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Harry Hertz


Love and Excellence

Here are six themes that led five organizations on their Baldrige journeys

Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2018 - 11:01

The greatest challenge I have each year when I return from the Baldrige Program’s annual Quest for Excellence Conference is prioritizing the most important messages for me and my organization, whether that is my work organization, volunteer organization, or—yes—my family (this one might be stealth). There are always so many great ideas that I know I will not succeed at implementing any of them unless I select only a few for action. The 30th anniversary conference was no different. I returned energized and started organizing my thoughts.

My process begins with seeking thematic highlights and also capturing one or two individual gems of wisdom that I heard from individual speakers. Maybe these will help you set some of your priorities, even if you were unable to attend the conference. Maybe my reflections from this year’s conference will also encourage you to attend the Quest for Excellence Conference next year and discover your own themes.

This year there were five 2017 Baldrige Award recipients from the business, healthcare, and nonprofit sectors: Bristol Tennessee Essential Services, Stellar Solutions, Adventist Health Castle, Southcentral Foundation, and City of Fort Collins. Their products and services are widely different, but their approaches to excellence have remarkably similar, positive outcomes.

Six themes

Following are my six themes. We have seen components of each of them before—they are not new concepts—but when they are practiced together, they yield very powerful results. I will begin with the most pervasive theme this year. It has always been present in Baldrige Award recipients; however, this year the word (not just the intent) was used frequently and unabashedly, and it set the tone for me for the whole conference. The word is love.

Love matters

These five organizations love their employees, love their customers, and love their communities. For all of them it is about relationships. And as an outcome of those relationships they have the financial resources to treat all these people well.

I was first struck by the boldness of this theme when Kathy Raethel of Adventist Health Castle shared her organization’s core competencies, of which one is “Love Matters.” Adventist Health Castle focuses on a culture where love matters to the extent that it permeates all relationships and everything the organization does. Within the first 90 days of employment, all employees attend an empathy-building workshop entitled “In Their Shoes.” This is accompanied by a set of “Always Behaviors” to promote caring interactions among workforce members and patients and a compassionate, healing ministry.

Southcentral Foundation, too, is all about relationships—the organization’s customers are its owners, in deed and in fact. The acronym for Southcentral Foundation’s operating principles is RELATIONSHIPS. With those relationships, Southcentral Foundation goes “behind our eyes and with our hearts” to build true empathy.

At Stellar Solutions the vision is “satisfying our customers’ critical needs while realizing our dream jobs.” And 97 percent of Stellar Solutions’ employees say the leadership team shows an interest in each of them as a person, not just an employee.

Fort Collins describes its culture with a three-word acronym: IT—WE—I. (IT is what we do, WE is the love for the people we work with, and I is the support for achieving my personal and professional growth.)

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services’ values statement uses the Rotary 4-Way Test, ending with “Is it fair to all? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”


Highly technical organizations are not generally known for the softer side of people interactions. They generally focus on knowledge transfer, facts, and data.

This is not true for Stellar Solutions; even with a geographically dispersed workforce serving at its contactors’ sites, Stellar has an annual storytelling issue of its Constellations newsletter. How else would you share dreams and dream jobs?

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services, another technical company, considers storytelling so important that it retains a professor to teach storytelling to its employees. Southcentral Foundation started each of its presentations at the Quest for Excellence Conference with the speakers sharing their tribe and a story. At Southcentral Foundation a core concept is WELLNESS, and the first “S” stands for “share our stories and our hearts.” Adventist Health Castle, too, values storytelling, saying it is about every patient, every employee.

Community commitment

All Baldrige Award recipients are good citizens and stewards of their communities. This year, community focus was at the core of each of the recipients’ frame of reference, going beyond the focus I have seen in the past.

For Fort Collins, its core competency is “commitment to community.” For Stellar Solutions, community outreach is one of its 16 key processes, and 100 percent of the employees say, “I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community.” They contribute to their community through the Stellar Solutions Foundation and through humanitarian research and development with their Quakefinder project (for earthquakes) that additionally fosters STEM education.

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services is a local business serving its local community. So every chance meeting of a Bristol Tennessee Essential Services employee (or even a family member of an employee) with a Bristol citizen is an opportunity to listen to the voice of the customer. And those individual messages are causes for action when brought back to Bristol Tennessee Essential Services. Its mission is about providing service to customers and the community.

Adventist Health Castle exists because of community involvement. It was intense community interest that launched a campaign in 1953 to establish a medical center in Windward O‘ahu. Today, Adventist Health Castle is first in Hawaii for population health. The organization’s vision states, “We will transform the health experience of our community.”

The Southcentral Foundation vision is “A Native Community that enjoys physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness.” And the mission is about working with the organization’s customer-owners to achieve wellness. In addition, Southcentral Foundation leaders talk about “growing their own” to guarantee healthcare to their community for generations to come.

Process orientation

An organization doesn’t become a Baldrige Award recipient without a process orientation. This year’s award recipients brought that focus to a new level. I don’t remember a time in recent history where process focus has been so significantly a focus of senior leaders’ presentations and so well-related to leadership systems. Furthermore, for these five organizations, the process focus is driven from the organizations’ visions and strategic plans.

