Discipline + Innovation = Vision

When one of our clients, Stellar Solutions, was named a Baldrige Award recipient earlier this month, we admit that we weren’t surprised. This small, woman-owned, professional engineering services business, provides sophisticated technical expertise and management for national and international aerospace programs. Its extra-ordinary vision is to align employees’ dream jobs with customers’ critical needs. That may seem like an unobtainable goal, but Stellar’s senior leaders have put the processes and systems in place to make the vision a reality. Named a Great Place to Work by Fortune magazine from 2014 to 2017, Stellar has also received a strong endorsement from its customers with 100 percent of them saying they would recommend the company to others from 2013 to 2016. https://www.nist.gov/baldrige/stellar-solutions

We caught up CEO and Founder, Celeste Ford, the other day and asked for her insights into using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to create one of the most innovative yet disciplined organizations we have ever worked with. She explained that as the founder of the company, one of her concerns was ensuring its sustainability as Stellar grew. “Baldrige really appealed to me because it was a well-established standard of excellence. The framework of asking questions also worked with our leadership team. It allowed us to assess our processes and determine which were working and which weren’t.”

We asked what she would tell other executives who think the Baldrige Criteria are too complex and the process is too costly. “First, it’s not a separate thing for us; it’s not a separate cost. There’s no ‘Baldrige person or office’ down the hall. Some people look at the Baldrige Criteria as the icing on the cake. For us, it’s the cake. It’s how we operate.” She went on to add, “Every organization has customers and employees. The Criteria serve as a tool to have conversations in a structured manner around the topics that are important to your business. We actually used it as a questionnaire for our leadership team to see how we’re doing and to make sure we’re on the same page. As leaders, we’re the ones setting our targets – not Baldrige – but using it enables us to select what’s important to our company. The real beauty of the framework is that the questions hold you accountable to that.”

Celeste acknowledged that when she first considered using the Baldrige Criteria, she wasn’t sure that it would apply to Stellar. “We had the feeling that we were special, very different from other companies. We’re very relationship-based with our customers and our employees, and we work in highly classified environments.” Now she rolls her eyes when she hears other executives talk like that. “Baldrige embraces that every organization is special, but what makes you unique is what you want to be sustainable. Baldrige brings that into focus because it forces you to think systematic and long-term.”

Over the years, Stellar and Celeste have received many awards and recognition. We wrapped up our conversation with her by asking what being recognized with the Baldrige Award in 2017 meant to her. “It’s the ultimate award for our business. It acknowledges that we have built a sustainable, excellent organization. As the founder, it was important to me that the company is ‘built to last.’ The Baldrige examination process validated my ability to create a viable succession plan. It also provided the external validation of our company and the effort we’ve put into achieving our vision of satisfying customers’ critical needs while providing our employees with their dream jobs. That was always our goal.”

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