Earlier this month, 2001 Baldrige Award-winning University of Wisconsin–Stout hosted a lively campus engagement session. (See for yourself via this video of the livestreamed event, which kicked off with dancing.) The university holds the so-called “You Said… We Did” sessions each January to demonstrate its responsiveness to the input of its employees and students.
The same week, UW–Stout released news highlighting the ongoing impact of the Baldrige Award and excellence framework on its values and practices.
Following is a recent conversation on that impact with Meridith Drzakowski, a senior Baldrige examiner and the assistant chancellor at UW–Stout who oversees the university’s office of planning, assessment, research, and quality.
Tell us about your university’s ongoing use of the Baldrige Excellence Framework (which includes the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence)?
Since the 2001 Baldrige Award, nearly all of the people who were part of the team that led us through that process have left UW–Stout. However, within the past several years, we’ve started an informal Baldrige team. Membership is open to the entire campus, and we meet several times throughout the year to discuss ways in which we are following the Baldrige Criteria and addressing our opportunities for improvement. The focus isn’t about writing a new Baldrige Award application; instead, it’s about how we can continue to grow and learn using the Baldrige Criteria.
We also send teams to various Baldrige professional development offerings through the state-level Baldrige programs in Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as to the Baldrige regional conferences and occasionally to the Quest for Excellence® Conference. And we encourage them to become examiners through the state-level Baldrige programs.
In addition, we use a Baldrige-based approach to meet our regional accreditation requirements through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). At the HLC’s 2017 conference, I’ll be co-presenting with Jan Garfield, another Baldrige examiner and HLC peer reviewer, about how to integrate HLC requirements into daily operations. We’ll be talking about how understanding and using ADLI (i.e., Approach/Deployment/ Learning/Integration, which are process evaluation factors in the Baldrige Criteria) can reduce the burden associated with preparing for comprehensive visits, quality initiatives, and required reports associated with meeting HLC requirements.
Incidentally, UW–Stout had its comprehensive review in March 2016. The review team leader said it was the best portfolio he had ever seen.
Would you please describe a few examples of how Baldrige-based practices have contributed to your organization’s success?
One of the most significant processes that has been impacted by the Baldrige Criteria is our planning process. The planning process aligns feedback we receive from the campus with data we collect on key performance indicators and with our budget. Our student jobs program and “You Said…We Did” events are great examples of initiatives/actions implemented through this process.
To encourage innovation, one principle that is important to us in planning is starting with the idea first, and identifying resource needs second. It’s easy to start by saying, “We only have $X dollars,” and then let that limit your thinking. However, starting by thinking big has helped us to implement new initiatives in innovative ways.
One example is our e-Stout (laptop) program. Students pay a per-credit fee to receive a laptop that is refreshed every two years and that they keep after graduation. The fee also provides for a number of support services, software programs, etc. This idea would never have come forward if we started by looking at the amount of money we had available.
Other examples of innovative ways we have funded initiatives include partnerships with our foundation office, forming grant-writing teams to apply for external funding, and increasing efforts for fundraising. (We have a university priority on fundraising and are starting the process of implementing a comprehensive campaign.)
Baldrige has also helped us to focus on a smaller number of metrics that are most important to us. Every five years, we update the list of our key performance indicators that we use to assess the success of our strategic plan. Although we collect data on hundreds of metrics campus-wide, the Baldrige framework helps us prioritize to focus on those metrics that are most important to our success and that align with our strategic plan—which keeps them to a small number.
What are your top tips for using the Baldrige framework to support improvement and innovation?
- Trust the process. When new faculty and staff members are hired at UW–Stout, it’s common for them to look at our planning process and say that it’s too time-intensive or complex or impossible to reach consensus with so many stakeholders. We tell them to trust the process, to give it a year and then decide whether they think it works or not. After the year is over, most people understand and buy in to the importance of the process.
- You can start small. You don’t have to begin by deciding to write an entire Baldrige Award application or implementing all of the Baldrige Criteria. Start with the Organizational Profile, and then pick a specific item or core value to start with. The way we engage people in the process is by involving them in aspects of the Criteria that impact them directly or that they are interested in learning more about, or about which they have ideas or concerns. It’s not about receiving the award; it’s about learning and growing as an organization.
Would you please outline what participants may learn at your university’s session, “From Crisis to Confidence,” at the Baldrige Program’s Quest for Excellence® Conference in Baltimore in early April?
During difficult budget times, the easy thing to do is to stop or cut back on new, innovative ideas that emerge through the strategic planning process or to administer across-the-board cuts.
However, despite the significant and ongoing budget cuts that UW–Stout has experienced over many years—including the most significant cuts we’ve ever received within the last biennium—we have always continued to focus on what’s important and never stopped planning, listening, and making decisions based on the data. We’ve had to cut back and be more selective about what is funded, but we’ve never stopped putting our time and resources into these processes.
Our presenters, Maria Alm and David Ding, will also discuss how visionary leadership at UW–Stout has helped support our focus on what’s important. And we will discuss the critical role that the leadership has in building and maintaining trust, as well as some of the processes we use to build trust.
[Added Alm, “Participants will learn how UW-Stout’s commitment to the Baldrige Criteria helped us navigate the most recent round of state budget cuts. While the cuts were significant, we never lost sight of the importance of (and our values related to) planning, innovation, and people. For that reason, after what was a very difficult year, we were still able to celebrate our accomplishments and to dance!”]
What are a few key reasons that organizations in your sector can benefit from using the Baldrige framework?
The framework can help [universities] meet regional accreditation requirements. We have one process for planning, one process for accountability, one process for assessment, etc., and requirements for the HLC are integrated within those processes.
At the same time, Baldrige helps us put our primary focus on taking action because it will benefit the organization. In other words, the framework can help organizations focus on taking action not because an external organization told them they had to do something but because it’s important to them. When an organization is trying to encourage buy-in on processes related to planning and assessment, the last thing that people want to hear is, “We are doing this because it’s required by our accrediting body.”
Also, the Baldrige framework provides guidance in making resource decisions—in good times and in bad.