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Christine Schaefer

Customer Care

Leadership Insights From the Baldrige Award-Winning City of Germantown, Tennessee

‘Our Baldrige journey has enabled us to destroy many of the belief systems that keep governments from improving’

Published: Thursday, November 11, 2021 - 11:03

When the City of Germantown, Tennessee, was named a Baldrige Award recipient in 2019, the small suburb of Memphis (just 20 square miles in size) became only the fourth city to earn the prestigious, presidential award for organizational excellence.

During the Baldrige program’s 32nd Quest for Excellence Conference this year, Germantown City Administrator Patrick Lawton highlighted how his organization uses the Baldrige Excellence Framework to achieve and maintain high performance to serve its community.

Established in 1841, the City of Germantown is a municipal corporation whose powers are defined by a state charter. As city administrator since 1989, Lawton is responsible for the organization’s day-to-day operations. As he manages a team of professional public servants, he’s guided by the city’s—and the International City/County Management Association’s—code of ethics.

Regarding the city’s status as a Baldrige Award recipient, Lawton stated, “This recognition represents years of hard work and determination by city staff and senior leaders to be able to say, ‘There is a new paradigm for the delivery of public service in our community focused on performance excellence, results, and continuous improvement.’”

“As a local government and a recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award,” Lawton added, “we shall serve as that ‘city upon a hill’ for our citizens and a role model for other cities across the country.”

When the City of Germantown (TN) was named a Baldrige Award recipient in 2019, it became only the fourth city to earn the prestigious award for organizational excellence.

When the City of Germantown, Tennessee, was named a Baldrige Award recipient in 2019, it became only the fourth city to earn the prestigious award for organizational excellence.

Why Baldrige?

“We embraced the Baldrige [framework] as a way to manage the delivery of municipal service in the most responsive and responsible manner,” said Lawton, noting that his city began using Baldrige principles during the “Great Recession” (circa 2007). 

“Our Baldrige journey has enabled us to destroy many of the belief systems that keep governments from improving and to understand as a local government:
1. We do produce products that can be measured and therefore improved
2. We do have customers: our citizens, with rights and privileges, whose satisfaction is essential to our long-term success
3. We are here to make a profit, not in a monetary sense but in the delivery of superior results”

“Our Baldrige journey has taken us far, and recognition by the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program is an amazing achievement on our continued path toward sustained excellence for the citizens we serve,” added Lawton.

Excellence. Every day.

Excellence. Every day.

City of Germantown's vision, values, and mission, as conveyed during its senior leadership plenary presentation at the Quest for Excellence Conference in April 2021. Credit: City of Germantown

Lawton explained how the City of Germantown’s adoption of the Baldrige framework is conveyed in its mission statement “Excellence, every day,” which sets the expectation for high performance by employees. “Excellence every day is not just a tagline but what we expect from our employees each and every day when they arrive on the job site,” said Lawton. “It’s what’s expected and what we deliver.”

“We ask three simple things, we want them to lead responsibly, deliver service excellence, and produce A+ results,” added Lawton.

He said the city ensures that its workforce of approximately 445 full-time employees is highly trained by providing training and advancement opportunities through its individual employee development program. City employees are “competitively compensated,” he said, because “we want to lead this area in terms of classification and compensation; we think of ourselves as [being] in the talent business and not just hiring a warm body to fill a position.”

Through long-range strategic planning, the city developed its vision, values, and mission statements, which are backed up by the value-based principles of excellence in education; innovation, creativity, and continuous improvement; lifestyle opportunities as part of the everyday fabric of life; natural and designed beauty and smart growth; community strength, health, and sustainability; a culture of excellence and kindness; and local and regional relationships.

‘The people we serve’

The city’s mission in relation to its community, said Lawton, is “to understand that we will be financially sound and govern, and that we will be good stewards of the tax dollars that [residents] have entrusted to us.”

The city has defined its 41,333 residents as key customers, in other words, “the people we serve.” Lawton explained that the city segments these key customers by geographic area, length of residency, age, and gender as it gathers and reviews data and information from an annual survey of residents and takes action to better serve them.

