Category Archives: Blog

An Update on San Diego County’s South Region

By COE Director Stephanie Norling

As you may know, San Diego County's South Region was one of the first communities to adopt the Communities of Excellence Framework.  Starting in 2015, I've had the pleasure of working closely with their team to both support their implementation efforts and to learn from their experience in order to make improvements to both the Framework and the approach to adopting it.  Their "community" is a region of over 500,000 residents.  This may sound daunting, and there are certainly many challlenges, but one of the reasons that they've been able to make such incredible strides lies in the cohesion and "shared identity" of both the South Region Leadership Team and the Region itself.  

This was most evident in the experience I had yesterday with their team.  The Health and Human Services Agency for the County (the backbone organization) has spent the last year working closely with the South Region Leadership Team to develop their Baldrige-based Community Profile.  Given the size of the Leadership Team (sometimes almost 50 people in attendance), they decided to form a small Ad Hoc Committee to assist them with the Profile.  The Committee would brainstorm responses to the Profile questions and the HHSA staff would compile that information, summarize it and then share it with the Committee at the next meeting for agreement, all the while updating the Leadership Team on their progress. 

A couple months ago, knowing that they would need confirmation from residents (Voice of the Resident), the team put together a questionaire that asked residents whether they agreed with profile of the community as well as asked about their priorties for their community.  Last week they tested that survey at a Health Fair in the region (true to their Performance Improvement System, they are using the PDSA improvement process for these surveys). The responses from the 47 residents that took the survey confirmed the statements in the Profile quite well.  They used Promotoras and South Bay Community Services Resident Leadership Academy graduates to survey residents. 

One story from that experience stood out to me:  One of the Resident Leaders who was helping out told the San Diego South Region team that she had been having some challenges at home and wasn’t sure if she would be able to go to the health fair.  She decided to share the survey with her husband and explain why she felt it was so important.  She told us that he was really excited to see what she was doing and not only was she able to participate but her husband was able to better understand the importance of the work she was doing in the community and wanted to get involved himself. Not only was she able to go the health fair that day, but that she felt like it helped their relationship.

I know all too well the importance of identifying early successes in our communities adopting this framework.  Improving outcomes such as graduation rates or diabetes rates can take many years.  Small impacts such as this story though are starting to happen right away.  I don't often get to see the day to day impact that the Communties of Excellence Framework can have on residents.  I am so grateful to the South Region team for all their hard work, dedication, and ability to take the time to step back and acknowledge such important aspects of their journey.

The Value of Cross-Sector Collaboration

By Kruse Scholar Alum Rob Platou

In 2014 I accepted a job offer that took me from sunny Southern California to rural Southeast Georgia to work at a community hospital that was part of the Mayo Clinic Health System.  After starting my new job, I volunteered to join the local Waycross Rotary Club to help represent the hospital in the community.  From this experience I was able to learn of a cross-sector collaboration between the local school district, the technical college and the local business community.  This collaboration’s aim was to help high school students prepare for higher education and meaningful employment. This naturally occurring collaboration demonstrated the tremendous value that cross-sector initiatives can provide.  It also illustrates how the Communities of Excellence Framework could provide communities across the country with a systematic framework to collaborate on and achieve multiple-shared community goals. 

Waycross is small city in Southeast Georgia about an hour and a half drive from Jacksonville, Florida. The population has steadily declined from 20,944 at its peak in 1960 to 14,053 in 2015.  The medium household income for a family in Waycross is $28,712 which is significantly below US median household income of $51,939.  Six railway lines converge in Waycross and CSX Transportation operates a large railway hub called Rice Yard.  Timber farming is a major industry which supplies several large Biomass plants producing wood pellets used in European Power Plants.  The major educational institutions include Ware County School District, Costal Pines Technical College and South Georgia State College.

Given the community’s unique socio-economic circumstances, the following stakeholders came together and identified their primary needs:

1) Business Community: Need for an educated and trained local workforce

2) Secondary Education: Promote education programs to provide high school students seeking a college degree affordable opportunities to earn transferable college credit while still in high school

3) Community Technical College: Promote educational programs to provide students who do not have the opportunity to go to college, technical training programs that enable graduates join the local workforce quickly with meaningful employment. 

