Above: Gerry Agnes, president/CEO of Elevations CU, Boulder, Colo.
It’s not easy to create a success-driven organization. In fact, it’s one of the top challenges we face as business leaders.
Just 27% of leaders say they feel prepared to create a workplace where employees can deliver their best, according to the Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2015.
Leaders also say they struggle with human capital, customer relationships, and operational excellence.
While there’s no magic bullet to overcome these challenges, organizational excellence is achievable. Our organization, Elevations Credit Union, recently received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s only presidential award for business performance excellence.
While the award itself was certainly nice, the real prize was in the pursuit of the award and the positive environment it helped create.
After implementing the Baldrige Award criteria in April 2009, we’ve seen staff engagement increase by 19% based on results from our annual employee survey. And the Colorado Society for Human Resource Management recently named us as one of the top five large Best Companies to Work for in Colorado.
We also saw improvements in member loyalty and growth. During the five years before deploying the Baldrige framework, our annual member growth rate was 1%, compared to 3% for our peer group average.
Since deploying Baldrige, this growth rate has averaged 6%, compared to 1% for our peer group. Loyalty among our existing members has increased by 22%, measured by email surveys our members take as part of our Net Promoter Score program.
Perhaps most importantly, we’re financially stronger and better able to weather whatever the economy throws at us. In the five years before Baldrige, our annual average capital growth rate was 1%, compared to 7% for our peer group.
Since adopting the Baldrige framework, we posted record financial results, even during the last several years of national financial turmoil. In fact, our annual average capital growth rate has been 14%, compared to 8% for our peer group.
Our assets have grown 61%, and our net worth is up 89%.
It’s absolutely possible for other organizations to achieve similar results. While everyone’s journey will be different, we discovered three elements were critical to success.
1. Establish a safe environment
Baldrige required intense problem solving to get to the root of our weaknesses and determine how to improve. That isn’t a comfortable process.
From the start, we created a safe environment for our employees to be brutally honest so we could foster conversations about salient matters that impact our employees, members, and community. The result was greater transparency and accountability, as well as the ability to make better-informed decisions.
2. Encourage winning
People like to be on a winning team, and as an organization gravitates toward that, momentum accelerates. We encouraged employees to strive for success, but in the right way and for the right reasons.
We made it a point to consistently recognize achievements, both big and small, with parties, awards—and even simple congratulations or conversations.
Our focus on positive behaviors and their results rallied employees behind the Baldrige award—and our organization as a whole.
3. Strive to continually learn and improve
The Baldrige process involved answering 255 questions in seven categories on our organizational methods, our leadership systems, and more. It forced us to dig in and examine the processes and systems we had in place—and those we didn’t—along with areas that could use improvement.
For organizations that might feel like they’re stuck in a rut or often hear, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” a thorough re-evaluation of existing processes through the Baldrige framework can go a long way toward helping a leader advance an organization to realize its potential.
Candidly, these questions entail organizational issues that any leader in any industry should be able to clearly answer in order to enjoy a fruitful career.
Baldrige might not be for every organization. But the process provided us with the clarity and focus to build an organization that encourages engaged employees, drives member loyalty and growth, and allows us to achieve and maintain financial stability regardless of the economic environment we operate in.
For organizations interested in learning more about the Baldrige process, consider attending the Elevations Baldrige Sharing Day in Boulder, Colo., on Oct. 2. Click here for more information.
GERRY AGNES is president/CEO of Elevations Credit Union in Boulder, Colo.