By Angie Bowen
Being a Baldrige Examiner for the Iowa Recognition for Performance Excellence was a lot of hard work, but extremely rewarding. It has often been mentioned that being an Examiner is like getting an MBA in four months due to the range and amount of knowledge being processed. I know my brain was mush after I completed my independent review of the application. I can only imagine the mindset of those applicants who have implemented all the processes to achieve performance excellence, crafted and polished their application, and sent it off for review.
While going through the 55-page application (and not one page more) and comparing it to the Baldrige criteria during Independent Review, I not only gained a much better appreciation of quality, but also what it takes to achieve performance excellence. The application I reviewed was in a field with which I was not familiar, something I could not say by the time I was done with the Independent Review. For each item, I had to note 4-6 of the most relevant strengths or opportunities for improvement (OFI), (including at least one strength and one OFI). Sometimes it was necessary to drill down into the item notes to find something in the criteria to reference, then write the feedback-ready comment noting the nugget (criteria), then an example of the nugget in the application, and why the example was relevant. Only then could I move on to the next item. Repeat this over 70 times, writing over 280 feedback-ready comments in under four weeks, and one has Independent Review down pat. By the end of Independent Review, I felt I knew the applicant well and had a good feel for who they were as an organization.
After each member on my team independently reviewed the application and wrote their comments, we came together for Consensus Week. During Consensus, the members of each team gathered to compare what everyone noted during Independent Review, came into agreement on how we viewed each item as a team, then either prepared for the on-site visit or generated the final report of the review of the application.
It was interesting to see not only what each of us wrote up during Independent Review, but also where we agreed and disagreed. At this point (where the week gets its name from), we were tasked to come to consensus on each of the items. This meant going through all the feedback-ready comments we individually wrote, deciding which ones best captured what we felt as a team about the application, then either tweaking or rewriting comments noting strengths and OFIs. It was interesting to see where someone captured a key factor that others didn’t necessarily see during Independent Review, only to have it become a key point. This also emphasized why Independent Review must remain independent, guided by our team lead. Despite hearing stories of previous years where there have been knock-down-drag-out fights over a point of view on a comment, this was not the case with our group. As our applicant was not eligible for a site visit, we spent the second half of Consensus Week crafting our final report, walking the wall of the feedback comments to be included, noting grammar, word usage and the like.
At the end of Consensus, we realized what our little group of three newbies and a team lead had accomplished. I say “little” as there are usually twice as many people on a team than what we had. This didn’t mean the application was easy, but it allowed those overseeing the iPEX program to see what could be accomplished.
Being an Examiner was an outstanding experience. I had a great team, even if we were all first-time Examiners. It allowed us to journey together the very steep learning curve of being an Examiner. We were fortunate to have help from an experienced team lead who helped guide us through the process. Independent Review of the application made me use my brain in ways it had not been used for many, many months. The process gave me not only an appreciation for all the work these applicants do when writing up the 55-page application to determine if they have met performance excellence, but also a better appreciation for quality. While I did not get my MBA diploma, I did receive a certificate of recognition of my hard work and dedication, and as a result I am looking forward to the next opportunity to become an Examiner.
Examiner Training starts in September! Details here.