In close collaboration these different community sectors sought to maximize and promote the State of Georgia’s Move On When Ready program (MOWR).  This program allows qualifying high school students to take eligible college courses at the community college for free that also meet high school graduation requirements.  After identifying the workforce training needs of the local business community, Costal Pines Technical College promoted multiple technical training programs accessible to high school students through the MOWR program.  Some of these certificate programs included Timber Farming, Hospitality Services, Welding, and CNA certification. 

The college also provided several options for high school students to attend classes on the college campus or by assigning certified technical college instructors to teach at the high school.  With these programs in place it was feasible for a high school student to be able to complete these training programs while still in high school at no cost to them. Upon high school graduation these student’s could enter the workforce with technical certification and make $38,000 - $41,000 a year which is significant in this community.

This naturally occurring cross-sector collaboration provides significate opportunities for young people in the Waycross community while also meeting the needs of local businesses and educational institutions. This example from Waycross is just one of many examples of cross-sector collaborations that result in the improved vitality of communities.  The Communities of Excellence Framework could provide communities like Waycross the tools to encourage, promote and enable coordinated cross-sector collaborations to solve multiple community problems in a systematic framework.   

Meet our Communities: West Kendall, Florida

By Javier Hernandez-Lichtl, CEO, West Kendall Baptist Hospital

From before West Kendall Baptist Hospital opened, our staff has operated under guiding themes that describe who we are and what we value. As we prepared to open, it was “Building Our Team,” then “Opening Our Doors,” followed by the “Year of the People” and so on. In 2013, in response to our Community Health Needs Assessment, we launched Healthy West Kendall, a community coalition with the vision of creating the healthiest community in Florida. We’ve had many successes, from the 13,000-plus free screenings we’ve provided to the school gardens and walking school bus projects helping kids develop healthy lifestyle habits, to hosting community events that draw more than 10,000 participants each year. Yet, as we entered our sixth year of operation, I knew it was time to “redefine” (our current theme) and look for the next curve, something that would catapult our community to the next level. Then late one night as I reviewed emails, I clicked on a link about Communities of Excellence 2026 and knew immediately I had found what our West Kendall community needed.

To understand our journey here, we have to go back 15 years, when the rapidly growing area now known as West Kendall was a patchwork of neighborhoods without many of the anchoring institutions – businesses, restaurants, government, etc. – that root a community and lend it an identity. Residents here were used to driving many miles east and north to buy groceries, shop for clothes and gifts, or even get a meal in a restaurant that didn’t use plastic utensils. Still, the people who lived here knew they needed a hospital in their community and asked Baptist Health South Florida to be their provider. Fast forward to 2011, when the hospital finally opened. On our first day, we saw 71 people in our emergency department, admitted our first inpatient and delivered our first baby. It was a true testament to the need that existed, and we were proud to be the health system helping to fill that gap. Today West Kendall Baptist serves as physical and metaphorical town center for this sprawling community of nearly 400,000 people that represents 15% of the county population. Our emergency department serves 70,000 and we care for more than 8,700 inpatients; nearly 1,000 babies are born each year inside our walls. But it’s what we do outside our facility that makes me most proud.

Our innovation drivers – teams focused on Arts & Culture, Green & Sustainable, Technology & Health & Wellness – have hosted community events like a technology showcase and roadside clean ups, conducted field trips to see recycling plants and food distribution centers and connected with residents through the arts and wellness activities. Through Healthy West Kendall, we are addressing the social, cultural and environmental factors that shape the health of our residents. These include creating streets and public spaces that support health, building a stronger economic base in our community, making sure all children have a chance to succeed in school and helping new immigrants gain a foothold on the American Dream. Nearly 80% of West Kendall residents are Hispanic/Latino, and more than half speak a language other than English at home. They come from a host of Caribbean, Central and South American countries – Cuba, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico – and the unique perceptions and beliefs they bring to the community offers tremendous opportunity and, in some cases, a few challenges.

Driven in part by an influx of immigrants, West Kendall grew by 23% in the decade between 2000 and 2010, adding about 73,000 residents seeking cheaper housing, safer neighborhoods and open space. Nestled between the Everglades on the west and the Florida turnpike on the east, West Kendall has transformed into a heavily populated collection of enclosed housing developments and commercial strip shopping centers, anchored by two institutions of higher education – Florida International University and Miami Dade College, an executive airport and West Kendall Baptist Hospital. West Kendall remains part of unincorporated Miami-Dade County, and the absence of a municipality contributes to a lack of cohesion and sense of place that some residents have sought without success to change.

