Insights to Excellence: Tips from the Country’s Highest Performing Organizations


I just got back last week from the Quest for Excellence, the Baldrige Program’s annual conference, in Baltimore.  Recognized for achieving high performance were four extraordinary organizations (each also to be featured in next week’s PENworks 2015 Minnesota conference): PricewaterhouseCoopers Public Sector Practice (VA), St. David’s HealthCare (TX), Elevations Credit Union (CO), and Hill Country Memorial (TX).  But much more important than the recognition were the best practices these organizations each shared – validated processes, methods, and tools to improve outcomes, optimize resources, and achieve and sustain high performance.  I will share with you 20 insights I heard from these leaders – insights that certainly translate to your business, school, hospital, nonprofit, or governmental agency.  But these are only 20 of potentially hundreds of best practices that will be shared at next week’s PENworks 2015 conference (we have a few seats still open if you want to hear from these four leaders first hand, along with 20 other speakers who are all working to improve organizational outcomes)…

Here are a few of the many incredible insights shared at the 2015 Quest for Excellence conference:

  • As soon as you change something, you discover another vulnerability – another opportunity.  (Scott McIntyre, Managing Director, PricewaterhouseCoopers Public Sector Practice)
  • The more complicated your environment gets, the simpler you need to be.  (Jayne Pope, CEO, Hill Country Memorial)
  • Once you’ve had success, you need to set a higher bar.  (David Huffstutler, CEO, St. David’s HealthCare)
  • You must celebrate both large and small victories.  (Gerry Agnes, CEO, Elevations Credit Union)
  • You can’t just follow your core competencies.  To stay ahead, you must reward innovators, risk takers, disruptors. (McIntyre)
  • Once you’ve committed to a climb, you’re committed to find the top.  (Pope)
  • You need a disciplined and organized process to get better as an organization; for us, that is Baldrige.  (Huffstutler)
  • It’s difficult – but necessary – to throw away the good so you can seek the better.  (McIntyre)
  • My job as a leader is to serve the people who serve the people.  (Pope)
  • Working for a mediocre organization is more challenging than working for an excellent one.  Your people want to make it better.  (Agnes)
  • Performance improvement never ends.  (Huffstutler)
  • The role of a leader is to create an environment where employees can be honest, take risks, and improve processes.  (Agnes)
  • If we’re not getting better faster than our competitors, then we’re losing ground.  (McIntyre)
  • Use Baldrige to really know whether you are getting better and to benchmark yourself against organizations, not just in your industry but across industries. (Huffstutler)
  • Employees want to be seen, heard, and valued.  (Agnes)
  • Leveraging core competencies is what truly differentiates you in your industry and market.  (Pope)
  • The role of leaders is to set vision, provide tools, and develop future leaders.  (McIntyre)
  • To be successful, you have to believe in what you do, understanding that you’re involved in a higher purpose.  That is our culture.  (Huffstutler)
  • A leader’s job tis to create a safe environment for honest conversations.  (Agnes)
  • We’re thrilled to see what happens when you really put your focus on quality improvement, on really listening to your customers and your clients, setting your egos aside and trying new things in the name of the advancement of quality and innovation.  (McIntyre)

Next week, PEN hosts our annual conference, PENworks 2015 (April 27-28).  We’re featuring more than 20 local, regional, and national organizations on the journey to excellence – each sharing how there are improving leadership effectiveness, focus on customer, workforce engagement, strategy development and execution, data-based decisions, using Lean to reduce waste, and many other best practices.

  • There will be businesses (Andersen Windows, Seagate Technology, Du Fresne Manufacturing Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Elevations Credit Union);
  • there will be healthcare systems (Mayo Clinic Health System, The Goodman Group [long-term care], Olmsted Medical Center, St. David’s HealthCare, and Hill Country Memorial);
  • there will be education institutions (Centennial School District, Duluth Public Schools, and Hennepin Technical College);
  • there will be government agencies (Olmsted County, City of Minneapolis, State of Minnesota, SD National Guard, and Dakota County); and
  • there will be subject matter experts (such as Good Leadership Enterprise and Compass Affiliates, which specializes in Lean).

The learning will be deep; the networking will be rich; the energy and inspiration for starting or accelerating improvement initiatives will be high.  I hope to see you all at PENworks!  For information or to register for PENworks, visit here.

What other insights do you have for improving organizational outcomes and achieving performance excellence?  Participate in a discussion on this topic: visit our LinkedIn group to post a comment.

Never stop improving!

Brian S. Lassiter

President, Performance Excellence Network (formerly Minnesota Council for Quality)

Catalyst for Success Since 1987!