The city’s stakeholders include its partners and collaborators. “We have to rely on local and regional partnerships to make what we do in Germantown happen,” said Lawton. Thus, he emphasized the importance of identifying and understanding these stakeholders—which users of the Baldrige framework do in filling out the organizational profile (the prefatory section of the Criteria for Performance Excellence).

The city offers its customers and stakeholders a range of services, which are identified as “product offerings” within the organizational profile of the Baldrige framework. “Our key products and offerings [are] defined by our city charter,” said Lawton. These include meeting basic needs such as public safety (through police, firefighting, and emergency medical response services); education (the city’s municipal school system was created in 2014); economic development (though the city is primarily a residential community, Lawton noted that transportation and job opportunities and growth, as well as planning and land use services, are critical to its long-term sustainability); utilities (sewer and water services); and sanitation services (including trash, recycling, and yard waste collection, which are outsourced through the ity’s managed competition program).

Strategic challenges and opportunities

Lawton identified the following as the city’s key strategic changes and opportunities:

Unfunded mandates: These are directives from state or federal government levels that come without a revenue source. According to Lawton, the city addresses the challenge of funding such mandates through its adopted financial policies and financial trend monitoring system to provide the dollars necessary. “We’re proud that we’re able to address all of those areas,” he said. 

Economic uncertainty: This is a challenge to address because the city’s tax base is limited to property taxes, Lawton said. But he explained that the city controls its operational costs to address this challenge: “We look for innovation and efficiencies within our organization, which is why we adopted the Baldrige principles. It challenges you to look at process improvement, and from that comes innovation.”

A changing workforce: To address this challenge, said Lawton, “we do gap analysis and a knowledge transfer component as part of every departmental business plan that’s in place in the City of Germantown. And we’re looking for trends in terms of retirements and baby boomers.” Regarding the knowledge transfer component, he said, “We look at how we can transfer that intellectual capital that every employee has—that may not be written anywhere—and [ensure] that we can capture that before the employee leaves our organization, and that we have a clear line of succession in place in those areas.” 

Success factors

core competencies lead the way

City of Germantown's Factors of Success, as conveyed during its senior leadership plenary presentation at the Quest for Excellence Conference in April 2021. Credit: City of Germantown

“Our factors of success boil down to our core competencies,” said Lawton. “In the beginning when we were looking at core competencies, we had multiple ones, but as we matured in our Baldrige process, we realized there really are three.” He referred to these as “the things that we feel we do better than any of the organizations the city considers competitors”:  

1. Financial acumen: This acumen is incorporated in the city’s strong financial policies, said Lawton, as well as in its well-integrated strategic plan, effective land-use planning (“because the land drives economic growth in our community”), and monitoring of financial trends.

2. Employee engagement: Reflecting the Baldrige framework, the city systematically identifies and addresses drivers of workforce engagement. Lawton shared that the city maintains an engaged workforce by 1) ensuring that all workforce members have individual employee development plans; 2) holding internal focus groups to gather input; and 3) ensuring integration of a workforce culture supporting high performance and engagement.

3. Customer focus: Lawton identified the following practices as part of this core competency: the city’s citizen-driven strategic planning, department-specific focus groups, and community involvement in board and commission planning. According to Lawton, more than 200 citizens are involved on a regular basis in the city’s advisory committees.

Performance highlights

Lawton highlighted the following key results:
• Low crime rate (14.5 per 1,000 residents): This makes the City of Germantown one of the safest communities in its state, according to Lawton. He pointed out that the city regularly ranks either first or second (lowest or second-lowest crime rate) in Tennessee.
• Cardiac survival rate (68 percent): Lawton stressed the Germantown Fire Department’s highly effective emergency medical service, which he attributed to innovation and coordination with a local hospital.
• Net promoter score (71): Determined by surveying the community, the city’s current net promoter score is comparable to the performance levels of well-known companies such as Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton, and Apple. The community ratings are based on the question, “Would you recommend the City of Germantown as a place to live for your friends and family?”


About The Author

Christine Schaefer’s picture

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer joined the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program in 2005, after nearly 15 years in nonprofit publishing, largely editing education-related periodicals and books. As an education team member, Schaefer writes, edits, and serves in other capacities at Baldrige including public outreach, the Baldrige Award process, and volunteer training. She has served as the editing team leader and a work group member on the Baldrige staff. Schaefer has a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary political and social thought from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from Georgetown University.