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Harry Hertz


A Memorable Quest for Excellence Moment

Ongoing learning is a key to employee motivation and engagement

Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 11:10

Before you read further, get your tissues out. I’ve had many memorable moments over the years at Quest for Excellence conferences. And I’ve never left an annual conference without some immediate action items and feeling inspired that excellence is achievable in every type of organization. But there’s one experience that stands out. Let me share it and the effect it had on me.

The year was 1993, and Graniterock, a 100-year old, family-owned construction materials provider in Watsonville, California, was one of the Baldrige Award’s most recent recipients in the small business category. It was during the session on workforce focus, where a concrete truck driver was presenting for Graniterock. That was an unusual choice back then, when the head of human resources was the typical presenter. The driver relayed the experience he had negotiating his annual performance agreement a year earlier. Being a small company, all employees discussed their performance plans with Bruce Woolpert, the company’s CEO. Our presenter had been avoiding Woolpert because he hadn’t had the time to draft his performance plan for the year. Growing impatient, Woolpert finally said, “We’re going to meet today. Draft your plan.”

The driver couldn’t draft his plan. In previous years his wife had helped him, and he hadn’t had a chance to discuss it with her.

When he arrived in Woolpert’s office, with a blank plan, he had to admit to never having learned to read or write. Woolpert then took it upon himself to arrange for tutoring, in an adult environment, for the driver. After assessment, it turned out he had undiagnosed dyslexia. It was now a year later at the Quest for Excellence conference with hundreds of people in the room, and he was reading a speech he’d written about his own journey of learning and about Granitrock’s and its leadership’s commitment to employees. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as he received a standing ovation. (By the way, he’s now working on getting a private pilot’s license!)

One of the three basic tenets behind the Baldrige framework is a commitment to organizational and personal learning. Why? Because we’ve learned from role-model organizations that ongoing learning is a key to employee motivation and engagement, and they, in turn, are drivers of organizational success.

Although organizations still think of compensation as the primary employee motivator, we’ve learned about the greater power of ongoing opportunities to learn, and the benefits of a simple thank you from a supervisor or leader. Fair compensation is important, but the nonmonetary opportunities and recognition are long-term engagement factors.

I left that meeting with a renewed and strengthened commitment to my colleagues. We are together with each other for more time each day than most employees and their families. We are a family. We need to treat each other with respect and love. This memory has guided my actions for the more than 20 years.

Do you want to be inspired? Do you want to hear from motivational leaders? Do you want to witness the power of an engaged workforce? Join us April 12–15, 2015, in Baltimore for the 27th Annual Quest for Excellence Conference. You’ll leave it be better informed and glad you came.


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 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.