The concept of Communities of Excellence is simple. It calls upon members of a community to come together and share a unified perspective to develop and work toward a strategy to achieve the highest quality of life for all of its people. The Baldrige categories are designed to act as a framework to help guide this strategy. However, working through the categories and developing a community strategy may be easier said than done. In the heterogeneous communities across America, things are not always cookie-cutter clear.
Category Three of the COE Framework centers around “Residents and Other Customers.” How do we get to the voice of residents and engage them as users of the community’s services? The role of residents is further expanded in Category Five, “People and Organization Resources,” which discusses how we engage and support residents as doers of the community’s work. The categories are well-defined, but the answers most likely will not be written in black and white. Recently in the news, I have seen communities separated by black and white. In light of incidents of violence covered by the media, people are choosing sides and creating enemies out of fear and lack of understanding surrounding our differences. Our society is segmented by a system that has designed it to be and undermines our ability to achieve and sustain excellence. COE asks members of communities to unite as one to achieve community vitality and well-being, but this simple and virtuous concept will not be possible unless all of those who live in these communities can tear down the walls that separate them. This will require more than just seeing everyone as one and the same. True inclusion and alliance can only be possible once we all learn to recognize and appreciate the diverse experiences and narratives that each person contributes from being who they are. Until then, there will be conflicting voices to be heard in Category Three and a lack of alignment and open communication to achieve community engagement in Category Five.
At Hennepin County Medical Center, employees are various ages and have different sexual orientation, education, socioeconomic background, physical ability, and religion. More than 25 languages are spoken by hospital staff, and yet they all understand the same mission, vision, and values of the organization and have assembled together to make its goals happen. However, unlike organizations, who hire employees that already fit the culture, communities come in different shapes and sizes. It would be much easier to fit the Baldrige framework onto a homogenous population in another country, where there is less diversity and most everyone looks and thinks the same. But diversity in the United States is the reason we have made it this far, and we must rally to appreciate our differences rather than stand divided because of them. I know we can achieve the envisioned future for COE, “building on the foundation of democracy and liberty established by the nation’s founders…to set America on course to again lead the world in educational attainment, economic prosperity, [and] health status.” I challenge each of you—talk to all of your neighbors, not just those whose experiences are a mirror image of your own. Learn about each other’s unique characteristics that will help support high performance in the community, and join together under Communities of Excellence to bring health and well-being to everyone living around you.
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