The Communities of Excellence journey that we have embarked upon will provide a foundation on which to unite our community behind the shared value of belonging – to a place and a community – and identity. Our experience with the Sterling Award has taught us that what gets measured gets done. The raw materials for a world-class community are here, and Communities of Excellence 2026 is our way forward.

Read more about West Kendall here

Brookfield & Marceline: A Team of Rivals

By Becky Cleveland

The rural communities of Marceline and Brookfield, both located in North Central Missouri’s  Linn County, have teamed up to pilot Communities of Excellence 2026.  We are hopeful that successful implementation of this approach  will serve to align the leadership of our communities and county in such a way as to foster cooperation and serve to provide strategic decision-making across sectors, generations and local jurisdictions.   Our goal is to restore economic vitality to our small towns and county by turning around the decades’ long population decline, out-migration of youth, and loss of businesses; all while preserving the rural quality of life that we treasure.

In our quest to work together toward a better future, let’s look at the histories of these communities, and a single tradition that would embolden them to create a team of rivals.  During the great American expansion westward, two separate railroads laid track through the beautiful countryside of North Central Missouri’s Linn County.   To service the needs of the railroads, new towns were established at fixed intervals so the locomotives could refuel and switch out crews.  Thus were the births of Brookfield in 1859, as the Division Headquarters of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and Marceline in 1887, the Division Headquarters for the Sante Fe Railroad.  As the crow flies, only 8 miles of cropland and pastures separated the two towns.  Although close by today’s measure of distance, the two towns began very separate, with each town having its own self-sustaining economy.  In those days it was a day trip by horse and buggy to visit a relative in the neighboring town, that is, if you planned to make it back home before dark.  So for most purposes, folks stayed put.  With few exceptions, everything you wanted or needed could be obtained from your own town.  Folks in rural places were self-sufficient and that belief spilled over into the social fabric and culture of rural community life.

Over the next several years both Marceline and Brookfield grew in size and prosperity, each becoming Saturday night shopping stops for the smaller towns and local farm families that dotted the countryside.  The industrial age introduced factories and more off-farm jobs to both communities.  It also ushered in the automobile and rural residents wasted no time trading in their buggies for the new horseless carriage.  Travel from town to town was now faster and easier making the distance traveled less significant, and opening up opportunities to be found in other places. The world was getting smaller and more accessible.  Even so, that strong rural culture and love for home continued to influence how each town kept its own distinct traditions and self-sufficient way of life.

A shared tradition between the two towns originated in 1909 when the high schools of Marceline and Brookfield played their first football game.  From the beginning this game was a highlight of the season. The rivalry between the two acquired regional attention in 1936 when an old brass bell donated from a retired fire truck became the traveling trophy.   The Bell Game, as it became known, soon escalated to a contest not only between two schools but also between two proud communities with the game’s winning team, and town, securing bragging rights until next year’s encounter on the grid iron.The week of the Bell Game grew to near holiday status, where hundreds of alumni from each town made their way back home to watch the game and relive their own contribution to games of the past.  It was not uncommon for the number of spectators to exceed the entire population of the hosting town with 3, 4 or maybe even 5 thousand attendees.   

From 1909 to 2004 the Bell Game tradition continued, rotating back and forth between these two towns, year after year, providing each community the opportunity for a victory,  in an economic climate where wins of any type were becoming increasingly rare.  The once growing communities had been losing population now since the Great Depression, with families—and especially their grown children—leaving for larger cities to find work.  Small farms had transitioned into larger, technologically advanced operations, requiring fewer hands to operate.  Competition overseas closed local factories forcing many families to relocate.  Even the original economic engine, the railroads, had reduced or even eliminated stops in the two towns.  It was a slow but steady drain of people, jobs, talent and, ultimately, a hopeful future for the two towns.   

As you might guess, declining populations is followed by a decrease in school enrollments and in 2004 the two school districts found themselves in different size classification.  Now what had begun in 1909 simply as two neighboring schools agreeing to play a football game had transitioned into a complicated state bureaucracy.  The outcome: the schools of Brookfield and Marceline where notified by the state association governing high school activities that the two teams could not play each other the following season, thus the legendary Bell Game would cease to exist.  

Even though, most would agree that a high school football game is not a community’s primary purpose for existence, this news just happened to serve as the final blow for two communities and schools who had experienced so much loss over the past 60 years.  This decision could not stand. What could be done?

