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Baldrige Fellowship Offers Inspiration, Reassurance for Memorial Health System Leader

As part of the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, Memorial Health System executive vice president and chief operating officer Chuck Callahan had the opportunity to examine high-performing organizations from many sectors of the U.S. economy – healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, financial services, government and others.

What he learned was both inspiring and reassuring. The best organizations have a clear sense of why they exist and who they serve, and they seek feedback in a constant quest for improvement. And Memorial compares very favorably to these leading organizations.

“We cannot be an organization that fears, resists or rejects feedback,” Callahan said, shortly after his yearlong fellowship came to an end, noting that high-performing organizations improve service by acknowledging their imperfections. “The only sin is not addressing things you know are wrong,” he added.

The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program was founded by an act of Congress in 1987 to share best business practices with a goal of re-establishing the United States as the world industrial and technology leader.

The program, named for former United States Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige, administers a National Quality Award by which select organizations are recognized for exemplary leadership, strategy and outcomes. Healthcare is today the fastest rising sector applying the Baldrige Excellence Framework.

The Baldrige Executive Fellowship Program is a one-year, nationally ranked leadership development experience designed for a small cohort of senior “c-suite” leaders from across the country to explore all aspects of leadership and how it relates to a visionary focus, strategy, operational excellence, customer and employee engagement, and an organization’s long-term success.

Callahan was among 18 executives selected for the Fellowship in 2018. Healthcare was well represented in this year’s class, with leaders from Kaiser Permanente, Duke Raleigh Hospital, Western Maryland Health System and more. Non-healthcare entities included AARP and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

“All sectors have their own unique challenges, but within the Baldrige Framework everyone is coming together to think about how to address their challenges in a new way,” Callahan said.

Each participant completes a project during the yearlong fellowship. Callahan’s project focused on creating “innovation systems” within healthcare. Lessons learned from that project are today being implemented as part of refreshed MHS strategic and organizational planning designed to improve the health of people and communities across our region.

Memorial Health System was honored with the silver-level Baldrige Award several times between 2000 and 2010. MHS has not pursued the Baldrige Award since then, instead focusing on process improvement efforts through Lean Six Sigma. It’s a strategy that was reinforced for Callahan as he talked with Baldrige Award winners during his fellowship.

“Baldrige isn’t about winning an award for being the most successful,” Callahan said. “It’s about being willing to get outside feedback and being willing to change based on that feedback. It’s about the principles of performance excellence – how do we evolve and keep innovating?”

To that end, Memorial’s 10-year experience in successfully advancing a Lean Six Sigma-based performance excellence culture focused on customer needs is very reflective of the Baldrige mindset. Callahan said he feels energized by the experience. Through his participation in the fellowship, Memorial gained an expanded national peer executive network and new insights through his innovation project.

“The timing was perfect, as it offered new perspective and methods for taking our health system to higher levels of efficiency, effectiveness and value for our colleagues and communities,” he said.

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