Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes Jr. (right), adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, accepts the Illinois Army National Guard’s award for being the “most improved” National Guard organization from Maj. Gen. Richard Gallant, special assistant to the director of the Army National Guard, during the 2016 Army Communities of Excellence award ceremony May 23 at the National Guard Bureau. Lt. Col. Michael Legler (left), strategic plans and policy officer, was in charge of the 2016 Army Communities of Excellence team from Illinois.
WASHINGTON — Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes Jr., adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, and a delegation of other Illinois National Guardsmen, traveled to the nation’s capital May 23-24 to accept awards for being one of the “most improved” Army communities as part of the 2016 Army Communities of Excellence (ACOE) Program.
The ACOE program is designed to honor the top Army, National Guard and Reserve organizations that achieve high levels of excellence providing services and support to soldiers, families, the state and nation.
The Illinois delegation was first honored May 23 at the National Guard Bureau, where they received special recognition for being the most-improved National Guard organization to compete in the 2016 competition. Forty other states and territories were considered in 2016, with Wisconsin taking the honor of being the overall National Guard winner.
On May 24, the Illinois National Guardsmen attended a second awards ceremony at the Pentagon, where winners from the Active, Reserve and National Guard components were presented awards by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. Illinois again was recognized as being one of the “most improved” Army communities, alongside Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., and Fort Drum, N.Y.
Hayes said he is proud of the work and dedication put into this year’s assessment and said it’s the completed analysis that guides the Illinois Army National Guard to improve itself.
“This program serves as a mechanism and framework in which we improve how we operate in a systematic, deliberate way,” Hayes said. “We are then able to take our findings and invest in successful strategies that we can implement to make our operations more efficient.”
Hayes said the ACOE directly pertains to readiness and Illinois’ ability to serve its domestic and federal mission.
The program assists Army organizations assess their work systems, processes and performance against a standardized framework of criteria using the Malcolm Baldrige Framework for Excellence.
Each year, the program kicks off with the Illinois Army National Guard formulating a working group that includes representatives of varying specialties including recruiting, operations, human resources, information technology and logistics. These specialists complete a 40-hour course to learn about the Baldrige Criteria.
Over a period of several months, the working group analyzes the Illinois National Guard’s processes and programs to discover more efficient ways it could operate. They create a report detailing their findings, which are evaluated against Army priorities and the Baldrige Criteria.
Strategic Plans and Policy Officer Lt. Col. Michael Legler of Pekin, who supervised the 2016 ACOE team, said the process is lengthy but worthwhile.
“ACOE gives us an opportunity to look at the ILARNG and ask ‘where are we now in our processes and practices,’” Leger said. “The next step is to identify opportunities for improvement and to continually build upon the previous year’s assessment.”
The central concept is that organizational improvement is best achieved in an environment where organizations employ well-developed processes that are aligned with the organization’s goals and competencies.
Illinois’ recognition as the most improved means the ILARNG demonstrated greater year-over-year improvement in its organizational processes than any other applicant. For its efforts, the Illinois National Guard received $5,000, which will assist Illinois’ ACOE self-assessment under way for the 2017 competition.
Legler said the competitive nature of the program and the associated awards are nice, but the process and self-analysis that lead up to the ceremonies are the real purpose behind this program. He said the packet also serves as means to give Illinois’ senior leaders a “snapshot” of where the organization stands and what could be done to make it run more smoothly.
“Throughout the ACOE process, it’s important we have real honest self-assessment of our organization to learn about ourselves and to look for areas where we can become even stronger,” Legler said. “We will excel even more with those candid and honest discussions.”
Legler and his team, many of which were in the 2016 working group, are hard at work, making the finishing touches to the 2017 ACOE submission packet. Legler said, if the work put into 2016 is any indication of the dedication his team is putting forth, he anticipates there will be another spot on the stage for Illinois next year.