These two proud communities, once self-reliant and independent, needed a champion and, ironically, the only ally they each had to stand up in challenging this decision was their neighbor, competitor and 100 year rival.   Brookfield needed Marceline and Marceline needed Brookfield.

I don’t want to keep you guessing…this part of the story has a happy ending, and the Bell Game was played the following fall season continuing the long standing tradition.   I hope you have guessed that the real story has less to do with the game and more to do with what can be accomplished when leaders align and work together to achieve a common goal.   The two schools and towns did something they had rarely done in the past; they came together across generations and city limits, and in spite of grudges and old worn-out local customs.  Together, they developed a plan utilizing the collective resources of both communities, including thousands of alumni, enabling them to mount a successful communications and letter writing campaign that literally reached coast to coast.

In looking back, the collaborative victory of saving the Bell Game not only kept a community tradition alive, it opened the eyes of both communities to the fruits that can come to bare from working together.   And because of that we are not ashamed to say that a high school football game did serve to lead the way to more and even greater shared projects including construction and operation of a new regional airport, public safety mutual-aid agreements between jurisdictions and shared curriculum between school districts in the form of summer school programs and career and technical training.    

Today in Marceline and Brookfield we strongly believe that by demonstrating mutual respect, trust, and aligning our communities through system-based leadership and resource-sharing, we can affect positive change in our local economy and that of the entire Northwest Missouri region.   We have chosen a proven set of leadership and management principles to help lead the way…Communities of Excellence 2026.  We hope you stay tuned!

Read more about the Brookfield-Marceline Community here


Trolls, Elves, and Strong Communities

By Kruse Scholar Spencer Cahoon

A week ago my wife and I returned from traveling through the lands of trolls, elves, and Vikings: Scandinavia.  From seeing spectacular waterfalls, tasting fermented shark meat, to exploring 800-year old wooden stave churches, this is one of the most unique adventures we have ever experienced.  And yet, apart from the exciting sites we saw, there was something very interesting about the countries of Iceland, Denmark, and Norway.  Each of these places consistently makes the list of top 10 happiest countries in the world.  Why?

It was in Iceland where we saw the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano (try to pronounce that!), the volcano that erupted in 2010, canceling thousands of flights across Europe due to drifting ash.  We heard from a family who’s farm and crops, situated at the base of the volcano, were practically destroyed due to the thick layer of deposited volcanic ash.  At a time of despair, this family’s Icelandic community rallied behind them to rescue the farm and help rebuild the family’s livelihood.  The wife said this sense of community is what kept her family going.  Touched by this shared support, she noted that, if given the chance, she wouldn’t go back and change a thing.

A second experience stands out from our travels in Denmark, where my wife and I spent time with Danish relatives.  Over a delicious helping of beef, potatoes, and gravy, I inquired what makes Denmark special to them.  Without hesitation, they unanimously said it was the sense of belonging and security that comes from their community.  “If we lose our jobs, home, or health, there will always be the social support to help us get back on our feet,” they said gratefully.

So, I return to my question of why these countries rank as some of the happiest on earth?  From what I was hearing, I believe it is directly related to the building of strong communities of excellence.  One of the features of a community of excellence, as well as a solid Baldrige abiding organization, is a switch from having satisfied residents (employees), to having engaged residents (employees).  When this happens, the mindset changes from “what can I get” to “what can I give?”  This is the mindset that I encountered in Scandinavia.  Do we also see this taking place in the United States?

Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith shared some inspiring words of wisdom at the 2017 annual PENworks conference.  Her words can be applied to how we increase engagement and build strong communities.  First, build a strong team.  Lt Governor Smith shared an analogy of a “beautifully balanced soup,” where all the ingredients matter.  Second is the Three Musketeers mantra, “One for all and all for one!”  Third, nothing is more important than listening.  And fourth, we need to “unplug” and rejuvenate in heart and spirit.

The Communities of Excellence 2026 experiment is flourishing in several areas of the country, with more communities joining the movement each year.  It is my hope that with the success of COE, more and more U.S. citizens will be able to say, “It is the strength of my community that makes America special to me.”

Read more about Spencer Cahoon here

Rural America: think regionally; act locally

Communities of Excellence 2026 is pleased to share a six part blog series by our National Learning Collaborative pilot cohort communities.  Today we begin with a post from Max Summers and Steve Wenger, representing the Northwest Missouri Regional Vitaltiy Initiative.  This initiative is part of the broader, regional focus to two of our communities:  Brookfield/Marceline and Maryville, Missouri who are part of this vision to think regionally; and act locally.


