Originally posted on Blogrige by Dawn Bailey

The best organizations do not cultivate ideas by accident. This is true for Tri County Tech (TCT), a public career technology center in Oklahoma, and a 2018 Baldrige Award recipient, whose ideas come from empowering workforce members in a culture of continuous improvement, as well as involving them in innovation management.

At the upcoming Quest for Excellence® Conference in March, Kim Smith, chief financial officer and director of operations, and Eric Randall, director of physical plant services and technology, will present “Rabbits and Resources:Workforce-Led Innovation,” offering strategies for innovation and
process improvement.

Innovation Management and Process Improvement

“Our concept is that you never know where the next game-changing idea is going to come,” said Randall. TCT believes that by sharing and helping the workforce to understand data about the organization (from finances to resource priorities), workforce members are empowered to make better decisions.

The presentation will offer ideas for managing improvement and innovation. It will also cover how the technology center allocates resources and prioritizes budget requests. A culture of continuous improvement, including process refinement, is critical to understanding resources. The presentation will detail how the center uses a process-based approach to determine what priorities for growth and innovation will be pursued.

“We didn’t stop trying to improve just because we won the award,” said Smith. “We are constantly looking for ways to ensure continuous improvement.” For example, TCT’s senior leaders recently reviewed the center’s long-term strategic plan and major initiatives. Part of the review included the development of Vision 2025, which consists of a goal to continue the technical center’s journey of excellence to a second Baldrige Award win.

Lessons Learned and Shared

Randall said TCT has learned three big lessons on its Baldrige journey of continuous improvement:

  • Whether an organization is using the Baldrige Excellence Framework for growth or in active pursuit of the Baldrige Award, the initiative has to be leadership-driven. In other words, there has to be absolute buy-in from the top and senior leaders acting as the driving force behind implementing the framework.
  • It’s essential to have a vision that helps everyone understand his/her purpose in the organization. This helps workforce members stay engaged.
  • The organizational culture must support the vision.

Tammie Strobel, deputy superintendent and chief quality officer, said that often organizations reach out to TCT for advice, especially in convincing CEOs that using the Baldrige Framework is the right thing to do.

For us, using the framework as a model for how we operate our business has propelled us to outstanding results,” she said. “I would think most CEOs would be interested in results. . . . If you want to create an extremely satisfied workforce, have a strategic focus, and increase your bottom-line—whether it’s profit, patient outcomes, or, for us, student outcomes—using the Baldrige framework will help you achieve that.

TCT has offered three best-practice sharing days, with another scheduled April 16 and 17, for organizations interested in learning more. This past fall, TCT was even visited by a delegation from New Zealand that included educators from Otago Polytechnic College. According to Strobel, the Kiwis were among the first to call TCT to congratulate it on its 2018 Baldrige Award win. The delegation included organizations interested in performance improvement, some of whom were in pursuit of the New Zealand Performance Excellence Award, which is modeled on the Baldrige Award. Over time, Strobel said, the TCT staff has stayed in touch and become friends with the Kiwis, offering support to them after their devastating volcano eruption in December 2019.

Smith said she would describe organizations involved with Baldrige as collaborators, not as competitors. “Everyone wants to have better results and better outcomes. We’re not afraid of sharing ideas and processes from other people because it’s not competitive. We all want to help each other to become better organizations,” she said.

Benefiting from the Baldrige Framework

Randall said that the TCT staff believes that the Baldrige Excellence Framework would apply to any institution, including those in the education sector. “It helps you to focus on what your organization does best. It allows you to ask the brave questions. Certainly, for us, what should we stop doing, what should we get rid of, and why are we doing this if we aren’t the best in the world at it?” he said. “Ultimately, the framework for us has helped to improve student outcomes, which is why we are in business. We believe that every education organization can benefit in some way from using the framework as we did.”

Over the past ten years, under the leadership of Superintendent and CEO Lindel Fields, TCT has been named a Great Place to Work in the United States for four consecutive years, the only public educational institution on the list. In addition, TCT engagement results for most workforce segments have been in the top 10 percent nationally since FY2014. TCT has more than doubled overall enrollments and grown its foundation to ensure that no student is denied an education due to lack of funds.

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