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The Official Baldrige Blog

A Memorable Quest for Excellence Moment

person reading

Before you read further, get your tissues out. I have had many memorable moments over the years at Quest for Excellence conferences. And I have never left an annual conference without some immediate action items and feeling inspired that excellence is achievable in every type of organization. But there is one experience that has stood out over the years. Let me share the experience and then the impact it had on me.

The year was 1993 and Graniterock, a 100-year old, family-owned construction materials provider in Watsonville, CA, was one of the Baldrige Award's most recent recipients, in the small business category. It was in the session on Workforce Focus, where a concrete truck driver was the presenter for Graniterock. In those days it was an unusual choice, since the head of Human Resources was the typical presenter. The driver relayed the experience he had negotiating his annual performance agreement a year earlier. Being a small company, all employees discussed their performance plans with Bruce Woolpert, the company's CEO. Our presenter had been avoiding Bruce because he had not had the time to draft his performance plan for the year. Growing impatient, Bruce finally said we are going to meet today, draft your plan. The driver could not draft his plan. In previous year's his wife had helped him and he had not gotten to discussing it with her.

When he arrived in Bruce's office, with a blank plan, (Get those tissues ready!) he had to admit to never having learned to read or write. Bruce then took it upon himself to get tutoring, in an adult environment, for the driver. After assessment, it turned out he had undiagnosed dyslexia. It was now a year later at the Quest for Excellence conference with hundreds of people in the room and he was reading a speech he had written about his own journey of learning and about Granterock's and its leadership's commitment to employees. There was not a dry eye in the room as he received a standing ovation. By the way, he was now working on getting a private pilot's license!

One of the three basic tenets behind the Baldrige Framework is a commitment to organizational and personal learning. Why? Because we have learned from role model organizations that ongoing learning is a key to employee motivation and engagement, and they, in turn, are drivers of organizational success.

While organizations still think of compensation as the primary employee motivator, we have learned the greater power of ongoing opportunities to learn and the benefits of a simple thank you from a supervisor or leader. Fair compensation is important, but the non-monetary opportunities and recognition are long-term engagement factors.

I left that meeting with a renewed and strengthened commitment to my colleagues. We are together with each other for more time each day than most employees and their families. We are a family. We need to treat each other with respect and love. This memory has guided my actions for the more than 20 years.

Do you want to be inspired? Do you want to hear from motivational leaders? Do you want to witness the power of an engaged workforce? Join us in April for the 27th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference; you will be better informed and glad you came!

About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the home of the Baldrige Program. I started my career at NIST (NBS) as a bench analytical chemist.

My favorite aspects of the Baldrige Program are: (1) the opportunity to interact with leading thinkers from all sectors of the U.S. economy who serve as volunteers in the Baldrige Program, who participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, and who represent Award applicants at the forefront of the continuous journey to performance excellence, and (2) the intellectual challenge of synthesizing ideas from leading thinkers and from personal research into Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence and other blogs that tackle challenges at the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice,” and contribute to the continuous revision of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework.

Outside of work I spend my time with family (including three beautiful granddaughters), exercising, baking bread, traveling, educating tomorrow’s leaders, and participating on various boards and board committees.

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I was there that day and, while I've not attended every Quest like you but I've been there for most, I've never witnessed a moment that so embodied "workforce focus" as that one did. Didn't Graniterock begin a "university" for others who wanted to advance their education in some way? That company, and Wainwright, will always stand out to me as companies that embodied Demng's basic quality tenet that an obligation of leadership is to provide work that is meaningful and facilitates pride in workmanship. Thanks for this reminder of a never-to-be-forgotten moment..
Dana, I do not remember Graniterock starting a "university, although they may have. They were very active with the local school district, bringing Baldrige practices to them. As a matter of fact, their superintendent, Diane Siri, later became a Baldrige Judge.
Thank you, Harry. I hadn't heard the story before but plan to use it as part of our readings/class discussions for a graduate engineering class (Strategic Quality Mgmt) that Gary Floss and I have been teaching at U. St. Thomas for 18 years. The Graniterock story itself is inspiring and your story illustrates that pursuing excellence touches not only profitability but also touches humanity, with many positive consequences.
I was a member of a New Zealand touring party that visited Granite Rock a couple of years after they were Baldrige recipients. I've talked about and written 'Granite Rock' stories ever since - just last week to an audit team in Kuala Lumpur (they loved the Dominos Piza benchmarking story). As chairman of my local museum I've just convinced my manager to implement Granite Rock-like ippydippies for all staff (Individual Professional Development Programs/Projects) with great success. Fair to say that of all the Baldrige recipient organisations I've experienced (on two tours and at a Quest), Granite Rock was the most influential (although from a 'Little NZ' perspective, Texas Nameplate comes a good second).
Remember it well, Harry. It was powerful! 1993 was the first year of the then Tennessee Quality Award (TQA) now TNCPE. The experience was a wonderful modicator.

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