Like many rural areas, Northwest Missouri (NWMO) is a special place where the people are connected with their neighbors in a way that translates into “respect for” and “concern about” each other.  Children grow up with the freedom to be children, to explore and learn about the world around them. Many who left NWMO after high school look back on their childhood memories with great fondness and asked, “Can I give my children a similar experience”.

Research shows that about 40% of those who leave rural communities actually explore the possibility of returning for the sake of their children. When they look at NWMO they see quality schools, a workforce that is both talented and hardworking, a great quality of life for those that value the outdoors lifestyle, but they have difficulty to finding the needed support and networks to translate their skill and talent into economic viability. Brookfield, Missouri even set up a formal program tracking those who moved away so they could communicate and encourage them to come back home, which has been relatively successful.

Unfortunately, the economic opportunities do not always allow them to make the desired decisions. Rural NWMO is a way of life worth saving and protecting, but to do that the economics of the area must be rethought and transformed to the 21st century economy. Some argue natural economics should be allowed to take its course, however, that is not a thoughtful response as rural communities can compete, but in order to do that the region must reorganize around leadership that uses system thinking to help communities connect and plan together. This effort is bigger than NWMO or preserving rural America’s way of life, as is really about preserving the middle class.

As indicated above, our local-regional leadership has been handicapped by the lack of an appropriate structure to support regional decision-making processes cross sectorially. As a result, NWMO has unintentionally pushed away our local risk takers and innovators because of limited resources available to start, grow and develop their good customer-citizen problem solving ideas, services and businesses. Today’s innovation-based economic ecosystem is made up of quality workforce, recruitment, innovation networks and support for growing business through entrepreneurship and clustering, (clustering defined as: “similar and related firms in a defined geographic area that share common markets, technologies, work skill needs, and are often linked by buyer-seller relationship”).

Middle class has always been the backbone of rural American, but it is shrinking.  Rural communities need to move toward leadership that uses system thinking in order for communities within the region to identify their commonalities, key drivers and strategies. This will enable the region to focus and work together to amass the needed resources, talent, and networks to create shared value. Aligning decisions, engaging the right people and empowering them to work for the benefit of the region has the potential to transform the region economically, while preserving both the middle class and the quality of life.

We believe there is a way, so the Northwest Missouri Regional Vitality Initiative has stepped up to support area leaders in ensuring the region’s economic competitiveness. The initiative will use a performance excellence approach called “Communities of Excellence 2026”, which is based on leadership and management principles developed by the National Quality Award Program, aka Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework. These principles guide the initiative in aligning sectors, like businesses, schools, and government, so communities can begin to effect change.

The result will be a focus on the right things, so overtime NWMO can work toward success. It is clear there is not a silver bullet or project that will fully address rural issues, but the “Communities of Excellence 2026” process will bring focus on those issues most important to drive the enhanced competitiveness of the region and ultimately preserve the middle class quality of life so treasured by its people.

By Max Summers and Steve Wenger

The Communities of Excellence 2026 Community Recognition Program

Communities of Excellence 2026, in partnership with the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, is pleased to announce the first level of the Communities of Excellence Recognition Program—Commitment to Community Excellence. 

At this level, communities respond to the Community Profile section of the Community Excellence Builder, describing their mission, their vision, and the key factors that lead to success. They also explain their performance improvement system, give an example of an improvement to a key initiative or process that was a consequence of the implementation of the performance improvement system, and describe the key results they will track related to the health, educational attainment, and economic vitality of the community.  This will provide a strong foundation for the second step, Journey to Community Excellence, which will be announced at the end of 2017.

In parallel with Baldrige Program’s mission, the purpose of Communities of Excellence 2026 and the Recognition Program is threefold:

  1. To develop a nationally recognized standard of community performance excellence
  2. To establish role models of that standard through the Recognition Program
  3. To encourage continuous improvement through sharing of best practices and provision of feedback to communities on the performance excellence journey that will lead to better outcomes for the residents they serve.

Applications will be accepted through September 15th, 2017.  You can access instructions and deadlines, including the intent-to-apply requirements, on our website at

The Baldrige Program, and indeed the entire Baldrige community, are excited about helping communities achieve ever-higher levels of performance and improved quality of life for their residents. In fact, that is essentially the mission of the Baldrige Program: to benefit all U.S. residents through improved competitiveness. Until now, however, we have been focused on accomplishing that purpose through single organization. Partnering with Communities of Excellence 2026 enables us to carry out that mission on a much broader level, with the potential for greater reach and impact.

