CEO Discusses Baldrige Award

BOULDER, Colo.–Gary Agnes, president and CEO of Elevations Credit Union, was recently appointed to the Board of Overseers for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The Baldrige Award is the nation’s highest honor for organizational innovation and performance excellence. 

Corner Baldrige

The Board of Overseers consists of 12 distinguished leaders representing all sectors of the U.S. economy and the organizations eligible for the Baldrige Award (manufacturing, small business, service, health care, education and nonprofit). These leaders evaluate the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP), provide policy guidance and assess how the Baldrige Award serves the national interest.

Below, Mr. Agnes discusses the Baldrige Award, his role, and How did you come to be involved in the Baldrige Award program?

Agnes:As a CPA, I began my community banking career in 1987. I’ve had the opportunity to lead a mutual savings and loan, a publicly traded savings and loan, and two credit unions.  At each organization we strived to achieve greatness. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing leaders and learned much from them on their quest to lead our organizations to excellence. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to help deploy the Baldrige Framework in two separate organizations since 2002, while enjoying tremendous success at Elevations Credit Union, which became a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipient in 2014. These experiences have shaped my thoughts on how to explore making the Baldrige Framework more accessible and actively deployed in domestic corporations.  Why the effort to pursue the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, what was involved (including time)?

Agnes:Upon becoming the CEO of Elevations Credit Union during the Great Recession, we chose to boldly invest in our future, which was a unique posture for financial institutions during this time period. It was a unifying moment of positive inflection in our organization, while we observed our industry struggling in turmoil. Our goal was not to obtain an award for excellence; rather our quest was to seek greatness for an organization that’s designed to exist in perpetuity in a systemic manner, whereby that greatness could endure long after our careers ended. 

We began by educating our board of directors and leadership of the company in August of 2008. In April of 2009, we boldly defined our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal): win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. We did not place a timeframe on this endeavor, and fully realized that we may never actually receive the award. Rather, we knew our quest would greatly improve the success of the organization. At first, for some of our team, it seemed like “additional work.” But, within a couple of years, it simply became “how we work to accomplish our goals.” How has the process of winning the award changed Elevations internally, and how do you ensure once the award has been won that focus isn’t lost?

Agnes:After receiving the call from Secretary Penny Pritzker on Nov. 10, 2014 informing us that we had indeed become a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipient, we began deliberating what our future might be. After many vigorous discussions, in May 2015 we defined our new BHAG: Audacious Excellence! 

P.S.  We will win the Baldrige again. It was clear from our deliberations that we remain committed to the Baldrige Framework, as it has been and remains the basis of our success. What does the Board of Overseers do and what is involved?


Gary Agnes

Agnes:The charter of the Board of Overseers says the overseers shall make suggestions for the improvement of Baldrige and act as an advisory committee for the program. We meet twice a year, while we also attend the Quest for Excellence Conference, held in conjunction with the celebration of new Baldrige Award recipients. As an overseer, I do feel strongly that I can help contribute to the future success of the Baldrige framework.  

Areas that I personally am inspired to help with include assisting in raising revenue for the organization both at the national level as well as the state level; helping make the program more accessible and actively deployed in domestic corporations; upon Congressional authorization to add a seventh category to the Baldrige framework, helping Colorado develop a viable Communities of Excellence program once our regional program (Rocky Mountain Performance Excellence) hires an executive director; providing insights to automating some of the non-automated processes of the Baldrige program; among others.  What have you learned/borrowed from other organizations outside financial services as they have sought to win the Baldrige award?

Agnes: The beauty of the Baldrige Award stems from its purpose since its inception, which is to examine and validate organizations who demonstrate excellence broadly and systematically throughout their company; then have those excellent organizations share their best practices with other domestic corporations, so that U.S. companies can compete globally with wild success. 

We’ve learned a tremendous amount since April 2009 from organizations outside financial services, such as:

  • The concept of leaders creating a safe environment so its employees can have brutally honest conversations about salient matters that impact its customers, employees and community.
  • Development of an enterprise business process map that serves as the “organizational chart” that creates value for our membership. This has transformed our workforce systems to integrate our teams more effectively for the benefit of our membership.
  • Deployment of Agile/Scrum management methodologies that enable us to bring solutions to market far more effectively and faster than before.
  • The deployment of data analytics throughout the enterprise that have enabled us to better understand how to improve our performance for members and employees. We are now positioned to extend our capabilities for predictive analytics in the future. What is your advice for other credit unions considering following your path?

Agnes:In addition to having fun, be bold, even if it does not seem like the perfect time; create a safe environment for your team; be deliberate and define your culture and design your leadership system; and never underestimate the capability of a stellar team!

Section: Standard
Word Count: 1229
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Copyright Year: 2019
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