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The Official Baldrige Blog

What's Boosting Government Performance in Tennessee

crosswalk of Lean, Baldrige Criteria, and TN state vision and priorities

Image used with permission.

Credit: Katie Rawls and Emily Passino

Next week in Tennessee, one city, two government agencies, and 11 units of a third agency will be among the organizations receiving state-level Baldrige awards for the results and improvements they’ve achieved in recent years using the Criteria for Performance Excellence as a management framework.

Those awards will be bestowed at the annual award ceremony of the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence (TNCPE), a member of the Alliance for Performance Excellence network that provides a feeder system for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. (Similar Baldrige-based quality award programs can be found around the country.)

One of the state agencies that will be honored next Wednesday with a TNCPE award is the Tennessee Department of Human Resources. “We are proud to participate in what TNCPE is doing to help organizations across Tennessee move forward in creating a culture of performance excellence,” said Rebecca Hunter, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Resources (DOHR). “While the most important part of this application and award process for us is the outstanding feedback we receive from the examiners, we can also say that since we began to focus on the [Baldrige] Criteria, we have more clarity around our mission, vision, and values. We find that the daily work of our entire team is more focused on our strategic plan and key success factors.”

“DOHR has fewer than 100 employees whose work serves more than 43,000 state employees and ultimately reaches the more than 6 million residents of Tennessee,” added Hunter. “Everyone benefits from the greater efficiency and effectiveness of our department’s key processes.”

TNCPE’s president and CEO Katie Rawls noted that in the organization’s first year of submitting an award application, DOHR already has earned a Level 2 award among the four levels in TNCPE’s tiered award program.

Next Wednesday TNCPE will also present a Level 3 award to the City of Germantown (for the second year in a row) and a Level 2 award to the state’s Bureau of TennCare. In addition, the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, nine county health departments, and two other departments under the auspices of the state health department each earned Level 1 TNCPE awards in the 2013 program.

In 2012, state agencies that received TNCPE awards included the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (Level 2), the Department of Environment and Conservation (Level 1), and the Department of Health (Level 1). In 2012 TNCPE also recognized two public-sector organizations for achieving the highest, Level 4, of excellence: the (municipally owned) Bristol Tennessee Essential Services and the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority (a unit of the metropolitan government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee).

How did these wide-reaching Tennessee government entities become involved with the Baldrige program in their state? According to Rawls, since its creation as a public/private partnership 20 years ago, the TNCPE “has always had a connection to state government, though it has ebbed and flowed.” In recent years, she explains, a major catalyst for state government involvement in the Baldrige program has been John Dreyzehner, Tennessee’s commissioner of health.

Dreyzehner has been leading his department in use of the Baldrige Criteria since becoming state commissioner of health in 2011. He also now serves on the board of directors of TNCPE. Rawls credits the participation of two state commissioners on TNCPE’s board with greatly boosting use of the Baldrige framework in the Tennessee government. Dreyzehner has been particularly helpful, said Rawls, in explaining how the Baldrige framework can help people in government. 

She said he coached her in how to frame the Criteria for Performance Excellence in presenting it to government organizations, in particular, by not leaving the impression that use of the Criteria is something beyond other performance improvement tools that adds a lot more work. Instead, Dreyzehner has characterized the Baldrige framework as being “like the plastic thingy that helps you hold together a six-pack of beer” in relation to other improvement tools and plans and priorities for work processes.

To illustrate this value, Rawls worked with Emily Passino, a Lean expert in the state, to create the crosswalk graphic (shown in this blog) that depicts the Baldrige Criteria framework in the context of the state government’s vision and work processes. Completed and presented at a Lean roundtable in October 2013, this tool was designed to help state employees see how the Criteria categories and questions complement Lean improvement methodology and support all areas of their work. 

Dreyzehner said Rawls was helpful from the start when he contacted her years ago to learn more about the TNCPE program and resources to promote improvements and excellence in Tennessee’s local health departments’ performance. Dreyzehner had first learned about the Baldrige Criteria as a young Air Force captain and flight surgeon in the early 1990s. “The Air Force was very interested in performance excellence,” he recalled, “and was looking at and beginning to use the Baldrige Criteria as a framework.” Later, as a district health director in Virginia working with counties in Tennessee, Dreyzehner became intrigued by the use of the Baldrige framework in Tennessee’s Sullivan County, which had been initiated by the county’s public health director, Gary Mayes.

