Senior leaders of five recent Baldrige Award recipients representing diverse sectors of the U.S. economy—The Charter School of San Diego (CSSD), Elevations Credit Union, Guidehouse (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers Public Sector), Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, and Stellar Solutions--presented insights on how they guide their high-performing organizations to innovate at the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program’s 34th Quest for Excellence® conference in April 2023. Following are highlights of the presentation by Janet Grondin of Stellar Solutions.
Stellar Solutions, a 2017 Baldrige Award recipient headquartered in Palo Alto, CA, provides professional engineering services for government and commercial aerospace projects. Its vision is to “satisfy our customers’ critical needs while realizing our dream jobs.” Since its founding in 1995 by Celeste Ford (now chair of the board of directors), the woman-owned small business has grown to encompass offices in three U.S. states (California, Colorado, and Virginia), as well as overseas (in the United Kingdom) to accommodate its international clients. Its workforce has grown to about 220 full-time employees, the majority of whom hold security clearances and are embedded at client sites in 38 states around the country.
Illustrating how Stellar Solutions operates in alignment with its vision, Grondin gave an example of how the company has responded to a Stellar employee who expressed interest in working on a commercial space station last year. Based on that interest, executives identified other employees in the company with interest in such work, considered potential customers, and then determined what expertise the company has that would differentiate it from competitors for a contract in that area.
Reflecting the company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, its workforce innovations include using pay equity analysis to ensure that every employee is being paid fairly and not discriminated against. The approach was initiated by the company’s chief financial officer. The company also established a leadership bonus plan that aims to increase diversity in hiring by tying bonuses to a goal of having 50 percent of job interviews be with non-White and non-male candidates.
Grondin next outlined an innovation practice that the company calls “crossing boundaries.” She explained that after Stellar Solutions sent a team to support the August 2021 departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the company realized that some of the same expertise and methods used to support U.S. warfighters could be applied to supporting U.S. firefighters. So the company adapted its expertise to provide help to interagency efforts to combat wildfire crises, in particular, by sending images and knowledge from space to officials who can use these to save property and lives on the ground.
Another innovation that Grondin highlighted was driven by the increasing pace of launches of U.S. shuttles and satellites in Cape Canaveral, FL. There, Stellar experts collaborated to streamline the process for integrating rockets and satellites in order to meet the U.S. Space Force’s need to maintain a high rate of launches at the site.
In 2022, Stellar Solutions’ founder, Ford, established a fund to invest in start-up companies that have developed space-related innovations. Connecting with those ventures already enabled Stellar Solutions to gain four new contracts, with three more in the works (as of April 2023), according to Grondin.
Presenting Baldrige as “a Guiding Star for Stellar Solutions,” Grondin quoted Ford in saying, “Our company is built to last.” Among results demonstrating its success, Stellar Solutions has maintained a high rate of customer satisfaction (4.8 on a scale of 1 to 5 since 2020); it also has increased employee retention since 2018, which Grondin attributed to its focus on placing employees in their “dream jobs.” She concluded,
“The Baldrige framework has really helped us look at our results and take action.”
Leading for Innovation, Part 1: Insights from CSSD’s Mary Bixby
Leading for Innovation, Part 2: Insights from Elevations Credit Union’s Gerry Agnes
Leading for Innovation, Part 3: Insights from Guidehouse’s Scott McIntyre
Leading for Innovation, Part 4: Insights from Memorial Hermann’s Malisha Patel
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.