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The Official Baldrige Blog

Oh, the Places Baldrige Examiners Go! (An Interview with Pat Lapekas)

Pat Lapekas stands outside in front of big rocks with Baldrige booklet in hand
Credit: Pat Lapekas

Baldrige examiners have traveled to far-flung locations as part of evaluating finalists for the Baldrige Award. Just consider the states of the five newest Baldrige Award winners: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, and Tennessee. 

Beyond site visits during the Baldrige Award process, many Baldrige examiners also regularly draw on their understanding of the Baldrige Excellence Framework in their paid work for businesses, nonprofits, health care organizations, or education institutions. In this way, Baldrige examiners help organizations across the country improve and sustain high performance for the long term. 

For the second in a series of interviews of experienced Baldrige examiners, we talked to Pat Lapekas, whose career and Baldrige volunteer work provide an example of such contributions to organizational improvement. Not only has she served as an examiner for many years, progressing to advanced roles such examiner team leader and technical editor of feedback for applicants, but she also has worked within an applicant organization writing a Baldrige Award application and hosting a site visit.   

After examining the photo above, can you guess where she and her Baldrige booklet are? Read the interview below to find out.

1. Pat, would you please share how you first became interested in becoming a Baldrige examiner?

Approximately 22 years ago, when I was the lab director at an SSM hospital,* the hospital CEO asked me if I would be interested in helping our local hospital write its first state-level Baldrige-based award application. I had no idea what Baldrige was, let alone how to spell it. But I was up for something new and challenging. I went to the Missouri examiner training that year and was totally overwhelmed, but intrigued, and I caught the “Baldrige bug.” I have never looked back; it was the best career “yes” decision that I ever made.

*Editor’s note: SSM Health Care earned the first Baldrige Award among health care organizations.

2. What were your impressions and highlights of your first training (the Examiner Preparation Course)? What have been highlights for you of annual examiner training in subsequent years?

Since I started at the state level for two years before becoming a national Baldrige examiner, I had some understanding of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence and training process that first year at the national level. But it was still a humbling, yet exhilarating, experience. I was back to being a total neophyte, and since then I have realized that every year I still have a lot to learn (and share).

The highlights for me [of annual training] are seeing a number of great friends and business colleagues and realizing we are all contributing to helping organizations improve their practices while we also continue to learn through the process.   

3. Would you please share some memorable learning experiences you’ve had as an examiner on Consensus Review teams (the second phase of the annual Baldrige Award process)? 

First, my examiner team experiences taught me never to assume that I know all the answers! (Nor do all the alumni and senior examiners combined.)  

Second, I realized that the newer folks can have some of the best insights and questions.

Third, I learned to appreciate how an examiner team’s analysis is not over (and may continue to progress) until everyone has weighed in on the consensus comments and scores.

And finally, our focus must always stay on the applicant—helping the organization get better.

4. Similarly, would you please share some memorable learning experiences you’ve had as an examiner on a site visit (the third and final phase of the award process)?

See #3 above; plus, some of my most memorable experiences involved learning to ask probing questions of applicant organizations to get them to respond in terms of“how” they do their work. Having lived in the “show-me state” helped me to realize that while on a site visit as a Baldrige examiner, I had to be comfortable that the organization “showed us enough evidence” to demonstrate that the process was sound.

Also memorable were my experiences seeing the connections that every examiner was gathering—learning that there were nuggets from every interview and how to possibly integrate those into feedback report comments and key themes.

5. How have you applied learning from your service as a Baldrige examiner to your work with organizations in health care and other sectors?

As a consultant, I use these learnings and insights in my work every day with my clients. Having been involved in many aspects of the process (e.g., as an examiner, writing an application as an applicant, being on both sides of a site visit, serving as a technical editor of feedback for applicants, serving as a examiner team leader during the award process), I am able to pull from an array of insights and experiences, as well as from networking with others for sharing and benchmarking. It’s a cycle of continuous learning and sharing.

6. How do your colleagues/family/friends view your service as a Baldrige examiner?

Mostly they think I am nuts—that I can’t say NO! And some even ask, “Why do you keep going back to [yearly Baldrige examiner] training? Don’t you know it all by now?”    

My response: Nope. There is always something new to learn (and share).    

7. Finally, would you please reveal the location where you most recently took a photo with your Baldrige framework booklet?

 Yes: Big Sky Montana (we made guessing easy by not obscuring the sign!)

ReadersLearn more about being a Baldrige examiner and consider applying for the 2018 board; the online application opened this week and closes January 8.

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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Great interview! You shared some excellent examples of how serving as an examiner is so rewarding.

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