According to senior examiner Dawn Garcia, the best part about being a Baldrige examiner is “sharing what we learn from best-practice organizations with others that are committed to the journey.” Of course, examiners “do not share any proprietary materials from organizations that we evaluate or see on site visits,” she added. “But clearly our learning [from using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to assess different organizations’ performance] is immense,” and “we can bring additional value to other organizations within our state or community when we inspire them to see their potential.”
Garcia also called Baldrige examiner training “one of the best leadership training methods in the world.”
To those who may be considering whether to apply to join the all-volunteer Board of Examiners for 2019, she offers this encouragement:
“If you’re up for it, you’ll build an amazing skill set, meet incredibly talented and committed team members, and help American companies set themselves apart in their industries! Sign up now!” (I swear the Baldrige Program did not pay or ask her to provide this enthusiastic endorsement!)
Following are the questions I did ask Garcia recently, along with her responses.
How did you first become interested in being a Baldrige examiner?
My journey to become a Baldrige examiner began when I accepted a position with an organization that was early in the journey [from improvement to excellence] and had developed its first application for the state Alliance program [i.e., a member of the nonprofit U.S. network of Baldrige-based award programs, the Alliance for Performance Excellence, that is a partner of the federal Baldrige Performance Excellence Program]. I was given a copy of that application to review and consider as an introduction to the organization’s culture and mission.
My response was “Wow!” Any organization that had the drive to be on such a journey and transparently share was one that I wanted to join—and I did! That organization succeeded in receiving the highest-level award in the state program the following year. Next, they prepared to apply for the Baldrige Award at the national level. I was offered a position that year as a Baldrige examiner as part of submitting our national application. It was an honor, and I was quick to say yes.
What were your impressions and highlights of your first training (the Examiner Preparation Course)?
I still remember my first examiner training experience. I was eager but initially felt overwhelmed by the prework. What did I get myself into? Could I possibly fit in, and add value to my organization back home? But once in my training room, I felt very welcomed and supported along the way. Although I quickly learned that I had no idea yet how to evaluate an organization through the Baldrige lens, fortunately, I was accepted by the group anyway. By the end of training, I finally felt like I could add some value. (Now that I understood the process steps though, I really wanted a do-over of my prework!)
Would you please share your memorable experiences as a new examiner on a Consensus Review team (the second phase of the annual Baldrige Award process)?
I remember a quote from one of the seasoned examiners in my training room one year, as he described the process to the newbies: “Consensus is the most fun that you’ll ever have with your clothes on.” By the time I’d been through the Consensus Review process a few times, I have to say that I did not find it was exactly that cool in all cases; but it definitely was a fabulous time to get to know other examiners personally and see their perspective in the evaluation process while refining my own approaches to reviewing and scoring an organization’s performance. My nuanced learning from senior and alumni examiners was always incredible. Every year, I’ve been blessed with great team leaders who made the process look easy, kept the team on track, and valued everyone’s contributions throughout the process!
Similarly, would you please share your impressions and insights from being on a site visit (the third and final phase of the award process)?
Once I finally made it to a site visit, I was ecstatic! I was a senior examiner by that point and felt much more comfortable with the site visit process, goals, and expectations. When my team arrived at our destination, the feeling I had was one of good anxiety, like when you meet your in-laws. It felt funny to see new faces but already know each other’s voices from the conference calls during Consensus Review.
Our agenda to prepare for the on-site portion was long, yet our team leader kept our energy going and knew exactly when to interject fun and humor! On-site, seeing a high-performing organization up close was fabulous! I took in how the leaders and employees communicated, developed strategy, innovated, and mapped their processes. They were great hosts, and we were sponges! Once we completed our on-site work of clarification and verification, we spent the remainder of the time cloistered in our hotel workroom, bonding and conferring on feedback comments for the organization. Ultimately, our feedback report reflected a very high-performing organization. The most memorable part of the process for me was recognizing that every organization’s key strengths are unique and manifested differently. This means that there is always a huge amount of learning from the experience of observing a high-performing organization on site.
Where is your favorite place to “Baldrige” (i.e., complete examiner training prework or independent assignments as part of a Baldrige Award assessment)?
My favorite place to “Baldrige” is inside organizations that are aspiring to achieve excellence, interacting with their leaders and teams.
Even if they are just beginning the process, as a Baldrige ambassador within my state's Baldrige-based Wisconsin Forward award program, I reach out to high-performing organizations to celebrate their success in a variety of ways.
How have you applied learning from your service as a Baldrige examiner to your work with organizations in many different sectors?
My experience with the Baldrige framework has clearly become interwoven into my day job as an independent business management consultant. Simply put, better processes yield better efficiencies and performance results. Approximately one-third of my clients are in various stages of the journey to achieve organizational excellence, and most of these are in health care, education, and nonprofit/government sectors where there are a significant number of role models to help them progress on the journey. These organizations have substantially improved their key metrics as they’ve made a commitment to the Baldrige process. I believe that this is true in all sectors and industries as long as there is a visionary leader at the head of the organization.
How do your family and friends view your service as a Baldrige examiner?
Over the ten years that I’ve been involved as a volunteer in both national and state-based examiner roles, my family and friends have come to regard the Baldrige process as a part of my persona and therapy. While the time commitment and critical thinking needed can be challenging, it is equally therapeutic in allowing one to visualize a different organization’s challenges, structures, systems, and processes. I have found great insights to help other organizations and significantly boosted my skill set. When I first applied to serve as an examiner, I considered my strengths to be in the Baldrige Criteria categories of Customers, Workforce, and Operations. Now, I’m comfortable with any category and most proficient in Leadership and Strategy. While I’ve enhanced my formal education during this time frame by earning an MBA, I really attribute the advancements in my understanding of leadership and strategy to applying learning about the Baldrige Excellence Framework and Criteria in organizations that I’ve served.
Would you please reveal the location where you most recently took a photo with your Baldrige framework booklet?
The above picture was taken in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I am (in the center) with a group of participants in a “Principles of Baldrige” foundational education program offered by the Wisconsin Center for Performance Excellence (WCPE). I’ve proudly served as an examiner for WCPE’s exemplary Wisconsin Forward Award program and as a WCPE ambassador to organizations aspiring to become world-class. There is a great benefit to our local economy and workforce, so I encourage others who are state-level or national Baldrige examiners to reach beyond the applicant review process and become an active proponent of the journey to businesses in your community. Everyone gains in the process!
Enrich Your Career and Improve Organizational Performance
Become a Baldrige Examiner
If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind professional development and networking opportunity, and the chance to make a meaningful contribution to organizational improvement and U.S. competitiveness, apply to serve as a volunteer on the Baldrige Board of Examiners.
The 2019 Board of Examiner Application will be open from November 26, 2018, until January 7, 2019, 6:00 pm ET.