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Success Strategies for Building Organizational Resilience through the Baldrige Framework

Elevations Credit Union 2020 Baldrige Award Recipient in Nonprofit showing a bank employee helping a customer with their account.
Credit: Elevations Credit Union
Photo of Gerry Agnes 2019 Baldrige Overseer.
Gerry Agnes, Elevations Credit Union, 2014 and 2020 Baldrige Award Recipient, former Chair, Baldrige Board of Overseers

The Baldrige Program’s 33rd Quest for Excellence® Conference brings together the leaders of U.S. organizations to celebrate and learn role-model best practices from current and former Baldrige Award recipients. 

Attendees take home practical lessons in critical areas such as leadership, strategy, customer and employee engagement, and operations. The speakers also provide attendees with proven solutions to help their organization achieve breakthrough performance and results.

At the 33rd Quest for Excellence Conference this week, where award recipients from the past three years are being honored, Genevieve Cavallo, vice president of enterprise transformation at Elevations Credit Union, is presenting the session titled “Building Organizational Resilience through the Baldrige Framework.” 

As Elevations is a 2014 and 2020 Baldrige Award recipient, I had an opportunity to interview president and chief executive officer Gerry Agnes. Agnes reflected on how the Baldrige Excellence Framework inspired Elevations’ journey to excellence and how other organizations might also leverage the framework to improve their organization’s performance. Following is my recent interview with Agnes.

Would you share an example from your work in regard to using the Baldrige framework?

What I learned, along with the entire Elevations Credit Union team, are three key themes: 

  1. It may seem that there is no perfect time to begin implementing the Baldrige framework. Actually, the perfect time is now! 
  2. Seeking the truth within an organization is essential to expertly deploy the Baldrige framework. Therefore, it’s vital that leaders create a safe environment where everyone can have honest conversations about salient matters that impact the organization’s customers, employees, and key stakeholders. 
  3. Never underestimate the capabilities of a stellar team. Assemble and lead the best team, and you will achieve greatness with the Baldrige framework.

The Baldrige framework has positioned Elevations Credit Union to perform exceptionally well for its members, employees, and community, regardless of remarkably challenging conditions, including the Great Recession and a global pandemic.

What are your top tips for an organization’s first self-assessment using the Organizational Profile

My top tips, in addition to those noted in my previous answer, stem from the objective of gaining organizational commitment to the Baldrige framework: 

  1. Ensure that your strategic plan clearly states your commitment to the Baldrige framework. When we began our pursuit of excellence, we incorporated the Baldrige framework into our strategic foundational elements, which are critical to a strategic plan. We adopted the strategic framework that Jim Collins outlined in his book, Built to Last, which by design is Core Ideology and Envisioned Future. 
    The core ideology consists of the core purpose (why we exist) and core values (how we behave). The envisioned future consists of the vision statement (what we want to be known for) and the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which accelerates the fulfillment of our vision).
    Our first BHAG was, “We will win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award!” Thus, it was at the highest level of strategy (foundational element in our strategic plan) and had direct oversight by our Board of Directors. After receiving our first Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, we changed our BHAG to “Audacious Excellence! P.S. We will win the Baldrige again.” And we did! 
  2. Engage an expert Baldrige coach for the organization. At the inception of our Baldrige journey, we engaged Jan Johnson, who provided tremendous counsel and guidance that helped shape how we approached the deployment of the framework. Jan remains actively engaged with Elevations Credit Union today in our pursuit of audacious excellence and is one of my lifetime coaches.

What do you view as primary ways that organizations today can benefit from using the Baldrige framework?  

The Baldrige framework, if deployed properly, builds organizational resiliency. We began our Baldrige journey in the summer of 2008 during the Great Recession and received our first award in 2014. 

We received our second award during a global pandemic that created a global economic recession. During that period, our return on equity averaged 11%, which was 38% greater than that of our peer group. 

The Baldrige framework enabled us to create robust leadership and strategic planning systems that contributed mightily to our ability to predict or respond very early to changing conditions. By doing so, we have been able to realize above-market returns on equity.


When did you first hear about the Baldrige framework? What were your initial thoughts or “aha” moments as you began learning about it? 

I learned about the Baldrige framework when I was newly hired as an executive at a former employer. The framework enabled me, as a new leader, to quickly learn about the organization and areas we could successfully and swiftly improve that would benefit the organization and its key stakeholders.

What is your “elevator pitch” about the Baldrige framework and/or assessment approach? In other words, what would you say to a group of senior leaders in your sector who are unfamiliar with the Baldrige framework if you had 1-2 minutes to tell them something about it?

The beauty of the Baldrige framework is that it’s not prescriptive. Rather, it’s designed for organizations that are deeply curious and committed to audacious excellence. It contains around 255 questions asking "How" or asking about your processes in key segments: Leadership; Strategy; Customers; Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management; Workforce; Operations; and Results.

The key for leaders who embrace this framework is to create a safe environment so all employees can have honest conversations about salient matters that impact its customers, employees, and key stakeholders. Because if you create that environment while deploying the Baldrige framework, you will be wildly successful. 
 

Also, do not fall into the trap that the Baldrige framework requires additional work or resources, or that it’s accomplished in a single department. Rather, it’s how everyone does their work. 

Lastly, the best time to deploy the Baldrige framework is now. Do not wait for the perfect moment as it will not come. Deploy it now. You’ll be glad that you did!

Similarly, what would you say to a group of college students (particularly those pursuing studies for a profession related to your sector) about the Baldrige framework?

The Baldrige framework is not widely adopted, yet those who’ve embraced it have created sustainable, successful organizations. Research the organizations that have received the Baldrige Award, and you will confirm my statement about sustainability and success. 

Then study how they deployed the framework, and determine what their key ingredients were to success. If you summarize what you learned and use that as a platform in your career, you will experience a joyful and productive career.

The Baldrige framework [has inspired me to] pursue excellence, not perfection.

Has your perception of the Baldrige community (e.g., award recipients, examiners, judges and overseers board members and alumni, other framework users) changed since your organization became a Baldrige Award recipient? If so, how?

As this is the second time we’ve achieved the award, our perceptions have remained steady through the years. Our commitment to the Baldrige framework and its community remains strong. We’re honored to be a part of it, and we’re totally engaged. 
 


2021-2022 Baldrige Excellence Framework Business/Nonprofit feature image

Baldrige Excellence Framework®

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.

Purchase your copy today!

Available versions: Business/Nonprofit, Education, and Health Care


About the author

Michelle Peña

Michelle Peña is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at NIST. Her background includes degrees in English and Spanish from George Mason University, an advanced degree from...

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