Today, Dreyzehner takes pride that 11 subunits of his state health department will receive Level 1 TNCPE recognition at the ceremony next week. He says that his organization will apply at the next level in 2014. At the same time, he stresses, “We’re about the journey, not the award.”  

“What this is about is empowering employees in public service. We’re trying to foster this framework throughout the organization in order to get everybody engaged,” he said. “We’re looking to encourage a posture in everybody . . . so that they’re in a position to make the customer’s experience transformative rather than just transactional.”  

“We want customers to feel that they’re getting really good value,” he added. “A lot of times people are coming to us not because they want to, but because they have to. It is a privilege to be in public service. We really want to delight the people we serve if we can.”

Dreyzehner’s agency provides direct services to 1 in 5 Tennesseans, while also touching on the lives of all residents through its regulatory role. “This is one of the reasons having [the Baldrige] framework is so important: so everybody [providing government services] can have a common approach,” he said. To that end, more than a dozen employees in his agency have been trained as TNCPE examiners and are helping to lead their units in the health department, according to Dreyzehner.

In addition, he said, more than 500 employees have been trained in the Baldrige Criteria over the last few years. Among other Tennessee organizations helped by their involvement with TNCPE is TRICOR, a quasi-governmental organization (self-funded with a board of directors appointed by the governor) that provides job training for individuals incarcerated in the state. TRICOR sent its first employee to become trained as a TNCPE examiner in 2008; by 2011 it had earned a Level 2 TNCPE award. When preparing an organizational profile for its first (Level 1) TNCPE award application, TRICOR leaders and employees had an epiphany.

According to TRICOR CEO Patricia Weiland, as they were discussing the elements of their organizational profile, they realized the mission needed to be restated to make clear TRICOR’s core purpose of preparing people for employment. “We got involved with Baldrige and TNCPE for our sustainability,” said Weiland. “Until we got involved with Baldrige process, we’d always recognized as our key customers those individuals who purchased our products and services. Once we were going through the TNCPE application as well as our strategic planning process we realized that we had missed a key customer—the offenders who were working in our training programs. We had to change our mission and vision statement, and one of our performance indicators became reducing recidivism.”

She added, “It was amazing. It has changed the culture and direction of our organization. It has brought clarity to where we need to spend our time and our resources. Being involved in the Baldrige process has placed us as a national leader in the field of reentry.”

As Dreyzehner suggested, with the number of organizations in his state using and benefitting from Baldrige resources, the momentum of performance improvement and excellence has been building across the public and private sectors alike: “It’s an exciting time in Tennessee state government. The state government started the TNCPE, and it’s really benefitted our private sector. And I see more and more people are seeing the value of it. Our governor, Bill Haslam, is really interested in management and alignment and seeing that we’re delivering the best service for the lowest cost.”

“More and more of the [state government] departments are using the TNCPE and the Baldrige framework to help us do that,” he added. “It’s one of the things that gives our state a competitive advantage.”  

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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Katie and her team are top notch. I served as an examiner in 11-12 and thoroughly enjoyed my examiner time and training. The TNCPE approach is a "best practice" that should be emulated by any state CPE agency looking to take their program to the next level.
D Avey, I would be very interested in speaking to you about the Baldrige criteria as it relates to government. Can you please contact me at lauren [at] (lauren[at]theliquorlicenseadvisor[dot]com)? Thank you.
Hi Christine, Have taken the liberty to share this article to my clients in Government in South Africa. Although we are SA Excellence Model bound, the Baldrige remains a guiding benchmark.Thanks and kind regards.
Thank you; we are always pleased to hear such news.
Characterizing the Baldrige framework as being "like the plastic thingy that helps you hold together a six-pack of beer” is about as creative as you can get. I wonder what generated this "aha moment." Did the Commissioner offer any insights as to what part of the Baldrige process he sees as the "the pop top?" Could it be the feedback report? I am so intoxicated by this analogy that I plan to extend it to include other attributes of the product.

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