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services has a defined process for cascading strategic plans down to each employee’s role. By the company’s open admission, Stellar Solutions employees “are rocket scientists” who manage their performance through 16 key processes. Each process is defined using the Baldrige assessment scoring guidelines of approach, deployment, learning, and integration (ADLI) and levels, trends, comparisons, and integration (LeTCI ). The LeTCI help ensure that appropriate results are defined and tracked for each process. Each process has a defined goal, objectives, subprocesses, measures, a “what we care about” statement, and tools and products.

Surprisingly, Fort Collins also has 16 key processes. I don’t know that 16 is the magic number, but I do believe this coincidence has meaning—an organization needs a realistically trackable number of key processes or else they lose meaning as key processes and can’t be regularly reviewed by the senior leadership team. These key processes also serve as a communication tool of what is really important to achieving the mission and vision of the organization.

One of the key lessons that Adventist Health Castle learned on its Baldrige journey was that deploying an integrated strategy and performance management system creates a “remarkable ability to execute.” Adventist Health Castle specifically references a remarkable ability to execute for the benefit of employees, patients, and other key stakeholders. Finally, Southcentral Foundation, a two-time Baldrige Award recipient, is already well-known from its prior Baldrige presentation on its Nuka system, an integrated process for care relationships and care delivery.

Tracking key metrics yields great financials

This year, I saw a clear line of sight from strategy to customer and operational process key performance indicators, and to actual reported in-process and outcome measures. Furthermore, I repeatedly heard that when the right performance indicators are tracked, including key indicators of employee engagement, the financial performance outcomes will follow. This was a message delivered by all five recipients.

Imagine a utility company that could go from broke to having five years of capital funding in the bank and deliver reliable electrical service with 60 minutes or less annual outage time for your household (that’s Bristol Tennessee Essential Services). Imagine a healthcare system that could go from the bottom quartile to top decile performance in population health in five years and do it debt-free with a 10.3-percent EBIDA margin (that’s Adventist Health Castle). Imagine a healthcare system that is owned by its customers, delivers 97-percent customer satisfaction and performs in the 75th–90th percentile on many Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) measures (that’s Southcentral Foundation), while growing the operating reserve by 6 percent from 2012 to 2017. Imagine a city that receives a 90-percent rating on overall quality of city services and commits to being carbon-neutral by 2050, while maintaining a credit rating of “Aaa” by Moody’s, a rating maintained by only 4 percent of governments (that’s Fort Collins). Finally, imagine a small company of rocket scientists that has defined metrics for each of its 16 key processes, with leadership communication and community outreach being two of those key processes, and where 100 percent of your customers would recommend you to other organizations, with sufficient earnings to fund a foundation and humanitarian R&D (that’s Stellar Solutions).

Technology focus

Today, technology is pervasive; but this year’s recipients uniformly went beyond the norm in using technology to drive innovations that serve their customers. Given the challenge of its extremely large and frequently remote geographic service, Southcentral Foundation has been a pioneer for years in the use of telemedicine. Adventist Health Castle prides itself on combining “state-of-the-art technology with state-of-the-heart care.” Stellar Solutions is doing rocket science “for a living,” while also developing autonomous trucks and performing humanitarian research on predicting earthquakes. Bristol Tennessee Essential Services is delivering 10 Gbyte/sec internet speeds to all its customers, while many of us are receiving residential service around 1 Gbyte/sec at premium rates. Fort Collins is one of the most digital cities in the United States, is reducing its carbon footprint while growing its population, and is already controlling traffic lights with Bluetooth data that react to the volume of traffic.

I hope some of these six themes resonate with your organization. Considering these as six themes that exemplify contemporary excellence, I invite you to see if there are opportunities in these areas for your organization to pursue. Doing so isn’t rocket science (except for some of the technology).

Two gems

Occasionally, there are some simple truths that strike a particularly responsive chord with me because they provide great wisdom in a single statement. There were two of these gems in remarks made by Darin Atteberry, city manager of Fort Collins: “Treat metrics as a flashlight to shine attention on an opportunity for improvement, not as a hammer to beat on responsible people or processes.”

I encourage you to consider how you use your overall organizational and process metrics.
• Are the metrics measuring what is important?
• Are you using them to guide performance improvement?
• Are you improving with a flashlight or a hammer?

“Don’t lead in an average way; you’ll get average people and average performance.” Or to rephrase, “Lead your organization toward remarkable goals, and you will develop a remarkable workforce, producing remarkable results.”

How are you leading your organization?
• Are your goals to reach average or the 50th percentile? Or are your goals to reach the 90th percentile or benchmark performance?
• Are you celebrating success along the way? Or are you ignoring or, even worse, punishing people for not making sufficient progress?
• Are you using setbacks as a cause for negativity or a source of information to determine cause and reward process improvement?

Are you on the road to performance excellence?


About The Author

Harry Hertz’s picture

Harry Hertz

Harry Hertz retired in June 2013 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he had served as director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 1995. For more than 15 years he was the primary architect of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, responsible for expansion of the Baldrige Program and Award to healthcare, education, and nonprofits, including government. Hertz serves on the advisory group for VHA’s Center for Applied Healthcare Studies, and on the adjunct faculty of American University. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. from M.I.T.