Robert Fangmeyer, Director

Baldrige Performance Excellence Program

Insights from our Pilot Cohort of Communities

By Stephanie Norling, Director

During last week's Learning Collaborative Discussion Session we heard presentations from each of our five communities on their community's history, the makeup of their collaborative, coalition or leadership team participating, examples of projects they've already worked on and their goals for the Learnign Colalborative experience.  I can say with absolute certainty that we have a great group of communities working together.  

Both the differences and the similarities between these communities are striking.  Four of our communities are adopting the COE Framework as part of a pre-existing collaborative or coalition. One of these, the Kanawha Caolition for Community Health Improvement (KCCHI) began 21 years ago and I know will have a lot of insights to share with our other communities about how to develop a sustainable leadership team.  With that history comes many years of accomplishments.  Every three years since its inception, KCCHI has conducted a Community Health Needs Assessment.  I had the pleasure of attending their 7th Assessment in March 2017.  Their strategic planning process and the extent to which they reached out to residents to capture their voice, analyzed regional data and engaged community members in the decision making process for their priorities was exceptional, and I think will serve as a role model to other communities as they develop their community strategic plan.

In Northwest Missouri, the cities of Brookfield and Marceline have come together to jointly adopt the COE Framework.  This collaboration between these two cities reflects their broader recognition that, in rural America in particular, it is vital to both think regionally and act locally.  They shared some powerful stories about working together:  From turning a high school football rivavlry into an opportunity for collaboration to their partnership to build a regional airport.  The strategic focus in this region is on economic vitality.  Becky Cleveland shared some striking data about population decline in their communities and the broader Northwest Missouri region.  Their story and their journey is an important one and reflects many of the struggles that rural communities across our country are encountering.  

Our second community in Northwest Missouri, Maryville is the only community in our first cohort that is building a community leadership team as part of their journey.  i am excited to work with them, as this represents a great opportunity to initiate their journey using the Communities of Excellence Core Values as their foundation and to work with both formal community leaders and grassroots leaders from the start.  As Josh McKim pointed out, Maryville has a long tradition of quality and performance improvement.  There are many organizations within Maryville that have adopted Baldrige, and their involvement holds the potential to be a strong driver in their community's success.

West Kendall, Florida is the newest addition to our group.  A few weeks ago Lowell Kruse and I attended the West Kendall Baptist Hospital (their backbone organization) Leadership Symposium.  The enthusiasm and commitment to bettering their community was evident from the start.  The Healthy West Kendall Coalition is made up of a diverse group of organizations, including many local business partners.  Their work added a new element to my thinking about "Residents and Other Customers".  In addition to capturing the Voice of the Customer (the residents), there also exists the Voice of the Cutomer's Customers; something that will add huge value to their community journey.  I am also eager to learn more about their Innovation Workgroup.  This is the first time I'd heard of a formal focus on innovation within a community, and sometihng I look forward to following.

Finally, we heard from San Diego County's South Region team.  This is the group that I've worked with from day one of Communities of Excellence 2026.  The region's formal collaborative leadership team began in 2005 from the Chula Vista Healthy Eating Active Living Coalition with the goal of reduing childhood obesity.  Today, the Live Well San Diego South Region Leadership team is composed of 30 partner organizations, over 150 collaborators and is open to residents.  This region serves as a great role model for collaboration and unity, and their commitment to COE 2026 is exciting.  They are leading the way in terms of developing the first Community Profile and putting together a shared Community Strategic Plan using Baldrige and Communities of Excellence principles.  

Again, I am thrilled to be working with this group of communities and i hope you will continue to follow their progress over the next few months.  In September of 2017, they will be joined by up to seven additional communities as we launch our full yearlong National Learning Collaborative.  You can learn more about the Learning Collaborative and how to join here and more about our five communities here.


PENWorks, Baldrige, and Leadership

By Kruse Scholar Shelby Crespi

After allowing the dust to settle following the whirlwind of my first semester as a Kruse Scholar, my thoughts about leadership and creating change have evolved. So much of my understanding of leadership was rooted in the idea of making tangible change, but not always how exactly this change would be executed. I viewed myself as a leader that could leave something that could be felt and touched - leaving evidence - as so eloquently explained by Dr. Bryan Williams, the Keynote Speak at this year’s PENworks Conference. However, such a large part of leaving behind this evidence is having an underlying structure that allows you to leave your mark.

