As superintendent of the Baldrige Award-winning Pewaukee School District, JoAnn Sternke is widely considered an expert on systematic process management (among other areas addressed by the Baldrige Excellence Framework). Sternke is frequently asked to share her district’s best practices to help other organizations around the country improve their systems so they too can achieve their desired results.
Yet Sternke recently said something that new users of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence may find both surprising and reassuring. In regard to the “Operations Focus” category (where process management is assessed), Sternke admitted, “I used to fear category 6.” “Now I recognize that process is so vital to any organization’s success,” she added. “Improving processes will truly get us long-lasting results.”
The district today has a five-step process to identify, document, measure, analyze, and improve processes.
“Without a process you don’t have a guide,” said Pewaukee School District Information Technology Director Amy Pugh. “Having a process makes it so much easier to identify targets and then collect key data points around those goals, monitoring them regularly and making changes as necessary.”
Sternke agreed, “Success isn’t a happy accident if you can rely on process. [Having a systematic process] is what makes positive direction sustainable and predictable—and that’s what we aim for.”
Tips and Insights on Managing Processes
Based on her district’s experience, Sternke offered the following tips for managing key processes to support excellence across an organization:
Sternke also shared her insights on innovation in relation to process management: “I’ve learned that innovation truly comes from process, not in ‘lightbulb moments,’” she said. “The quest to offer greater value to stakeholders is what drives both process improvement and innovation. They go hand in hand.”
Benefits of the Baldrige Framework in Education
Why is using the Baldrige Excellence Framework (including the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence) beneficial for school districts today? According to Sternke, she’s “better equipped to lead my organization using this framework” and doing so helps her avoid merely “pursuing random acts of improvement” as a leader, ensuring systematic improvement. “We can’t be successful if we just lead from one cool idea to another, thinking that is improvement,” she explained. “The people who come to work and learn each day deserve an organization that allows them to do the good work they want to do.”
“The Baldrige framework is a proven means to better outcomes—and we all want that for our students,” Sternke added. “The Education Criteria focus our organization on the right things: the questions guide me as a leader and all of us in our organization to think more deeply about how we can make our organization operate best in order to be successful.”