The U.S. Department of Commerce has announced that the City of Germantown has earned a 2019 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The City is one of only four municipalities nationwide to have ever received the award. A presidential-level honor, the award recognizes exemplary U.S. organizations and businesses that demonstrate an unceasing drive for radical innovation, thoughtful leadership and administrative improvement. The award was developed in the late 1980s by the Department of Commerce to facilitate competition among U.S. companies. The award is the highest level of recognition for performance excellence that a U.S. organization can receive. Achievement of the Baldrige National Quality Award sets Germantown apart as “world-class.”
The Pursuit of the BaldrigeFor the City of Germantown, the quest for quality is an ongoing process, and this recognition is just another milestone in a journey that has been years in the making. “The work that we have done wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance and vision provided by our fearless leader, Patrick Lawton,” said General Services Director Reynold Douglas. “His longevity as Germantown City Administrator and his commitment to ignore the status quo has been invaluable in this process. It is truly an honor to be a part of his team.”
Lawton returned from a conference in 2010 with plans to implement Baldrige criteria as a means to help Germantown weather the aftermath of the 2008 recession. The City quickly became involved with the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence, the state-based Baldrige program. It took a few years for the City to hit its stride and finally get organization-wide momentum heading in the same direction. Feedback from TNCPE helped identify opportunities for improvement and direct efforts toward systematic change.
The turning point was the Germantown Forward 2030 strategic plan. “We had all been working hard at driving improvement, but GF2030 really put it all in perspective for us,” said City Administrator Patrick Lawton. Soon after, the City launched an online performance dashboard to track strategic progress and Individual Employee Development plans, which tie daily work to strategic objectives. As performance improvement became more of a habit, the term “Baldrige” faded into the background.
“As an organization, we stopped limiting ourselves and using the fact that we are a government as an excuse,” said Budget and Financial Services Director Adrienne Royals. “It’s like one day we decided to be one of the best organizations in the country, and we went for it.” In 2017 the City received the , the top honor from Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence and an unofficial prerequisite for applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
In 2019, the City set its sights on the national award. A 55-page application was developed covering all seven categories of the Baldrige criteria. Over the summer, a team of highly trained independent examiners reviewed the City’s application and determined that Germantown was worthy of further review. Out of 26 applicants, only 12 received a site visit.
In October 2019, City staff hosted a team of nine Baldrige examiners for a week-long deep dive into City operations. The team interviewed leaders, reviewed documents, clarified and verified their findings from the initial application and visited with employees from across the organization. “I was honored to have been asked to represent the City during a formal interview with examiners,” said Reggie Cash, a Master Technician with the City’s award-winning fleet team. “It felt great to share about our passion for the great work we do here.” Following the site visit, the long waiting period ensued. “We all felt really positive about our visit,” said IT Director Tony Fischer. “We were able to tell the story about the work we do and our talented employees who make Germantown excellent.”
On November 12, City Administrator Patrick Lawton received a call from Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who shared the thrilling news: the City had achieved its 10-year goal and was being honored with a Baldrige Award. The administration erupted in cheers when Lawton emerged from his office following the call. After a brief celebration, the conversation turned to what would come next: the feedback report. “This is a time to celebrate, but soon enough it will be time to dig into the feedback report and decide how we’ll address our new opportunities for improvement,” Lawton told the team. “This is only the beginning.”
Why Baldrige?It’s a common question posed to those who choose the framework to guide improvement. The fact is that most municipal governments don’t regularly use reliable data to measure performance. In Germantown, the belief is “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Baldrige provides a program and process for driving performance to a higher level. Alignment, efficiency and a focus on priorities are by-products of the City’s commitment to Baldrige. Reaching this level of excellence enables the City to meet customer needs responsibly and ultimately results in being one step closer to achieving the mission of “Excellence, Every day.”
More information about the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is available here.