Sustaining American Excellence

Last weekend, we celebrated our 239th birthday as a nation.  Most of us probably had a picnic with family, enjoyed a parade, or watched fireworks with friends.  But all of us enjoyed the freedom – the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness that has made this country strong for nearly a quarter millennia.  Let’s hope it lasts.

I hate to get fatalistic, but consider this: most world powers last 200-500 years.  In fact, a study of 55 historic empires showed a median age of 330 years.  The Ancient Greek Empire lasted about 350 years; the Roman Empire about 500; the Ptolemaic Egyptian civilization about 300; and even the British Empire spanned just under 350.

The United States as a nation turns 250 in the year 2026, which is why a small group of visionaries created a nonprofit called Communities of Excellence 2026.  Our collective goal is not just to make it to 2026, but to create a framework that systematically addresses our nation’s issues at a grass roots level – within the communities in which we all live, work, and play – such that we sustain our nation’s strength for many generations, many centuries to come.  The philosophical foundation of COE2026 is that the continuous improvement tools which have been proven to impact outcomes within organizations can be used to improve community outcomes across organizations.

So imagine a time when leaders within a community – official leaders (those elected or appointed to their formal positions) as well as the many informal community leaders – work together to set community vision; listen to community stakeholders to better understand community assets and needs; (re)allocate resources to address community issues or advance community initiatives; use community scorecards to monitor progress of those initiatives and the outcomes they intend to impact; and engage, mobilize, and align people resources – workers, volunteers, and citizenry – on the initiatives that will make a difference in a given community.  That’s how high performing organizations succeed; we believe that’s how high performing communities will succeed.

Communities of Excellence 2026 envisions using a validated improvement framework – Baldrige – to improve health status, educational attainment, economic vitality, and other key community outcomes by focusing on improving overall community performance in addition to individual components within communities.

I have been a practitioner of the Baldrige Framework for 20 years, as an examiner at both the state and national levels, as a judge for several Baldrige-based award programs (such as American Health Care Association and the Veterans Administration’s Carey Award),  as president of the Performance Excellence Network (the regional Baldrige-based program serving Minnesota and the Dakotas), and as chair of the Alliance for Performance Excellence (the national consortium of state/regional Baldrige-based programs).  In these roles, I have seen the impact Baldrige has had on improving performance of American hospitals, schools, nonprofits, governmental agencies, and businesses.  It improves outcomes, aligns activities, and optimizes resources.  I am convinced that the Communities of Excellence 2026 vision will help community leaders – both formal and informal – better allocate resources, solve problems, and address some of the pervasive challenges we face as a nation.

I am honored to serve on the Communities of Excellence 2026 board, because I believe in the potential of this vision.  And I am honored to help execute Communities of Excellence 2026, because I believe this country needs bold, innovative solutions to address our complex problems.

In many ways, America is at a crossroads.  We are still the best nation on earth, but we are now facing increasing challenges and vexing problems that may threaten our ability to stay on top.  I look forward to working with Communities of Excellence 2026 to achieve and sustain the highest level of performance for our communities and build a lasting culture where passion for community excellence is the norm in our country.  I invite you to join the cause!

3 thoughts on “Sustaining American Excellence

  1. Steve Wenger


    Well said. It is truly important that we understand our American way of being is not a permanent gift. We Americans must earn it every day with our willingness to do the right thing, to learn, to adapt, to pursue excellence and avoid the hubris, political corruption and loss of purpose that preceded the fall of all the great empires and nations you mentioned. From Rome to the British Empire their demise was predictable, and yet their ability to look the cold hard facts in the face and change before it was too late eluded them.

    There is no higher calling than to reinvigorate our American communities. We have the knowledge and experience. I hope we have the courage and will.

  2. Dale Thompson

    Lowell/Brian…what a powerful concept and important effort. Nothong about the great opportunity of this land should be taken for granted and…some group of individuals needs to get above the fray and perpetual nonsense and say so.

    Leadership based on sound values and committed to do what is right is a powerful thing. Someone once said…”never doubt that a small group of people can change the world….it’s the only thing that ever has”!

    How can I help!

    Dale Thompson

  3. Lowell Kruse

    Dale, thanks for you comments. We appreciate your support and encouragement. For those of us engaged in the Communities of Excellence 2026 effort it’s good to know others see the great potential from adapting the Baldrige framework for use by communities. We anticipate that by the end of the year we will have about 80% of our Community Performance Excellent Framework drafted and ready for piloting.

    We anticipate this 80% completed draft of the COMMUNITIES Framework to be piloted in 3 or 4 communities of different sizes and complexity over the next couple of years. The obvious purpose of the Pilots is to help us refine and improve the language and approach to make it as helpful as possible for communities on their journey to performance excellence. This is a very similar approach used in developing the Framework now being used by the 6 Sectors already covered by Baldrige. Sometime during the Piloting period we expect to request the Congressional approval necessary to officially establish COMMUNITIES as the 7th Baldrige Sector.

    What I think what will be most helpful to us in this process is for individuals like yourself who have concerns about the future of our country and our communities, who have a background in Baldrige and understand what it’s done for their own organization or industry to stay connected to this effort and begin to think about how you might go about preparing your community for adopting the COMMUNITIES Framework as their management model when we’re ready to move beyond the pilots to others interested in applying it to their own community.

    We will be using this to site to help keep people posted on our progress and look forward to receiveing ideas and suggestions from others on how to make the COMMUNITIES Framework as useful and productive as possible. We’ll look forward to staying in touch with you.

    Lowell C Kruse


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