Kruse Scholar Perspective: Jessica Schmitz

What I learned at PEN Works

As a Kruse Scholar, I had the opportunity to attend the PENWORKS 2016 conference held in Brooklyn Center, MN. The Performance Excellence Network filled the two days with speakers from around the country who shared some of their best practices and tips for continuous improvement. As a young woman who will soon graduate with degrees in Computer Science, Computer Information Systems, and Business Administration, I came away from PENWORKS fascinated by the passion and excitement revolving around systems and data.

Themes repeated throughout the conference included accountability, innovation, culture, intellect, and positivity. I found a few different correlations between positivity and the Baldrige framework as the conference progressed. Beginning the conference, Dr. Amit Sood of Mayo Clinic touched on the topic of happiness, briefly recognizing the importance of positivity.  We really dove into the topic, though, on Tuesday morning with the Good Leadership Breakfast presentation. Positivity begins with leadership (category 1 of Baldrige). This leads to an engaged workforce (category 5) which in turn will result in engaged customers (category 3). Although positivity is a soft quality, it is incredibly important and leads to great success and excellence.

In a keynote address, Paul Hillen, Chief Marketing Officer of Cargill, stressed that what we often recognize as common sense is not common practice within our organizations. This disconnect is dangerous, but in identifying these areas we have the opportunity to improve and implement new processes. John Sweeny, CEO of Brave New Workshop echoed Hillen’s message in his own keynote address. Sweeny shared how the word ‘uncomfortable’ has somehow become a negative word. He sees it, though, as a positive thing. It is in the times of uncomfortableness that change can really happen. To be comfortable is to be content with the way things are happening, excluding the possibility for continuous improvement.

The topic I found to be most amusing though, given my major of Computer Science and Computer Information Systems, was that of data (category 4). Big data, data analytics, data scientists, and access to data. These terms spark my interest! Dr. Klint Willert, the superintendent of Brookings, SD Public Schools, gave one of my favorite quotes of the whole conference. He said, “We are data rich and information poor.” His thoughts behind this were that we have all this data coming in from various sources, but we do not know how to effectively turn this data into useable information. Dr. Ryan Sougstad of Augustana University also spoke to this. He mentioned that we can make as many beautiful visuals as we want from our data, but it does not help us if we don’t use the information to build our next strategic plans and work towards continuous improvement.

Of course, as a Kruse Scholar, I was at the conference on behalf of Communities of Excellence. Throughout the many breakout sessions and keynotes I always kept the notion of applying Baldrige to communities in the back of my mind. How do we apply positivity, common sense, and data into our communities? What can communities learn from the businesses, healthcare organizations, education institutions, nonprofits, and governmental agencies? The answers lie in the best practices of all of these organizations. I cannot count how many times I heard the many different leaders express how much they have learned from different sectors. It is time for communities to do the same and implement strategies similar to those of these outstanding organizations who strive towards performance excellence.

*Learn more about Jessica Schmitz here:  Jessica Schmitz

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