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Christine Schaefer


To Be a Baldrige Examiner: ‘Truly Committed to Helping’

‘My first training felt like drinking from a fire hose.’

Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - 12:02

Robert Rouzer is retired, but he may be busier than ever as a Baldrige volunteer. In recent years, Rouzer has served not only as a Baldrige examiner for the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, but also as a state-level examiner for two Baldrige-based award programs that are part of the nonprofit Alliance for Performance Excellence. (The Alliance is a network of programs that partner with the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program to help organizations of any size, sector, and state to adopt the Baldrige Excellence Framework to improve their performance.)

Before his retirement in 2015, Rouzer was University of Illinois-Chicago executive associate director of Campus Auxiliary Services and assistant to the vice chancellor for Student Affairs. In the following interview, he describes some of the gratifying experiences that have kept him involved in Baldrige volunteer work year after year.

Robert Rouzer

How did you first become interested in being a Baldrige examiner?

Like many examiners, I was “voluntold” to get involved by my supervisor. The Lincoln Foundation for Performance Excellence (now known as Illinois Performance Excellence–ILPEx) was recruiting [state-level] examiners at a time that our institution (University of Illinois-Chicago) was preparing to go through an extensive strategic planning process. My supervisor wanted me to lead that effort for our division and felt that the examiner training and experience would be good preparation for our institution’s strategic planning. Little did she know that I would get so engaged with the Baldrige process that I would be asking her to support my participation in the Illinois [Baldrige-based award] program for the next decade!

When I retired in 2015, I decided to apply to be a Baldrige examiner in the national program, where I’ve served for the past four years, as well as continuing to work with ILPEx and, since moving to Tennessee in 2018, with the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence (TNCPE). [Editor’s note: Both ILPEx and TNCPE are members of the nonprofit Alliance for Performance Excellence, a network of Baldrige-based regional and state award programs and a key partner of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.]

What were your impressions and highlights of your first training (the Examiner Preparation Course)? What have been highlights for you of annual examiner training in subsequent years?

My first training felt like drinking from a fire hose. I was sure that I was the slowest learner in the room. Every time I thought I had a grasp on something, I would ask a question and discover that concept I thought I understood had slipped out of my hands. Higher education’s approach to improvement has traditionally been to use peer review processes, which tend to be far more qualitative than fact-based. Perhaps that explains why so few higher education institutions have engaged in Baldrige processes. At any rate, I soon discovered that those other really smart new people in the training were just as confused as I was. Fortunately, we had great instructors and more experienced examiners to help us along and remind us to “trust the process.”

My subsequent training experiences have shown me that Baldrige examiners as a whole are individuals who are truly committed to helping each other, sharing ideas, tips, tools, and ways to approach the review process so that we can provide applicants with feedback that will help them achieve performance excellence.

Would you please share some memorable learning experiences you’ve had as an examiner on Consensus Review teams (the second phase of the annual Baldrige Award process)? 

I think that the most memorable learning experience I’ve had during the consensus process has centered on the transition from individual views of the [Baldrige award] application to a team view. During independent review [first phase of the evaluation process] and even during item consolidation [early in consensus review], examiners are assembling an individual picture of the organization and (in consolidation) of their assigned items. The goal of consensus is to adopt a team picture. I’ve learned that it is crucial to remain open to different viewpoints and to really listen to the rest of the team. There are times when you need to hold onto a position and others when you need to change your mind. If you aren’t actively listening to your colleagues, it’s hard to evaluate your own viewpoints. 

Similarly, would you please share some memorable learning experiences you’ve had as an examiner on a site visit (the third and final phase of the award process)?

Site visits are always exceptional experiences. No matter how well you think you know an organization from their application, the reality is always much richer. Whether an organization is a likely award recipient, or (at the state level) just starting out on their Baldrige journey, choosing to adopt the Baldrige framework shows a commitment to the Baldrige core values. After more than a dozen state and national site visits, I have not met anyone on a site visit who was not committed to their organization and to providing quality products, programs, and services to their customers/patients/students. Similarly, that dedication to performance excellence is what brings examiner teams together. Unless you’ve met someone on a former team or during training, teams are a collection of strangers brought together in a shared effort. I’ve always been impressed by how quickly these groups of strangers with different skills, training, and experiences come together to complete the huge amount of work required to produce a quality feedback report for the applicant.

How do you “Baldrige”? [perform an assessment of an organization against the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, part of the Baldrige Excellence Framework]

I keep the framework booklet file open on one laptop since I can then search faster than paging through the hard copy. Plus, the PDF file has the Criteria Commentary, to which I refer regularly. The big screen allows me to split the screen between the worksheets that I use while reviewing the application and BOSS [Baldrige Online Scorebook Solution]. This makes “cut and paste” easy. Typically, there is also the hard-copy application and sticky notes all over the place to remind me of things I want to look for across [criteria] categories.

How do your colleagues/family/friends view your service as a Baldrige examiner?

I think my family believes that I’ve joined some sort of cult. Every spring I go off for most of a week for “training” in something I’ve been doing for 15 years. (“Haven’t you learned that stuff yet?”) Then each summer, I lock myself away for a couple weeks to “review an application” and spend hours on the phone. Finally, in September, I again disappear for a week for some sort of mysterious “site visit.” Throughout these “episodes,” they hear me speaking a funny language that includes “OFIs, ADLI, and LeTCI, and cycles of learning.” Is it any wonder they worry about me?

Seriously though, they know that I believe that I am performing important work in helping strong organizations to become even better. I’ve spoken with them about those organizations that have been recognized and the amazing practices they’ve adopted. But most of all, they know that I enjoy the time I spend with other examiners in training, with team members during the review process, and with the dedicated individuals I’ve met on site visits.

First published Jan. 6, 2020, on Blogrige.


About The Author

Christine Schaefer’s picture

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer joined the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program in 2005, after nearly 15 years in nonprofit publishing, largely editing education-related periodicals and books. As an education team member, Schaefer writes, edits, and serves in other capacities at Baldrige including public outreach, the Baldrige Award process, and volunteer training. She has served as the editing team leader and a work group member on the Baldrige staff. Schaefer has a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary political and social thought from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from Georgetown University.