was a lot of work that went into the years-long improvement journey, but the milestones of improvement/achievement along the way made this a journey we would undertake all over again.

Our journey of excellence has no finish line. Excellence once attained may stagnate if the goal posts do not continue to move. The Baldrige Criteria—and the cyclical updates based on best practices—keep those goal posts on the horizon. We will continue to apply at the state and national levels, keeping our eyes on the ever-moving goal.

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

We were well positioned for the pandemic as our Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BC/DR) Plans (which have been improved during our Criteria reviews) featured a pandemic response plan. Additionally, we had become an organization that understood the need for agility—at the beginning of 2020, within 24 hours, we seamlessly transitioned from a 100% brick-and-mortar operation to a 100% remote operation. And we never missed a payment to our membership.

Our Organizational Excellence Team prepared state/national/internal metrics daily for our senior leadership and COVID Response Teams to review and make fact-based decisions regarding key coronavirus metrics.

We have also adapted our percentage of staff remote and in office as the data have changed over time, hoping to be 50% back in the office by March 2021; yet understanding the need to be agile based on available data and a very fluid coronavirus landscape.

For the percentage of staff working in the office, we implemented social distancing and other safety practices that include temperature check and hand-sanitizing stations; protective glass implementations; distribution of hand sanitizers, thermometers, and other safety items; and improved office-building cleaning routines to meet expectations.

Throughout the pandemic, we put our journey-of-excellence learnings into practice. We surveyed our workforce to check on them and ensure that our pandemic response had been communicated clearly and was meeting their needs/concerns. We communicated with our members and employers about our pandemic response practices, and we self-evaluated along the way—implementing several improvements that will impact our operations post-pandemic. Examples included continuing the virtual offerings (workshops/meetings) that were so well received by our stakeholders and implementing a remote contact center that will both help from a BC/DR perspective but also expand on our contact center availability. We encouraged remote staff to take advantage of learning opportunities from our HR team. We expanded our communications channels to staff to include a personal video message from our Executive Director that updated them on pandemic response news, as well as on operations and virtual team-building opportunities.

Anything else you would like to add about the resilience of your organization?

When I think about resilience, I think about the ability to sustain and improve regardless of any change. Through our journey, we have seen many internal and external changes—from changes in senior leadership and key business process sponsors to changes in technology and operations.

The beauty of having Baldrige embedded in the organization is that it is person and process agnostic. As your business processes change and improve in relation to the Criteria, the Criteria embrace the improvements to our approaches and even help us to critically evaluate the efficacy of those improvements.

As key staff cycle out of the organization, the benefit of the comprehensive and systematic documentation of our key processes makes it easy for a new staff member to read through the process and quickly understand the key elements, history of improvements, and metrics for those processes.

What quest is your organization on?

Join us for our first-ever virtual conference! 

The Quest for Excellence Conference April 3-6, 2022 - Register Today!

Quest for Excellence® Conference

Monday, April 12–Thursday, April 15, 2021

The three-day virtual showcase will feature the 2019 and 2020 Award recipients, former recipients, pre-conference workshops, senior leader plenary sessions with live Q&A, more than 70+ on-demand concurrent sessions, conference keynote, and more!

Register Today! 

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.

Related posts


Add new comment

Enter the characters shown in the image.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Please be respectful when posting comments. We will post all comments without editing as long as they are appropriate for a public, family friendly website, are on topic and do not contain profanity, personal attacks, misleading or false information/accusations or promote specific commercial products, services or organizations. Comments that violate our comment policy or include links to non-government organizations/web pages will not be posted.