So much of the leadership skills that we saw so many incredible organizations like Mayo Clinic and the MN Pollution Control Agency demonstrating was rooted in an underlying framework that holds everything together. This conference finally helped me to put into perspective the role of Baldrige. Just as Bianca mentioned being skeptical of this framework when she first entered her time as a Kruse scholar, so was I. What could a manual tell me that being in tune with the community can’t? Hearing the stories of how exactly people treated Baldrige at the PENworks conference helped to understand that Baldrige is not a manual of “how to do things in an organization,” but instead a living document that very much moves in rhythm with the ebb and flow of an organization. When the waves get rough, Baldrige gives us something to anchor ourselves in and weather that storm. (Please excuse the cheesy cliché, but it’s really true.) Baldrige is not a prescriptive problem solver, but a school of thought that demands an organization be honest and self-aware about the populations it serves, it capacity, where they are weak, and where they are strong all with the goal of improving efficiency and capacity through effective management techniques. This all ultimately improves services provided to our beneficiaries whether they are students, patients, clients, or other organizations.

Like Dr. Williams described, Baldrige helps to find the balance between the workplace that always has breakfast burritos and company outings, but cannot meet company goals and the organization that works employees into the ground and meets all productivity goals, but drives away burnt out and fed up employees quickly. Baldrige brings to life the ideal that we can have a breakfast burrito friendly and high efficiency work environment. Baldrige is not meant to be the overt means of operation that dictates exactly how to run the company, but it does force you to be honest about whether a company trip to a Twins game is time and well spent. It forces you to truly consider what the returns for the community are regarding making every decision. I believe that it is the self-reflective component, the questions, that many are fearful of when considering the introduction of the Baldrige Framework into their organization. It forces you to face the fact that you might be too much of the of the “friend manager” or too much of the “dictator manager” --which no one who thinks they have been effectively managing ever wants to hear. However, the best way to tackle these issues is with an effective and honest framework, and I now know that this framework for this task is Baldrige.

After PENworks, my skepticism has been addressed and my questions answered. Seeing how Baldrige has been implemented and how it is improving services to the community’s most vulnerable people, especially Doug Parks’ work at Mayo Clinic, was exactly what I needed to see. Baldrige fosters inspired leadership and innovation in the workplace. Effective organizational management has improved services to the community and that is a major driver for meeting health goals. As this first year as a Kruse Scholar comes to a close, I have a renewed understanding of my goals and my future role in using the Baldrige Framework to promote goals and actions that contribute to improving the health at the community level.

Read more about Shelby Crespi here

Enthusiasm for Baldrige

By Kruse Scholar Jasmin Fosheim

This spring I attended my second PENWorks conference in Minneapolis as a Kruse Scholar. The first conference I attended was largely overwhelming. My understanding of Baldrige and Communities of Excellence was still elementary, and I was a little flabbergasted by the enthusiasm with which people engaged in what seemed to be an incredibly complex and challenging process of identifying and attempting to enact change to systemic problems. This year, however, I have a newfound understanding and appreciation of the Baldrige criteria and Communities of Excellence I credit to the Kruse Scholar program and PENWorks wholly.

It took two years, but I finally get it. Communities of Excellence and Baldrige have invaded my thoughts and I’ve found myself becoming gradually more critical of the same old same old. More importantly, my skepticism regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of the organizations I’m a part of and the employers I work for has become more than just criticism and identification of flaws. I now have a mindset of identifying opportunities for improvement and searching for solutions.

Further, I’ve learned that identifying opportunities for improvement and coming up with solutions on my own to implement isn’t enough; solutions should consider all components of an issue, sectors of an organization, and stakeholders in the mission of the organization.

Finally, after two years of engaging with Communities of Excellence and Baldrige, I feel like I finally understand the crucial need for these strategic approaches to address the systemic issues in organizations, communities, and our nation. This newfound understanding led to a PENWorks conference in which I could be engaged and finally share the enthusiasm of the professionals and Baldrige enthusiasts that I, at one time, just couldn’t relate to. Baldrige and Communities of Excellence have changed the way I perceive, assess, and engage with my entire world.

Read more about Jasmin Fosheim here