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Improving Government: Five Stories from Four States

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Christine Schaefer
November 18, 2016

For nearly 30 years, the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program within the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been publishing the world’s standard for organizational excellence in the form of the regularly updated Baldrige Excellence Framework.

The assessment criteria that are part of this framework address seven key areas of performance: leadership; strategy; customers; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce; operations; and results. Reflected throughout these categories are 11 foundational concepts found in high-performing organizations:

  • Systems perspective
  • Visionary leadership
  • Customer-focused excellence
  • Valuing people
  • Organizational learning and agility
  • Focus on success
  • Managing for innovation
  • Management by fact
  • Societal responsibility
  • Ethics and transparency
  • Delivering value and results

Some of these concepts may be new to public-sector employees. Introducing them as core values for the organization may provide a good starting point for government leaders to adopt the Baldrige framework and its full criteria as an improvement tool.


A previous article here shared the names (and links to more information) of four federal and city government organizations that have received national Baldrige Awards since 2007. They are role models for other organizations interested in pursuing excellence.

Yet many other public-sector organizations across the United States have begun to raise performance expectations and get better results using the Baldrige framework without imminent plans to apply for national recognition.

Considering the different kinds of work and various approaches of government organizations that have used the Baldrige framework to improve performance, their examples may benefit others, too. To that end, I am sharing summaries and links below to five such stories posted in recent years on the federal Baldrige program’s official blog.

1.     Tennessee Department of Human Resources (and other state and city agencies): “What’s Boosting Government Performance in Tennessee?” is based on interviews with leaders of statewide and city agencies that have been improving their performance in recent years using the Baldrige framework. Those interviewed include Rebecca Hunter, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Resources and John Dreyzehner, Tennessee’s commissioner of health. After adopting the Baldrige framework, their organizations received both state-level recognition and feedback reports detailing how to keep improving through the annual award program of the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence (a member of the Alliance for Performance Excellence network that provides a feeder system for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.)

2.     Kansas University Medical Center: Boosting Workforce Engagement from the Bottom Up” tells how two administrators at a state university medical campus (Steffani Webb, vice chancellor for administration and Tom Fields, associate vice chancellor for organizational improvement) sparked a transformation in culture and performance by the support staff through training and implementation of the Baldrige framework.

3.     City of El Paso, Texas: “What It Takes to Improve City Government: A Leadership Perspective” is an interview of Tommy Gonzalez, current city manager of El Paso. Gonzalez formerly led the City of Irving, Texas to earn a Baldrige Award in 2011 for its high performance. For example, over eight years under Gonzalez’s city management, Irving saved over $70 million by implementing process improvements and efficiency measures. Similarly, 14 months into his tenure at El Paso, Gonzalez had already led that city to reduce costs by $16 million. He also was focusing on workforce engagement and strategic planning, among other priorities aligned with the Baldrige framework.

4.     Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department, California: “Public-Sector Excellence: The Promise of the Baldrige Framework” highlights the views of Manny Chavez, an assistant city manager in Los Angeles, about his experiences using the Baldrige framework for more than a decade in multiple department assignments to achieve desired results. Chavez ensured that staff members received Baldrige training and used the framework to support operational excellence in managing departmental programs. A university study measuring program performance in relation to federally funded career-training services provided by Chavez’s department for local communities found that, for the four previous years, “for the $50 million we’re spending, we’re getting double the return on that investment,” said Chavez. He noted that was not the case before the department adopted Baldrige practices.

5.     Health and Human Services Department, San Diego, California: “Update on Communities of Excellence 2026” describes progress at a pilot site for an innovative, cross-sector initiative that uses a community-adapted version of the Baldrige framework to improve health, education and economic outcomes. Nick Macchione, director of the county of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, tells why his agency adopted the framework as a foundation for its Live Well San Diego vision to support a healthy community. Macchione also describes favorable results achieved in addressing an obesity problem among local schoolchildren through the collective, Baldrige-based effort.

Clearly, these five state and city government organizations have different missions and serve different populations in their regions of the country. However, their leaders all share a desire to deliver greater value to their customers while better engaging their employees. Why would any public-sector organization not want to pursue the same?

Author: Christine Schaefer has been a staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 2005. A writer-editor, she has served as a team leader for the past three years, supporting the management of publications, communications, award process and other assessment activities, and training. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in political and social thought and a master’s degree from Georgetown University, where her coursework and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

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